5 Lessons on Writing Sales Proposals Gleaned From the Competition for Amazon's New Headquarters
Every sales organization and entrepreneur needs to know how to write winning sales proposals and respond to requests for proposal (RFPs). Amazon recently launched perhaps the biggest RFP in history when it announced that they are seeking a location for a new 2nd Amazon headquarters which will be home to 50,000 jobs.
Cities and economic development authorities across the U.S. are breaking out their strongest proposals for what makes their community the right choice for Amazon's new headquarters location. There are a few key lessons here for anyone who writes sales proposals, big or small. No matter what you sell, you can learn from the process of pitching for Amazon's new headquarters to write better sales proposals:
1. Learn about the company culture.
Your prospect is not just in the market for a product with the right technical specs, they often want to know how your solution and your team will fit with their company culture. Knowing about the company culture is essential to a successful sales proposal because it gives you insights into what is truly important to the company, aside from the nuts and bolts of what you sell. For example, Amazon has a reputation for being a "green" company, so many cities are focusing their proposals to Amazon on what their cities do well in regards to sustainability, such as bike paths and public transportation.
2. Align your strengths with the prospect's biggest ambitions and goals.
Amazon is seeking several things from the location of their new headquarters: a strong climate for business growth, an international airport, good public transit, a strong pool of tech talent and a high quality of life and cultural amenities that help attract a well-educated workforce. (For example, the New York Times suggested that Denver might be the best metro area for Amazon's new headquarters, based on these guidelines.) Regardless of which city "wins" Amazon's bidding process, the lesson is the same -- pay attention to the overall picture of what your prospect is seeking to buy. Certain features of your solution might be more important than others. You might not be able to compete with other organizations based on every single item on the checklist, but you can try to create a compelling offer based on the overall strategic picture of why your solution is the right fit.
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3. Don't compete only on price.
Lots of cities are tempted to offer big tax incentives or subsidies to bring those Amazon jobs home, but this is not always a winning strategy; Amazon is likely to make its choice based on a complex range of factors and so do your customers. The lowest price doesn't always win and even big companies like Amazon don't make decisions solely based on who gives them the lowest price or the sweetest package of tax incentives -- in fact, customers are often willing to pay more for a solution or service that is the right fit for what they need and that delivers a strong ROI.
Customers don't often buy based on price, they buy based on potential -- and the customers who are strongly motivated by price are often not the customers that you really want, because they often turn out to be more trouble than they're worth.
4. Follow the rules creatively.
Amazon has encouraged cities to be creative in their proposals and they are already responding. Tucson, Arizona shipped a 21-foot saguaro cactus to Seattle, while Birmingham, Ala., placed massive Amazon shipping boxes throughout its downtown. Stonecrest, Georgia, is offering to give Amazon 345 acres of land for its own new "city" to house the corporate headquarters.
This is an example of how even something as seemingly buttoned-up and formal as regional economic development can be made more creative. Look for ways to make your sales proposals stand out -- by all means, follow the rules of the RFP, but find a way to let your organization's unique personality shine through.
5. Enlist the support of allies.
Landing a new Amazon headquarters is a massive undertaking even for the biggest cities; no one can do it alone. Cities are banding together with allies at the local and regional level to make a strong case for why their location is the best choice. Worcester, Mass., is bidding on the new Amazon HQ and enlisting support of all surrounding cities to agree to invest in infrastructure such as a high-speed rail line. If they get it, looks like they will build a high-speed rail service from Boston to Springfield -- which would make Worcester and the surrounding region more welcoming to Amazon while also making life better for everyone who already lives there or will move there in the future.
Even on a small scale, every new sales proposals is an occasion to think big and draw upon the best ideas and contributions of everyone in your organization and even outside. Can you band together with other companies in different industries to offer a package of services or special deals that no other competitor can match? There are lots of opportunities to get creative while collaborating with allies.
Whichever city wins the new Amazon headquarters will be the recipient of billions of dollars of investment and tens of thousands of new jobs; this could be a world-changing development for any city. But, no matter who wins, it's important to use this as inspiration for fresh thinking about how to structure your own company's sales proposals. You might never see an opportunity as big as "winning Amazon's new HQ," but by improving your sales proposals you can win a much higher percentage of the many opportunities that are already out there for you.