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Ghosting in Proposals-APMP 2011-Wendy Frieman 6-2-11
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Ghosting in Proposals-APMP 2011-Wendy Frieman 6-2-11


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Sun Ze said, “You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points.” In the proposal world, this means ghosting. Ghosting is an advanced proposal technique that we …

Sun Ze said, “You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points.” In the proposal world, this means ghosting. Ghosting is an advanced proposal technique that we can use to influence buying decisions if we know our own strategy and have accurate information about the market, customer, and competition. This session explores when to use (and when not to use) this technique and provides the information and knowledge needed to use it effectively. The session explores the steps you need to follow throughout the business development life cycle to use ghosting in your proposal, and it emphasizes the type of competitor intelligence that supports ghosting—and how to get that intelligence. It includes sample proposal text you can use as templates for developing ghosting in your proposals.

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  • .
  • Sun Ze says “I make the enemy see my strengths as weaknesses and my weaknesses as strengths, while I cause his strengths to become weaknesses and discover where he is not strong.”Shipley says ghosting is “calling attention to the unnamed competitors’ weaknesses by highlighting the importance of, or differences between, alternative approaches or solutions.”Frieman says ghosting is using credible information about a real or potential competitor to increase the chances of winning—it need not be negative information—it could be positive. Ghosting need not be a statement in the proposal or a statement made to the customer; it could be an element of the strategy. It need not be focused on a competitor’s solution or approach. It could be focused on a competitor’s corporate structure, on recent financial events, or past performance.What makes ghosting different from other things we do in capture and proposal development is that ghosting is always driven by what our competitor is doing.
  • This depends in part on where we are in the business development lifecycle– the ideal situation is to be able to ghost in an invisible way.
  • How does ghosting work in different phases.In the capture phase, we do this by making sure that competitor strengths and weaknesses play a role in solution development, teaming, and messages we deliver during customer interactions.If we know that the competitor tends to perform IT transformations using a shock and awe approach, we might develop a staggered schedule.If we know that a competitor has an office next door to the client, we might want to consider opening an office in the client’s building. If we know that the competitor has specialized skills that we don’t have, we might want to get a company with those skills on our team.If we have heard that our competitor’s system has been having performance problems, we might see if the customer is open to an alternative system.Ghosting accomplished during the capture phase is often invisible to the customer and unstated in the proposal.
  • In the proposal stage we can plant indirect references to a competitor’s weakness in our price, especially if our cost is going to be lower; and in the description of our technical and management solutions.
  • Although the company is not named, it is pretty clear that the incumbent is the subject here. When to use a subtle approach and when to use a more direct approach comes with experience and development of instincts. There are no rules that apply universally. The difficult decisions are the 50.5% versus 49.5% decisions and they are usually close calls. The easy decisions are made by lower level people. Capture and proposal managers have to make the difficult calls. That is what we get paid for!Nevertheless, there are some guidelines that can help us decide how direct we want to be.
  • Ghosting is icing on a cake.
  • First, let’s make sure we have met all the customer’s requirements. Contributors can get very confused if they are told to answer the requirements, at the same time, weave in these win themes, and then these discriminators, and then on top of that, please try to ghost this, that, and the other thing. Let’s bake the cake first without worrying about anything else. This will actually make ghosting easier because we will be very conscious and deliberate (and judicious) about it.
  • Let’s make sure we really understand our own solution. Having a solution that addresses the requirements is not necessarily the same as understanding it. Ghosting requires that we really understand it. Otherwise we might, in the interest of emphasizing a competitor’s weakness, assert something that is not correct.
  • Effective ghosting depends entirely on the accuracy of our information about first the competition and then also about the customer. Let me say that again: effective ghosting depends entirely on the accuracy of our information about the customer and the competition. AN EXAMPLE: Suppose someone tells us that the competitor is outsourcing all the low-value-added labor to a country with cheap wages and no benefits. We transmit this information to the proposal writers and tell them to add extra pages on our benefits, our commitment to our employees, our retention rate, and the productivity that comes from caring about our people. Adding this extra material means cutting something else. ANOTHER EXAMPLE: Suppose we have information or “intelligence” that says the incumbent has high labor costs. So we decide to ghost the competition by targeting their high labor costs. We lower our price. We bid less expensive people. And fewer people. If we are wrong, and what the customer really cares about is quality, if we win, we will be stuck with the job of meeting their requirements with fewer and less expensive people. That’s if we win. If the customer really cares about quality more than price, which is sometimes the case, there is a good chance that we won’t win. In other words, intelligence is critical. Best informed wins. We have to know what the customer might perceive as a weakness. It makes no difference if WE perceive it as a weakness and the customer does not. So if we revisit the earlier scenario, we see the term “perceived weakness.” Not all customers want to cut the price tag if it means lowering quality.
  • We have to make sure that any information that forms the basis for ghosting is up to date. The competitive marketplace is dynamic, and yesterday’s weakness can be overcome before the stock market opens up tomorrow morning. “Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.” This is the final gate we have to get through before it is appropriate to ghost.
  • How do you get this information? Many different ways. The biggest mistake we make in this area is reliance on one friend or supporter within the customer organization. We like these people. They are accessible and easy to talk to. The important calls are to the people that are more difficult to get access to and maybe not as friendly to us. When I was in business development, and later when I had internal customers within a company, my call plan consisted primarily of people with whom I really didn’t have much in common and couldn’t talk to easily. The others I would see anyway, at lunch or professional meetings. I maintained contact with them anyway. The others required work, and it wasn’t always comfortable, but they gave me a different view of the organization. Each data point, such as, the budget has been cut, the incumbent is expensive, has to be validated and tested using multiple sources. And we have to ask in every instance, suppose we are wrong?
  • Overt ghosting rarely works. Likewise with mentioning a competitor’s name in a negative light. Years ago when I was doing direct work for a client, a competitor, let’s call it the XYZ company, went to my customer and said, “You should take the work away from Wendy and give it to us instead. We will do it for much less money.” The client called me and chuckled about it. Before I could even start to defend myself he said, “This does not make me think any worse of you. It makes me think much worse of the XYZ company!”When we ghost, we had better be darn sure that the weakness we are attributing –even indirectly– to our customer does not pertain to us. If so, the ghost could boomerang right back on us. Develop a list of candidate ghosting ideas and screen them carefully to avoid this trap.Exercise restraint in ghosting. A little goes a long way. If we don’t ghost until all the prerequisites have been met, then restraint will come automatically. How many situations are there where we have answered the mail, we fully understand our own solution, we really know our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, and we have confidence in the currency of our information? Keep the ghosting messages very simple; otherwise they will be lost or worse yet, misunderstood. It’s very easy to get into a cycle of counter ghosting, and then counter counter ghosting, and then counter countercounter ghosting. I don’t know about you, but this gives me a headache. A very famous China scholar, MIT professor, wrote a book about negotiating with the Chinese. His closing paragraph was, “Never try to out-Chinese the Chinese.”
  • Explain tradeoffsEmphasize discriminatorsReference neutral parties
  • The first technique, and a very effective one, is to explain which alternatives we rejected when arriving at our proposed solution. By definition, we have rejected something about the competitor’s approach. We did that for a reason, right? That means that the competitor’s approach has a weakness we can exploit. Let’s say that on the way to developing our management approach, we explored the idea of providing four points of contact with the customer in four different offices. Our analysis could be presented in the form of pros and cons of that approach versus the pros and cons of a management approach with a single point of contact. Here is what the tradeoff analysis might look like:
  • Unless it is a purely quantitative table, arriving at the optimal solution entails weighing the pros and cons not from our perspective, but from the customer’s perspective. So if we say that we rejected the four points of contact because of the expense involved, we have to know that the customer is under pressure to save money. Otherwise our argument is irrelevant. In other words, our pro and con tables have to be expressed in terms of what the customer cares about. If we can’t identify the weakness in terms of something we know represents a value to the customer, such as saving money, sometimes we can point out the risks associated with an alternate approach, especially if there are risks we believe the customer might not be aware of. Here are the engineering problems with that approach. Here is the risk of poor performance. Tradeoff analyses are most effective when they are based on objective judgments, backed up by metrics or specific details, about the downside of the approaches we rejected, and not subjective judgments.
  • Emphasize discriminators—by definition, something that we have that our competitor doesn’t speaks to a competitor weakness. If we are the only team with an office in the same building as the customer’s office, that represents a weakness in the customer’s position that we can exploit. Let’s suppose we are a company bidding on a help desk contract. We have a tool that uses voice recognition to analyze the incoming call and automatically search the knowledge base so that the topics related to the key words in the call immediately appear on the screen in front of the person fielding the call. This cuts down on the time-per-call by a minute and increases the number of calls that can be managed by 50%. If no one else has this, then everyone else will be able to manage fewer calls than we can with the same manpower. That is a weakness we can ghost. IF we know that the customer cares about the volume of calls per day. Here again, we have to validate based on what is of interest to the customer.
  • Reference neutral parties. Objectivity carries credibility. If someone who has no dog in the fight has compared us favorably to a competitor, this is great ghosting material. Of course, the comparison has to be for an attribute that the customer values. Price, quality, effectiveness, speed, transparency, --whatever it is, let’s make sure the customer cares. And it is important to monitor these third party evaluations on an ongoing basis and to have them available, rather than having to dig for them the week before the proposal is due.
  • Suppose we suffer from a handicap that we know the competition knows about. For example, our system failed to function at a recent trade show. Do we anticipate that the competition will ghost this? We could talk about how we have improved the systems since that show. Suppose we are half the size of the other firms bidding a big, complex job? Do we talk about how we have mitigated our small size by assembling a strong team of companies we have worked with before? The answer is, it depends on several things. First, does the customer know what the competition knows? If so, we probably want to counter-ghost. At that point, it isn’t really ghosting—it’s offsetting a known weakness which is part of the proposal and capture strategy. If the customer doesn’t know, are we just drawing attention to ourselves by counter ghosting something we think the competition will ghost? Judgment call.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Ghosts or Hobgoblins?
      Wendy Frieman
      Lohfeld Consulting
    • 2. Agenda
      Post- submittal
      Proposal development
      Pre-proposal preparation
      Opportunity ID & assessment
      BD Phase
      Capture Phase
      When to Use
      Proposal phase
    • 3. Defining Ghosting
      Sun Ze
      Using information about the competition to win
    • 4. Defining Ghosting
      Ghosts can more visible…
      …Or less visible
      Ghosting to win: the context determines how visible
    • 5. When to Ghost
      Capture phase
      BD Phase
      Proposal phase
      Throughout the lifecycle
      Capture stages
      Solution development
      Validate ghosting ideas
      Ghosting to win: early is better!
    • 6. When to Ghost, cont’d
      Capture phase
      BD Phase
      Proposal phase
      Proposal phase
      Price proposal
      Technical and management approach
      Legal and contractual approaches
      Ghosting to win: opportunities exist at each stage
    • 7. CASE STUDY
    • 8. Case Study: Background
      Medium-sized IT company
      Bidding against incumbent that—
      has been in place for 10 years
      is similar in size
      has virtually no turnover for the past five years
      has a rich benefits package and nice offices
      staff organized into four teams
      deals with the customer through four different POCs in different offices
    • 9. Case Study: Ghosting Options
      Perceived incumbent weakness: COST
      Hire incumbents and create cost center with lower rates
      Hire less expensive labor
      Do the work with fewer people
      Perceived incumbent weakness: INEFFICIENCY
      All proposed staff in one location
      A single point of contact
    • 10. Ghosting Text for the Proposal
      Less visible
      A single point of contact with ABC company in will result in efficient communication, less travel, and lower administrative costs.
      Collocation of all ABC personnel in one building will result in economies of scale, opportunities for cross training and knowledge sharing, and higher productivity.
      Ghosting to win: subtle is usually better
    • 11. Ghosting Text for the Proposal
      More visible
      A single point of contact with ABC company in will result in efficient communication, less travel, and lower administrative costs. With multiple POCs, the possibility for miscommunication and unnecessary duplication of effort increases dramatically
      Ghosting to win: name without naming
    • 12. SUMMARIZE
      Levels of Intensity
      When in the Lifecycle Should we Ghost
    • 13. 13
    • 14. Gates to Pass Through Before Ghosting
      We can win without ghosting
      We can ghost and lose
      Ghosting to win: make sure we can ghost effectively
    • 15. GATE 1: Requirements, Requirements, Requirements
    • 16. GATE 2: Know Your Solution
    • 17. GATE 3: Accurate Data on Your Competitor and Your Customer
    • 18. GATE 4: Is Your Information Current?故 兵   无 常    势 , 水   无 常    形 Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. 
    • 19. Let’s Apply What We Have Learned
      10 data points provided
      For each one, rate the validity of the information on a scale of 1 to 10
      1 is relatively useless; 10 is solid and credible
      Add the total number of points when we are done
    • 20. How Valid Is Our Information? (1)
      1. Someone we know overheard a phone conversation in an airport about our competitor being investigated for fraud.
      2. The customer we are targeting told us he really wants us to bid when the contract is recompeted.
      3. A representative from our customer’s organization makes an announcement at an industry event about the date of the RFP release.
    • 21. How Valid Is Our Information? (2)
      4. Our partner’s (teammate’s) employee lives next door to someone from the customer’s organization who advises us not to bid on the recompete.
      5. The recently (2 months ago) retired CIO from the customer’s organization, whom we met at an industry event, told us that the contract is ours to lose.
    • 22. How Valid Is Our Information? (3)
      6. Someone from a company on our team who has a contract with the same customer says the incumbent can’t possibly lose.
      7. The president of our company calls and says a board member told him that the incumbent is going to cut its price by 30%.
      8. We find the incumbent’s current contract on the internet; it shows where they took exception to terms and conditions.
    • 23. How Valid Is Our Information? (4)
      9. We read an article in the trade press that says our competitor is on shaky financial ground and reports that its stock price has been dropping.
      10. Our corporate business intelligence unit tells us that we have bid against this competitor nine times and lost each time on price.
    • 24. Lessons From This Exercise
      Mathematical abstraction
      Incomplete information
      Judgment calls
      Two Farmers
    • 25. Getting Accurate Information
    • 26. Principles
      Glass houses
      Exercise restraint
      Keep it simple
      Ghosting to win: less is usually more
    • 27. Techniques
      Explain tradeoffs
      Emphasize discriminators
      Reference third party information
      Anticipating ghosting by the competition
      Ghosting to win: be deliberate
    • 28. Tradeoffs
      Our solution is the logical conclusion of a process
      Alternatives include the competitor’s approach
      Pros and cons of each alternative
      Eliminate alternative approaches
    • 29. Tradeoff Example-1
      Management approach featuring 4 distributed teams and 4 points of contact
      Direct access to an expert
      Quick resolution of issues
      No integrated record of customer issues
      No cross training or knowledge sharing across teams
      30% more expensive
    • 30. Tradeoff Example-2
      Management approach featuring single location and single point of contact
      Saves 30%
      Ensures accountability
      Provides single record of interactions
      Single POC needs comprehensive knowledge to route issues
      Conclusion: A Single Point of Contact is Best
    • 31. Tradeoffs-Making Them Persuasive
      Does the customer want to save money?
      What other possibilities exist?
      Tally up from the customer perspective
      Tradeoffs: Test Against Customer Intelligence
    • 32. Discriminators
      Excellent way to ghost
      Our discriminator is a competitor’s weakness
      Customer knowledge critical
      Discriminators point to ghosting opportunities
    • 33. EXAMPLE
    • 34. Easy Formula for Using Discriminators
      What is our discriminator?
      What is great about it?
      What is the disadvantage of not having it?
    • 35. Third Party Information
      Our assertions can seem like hand-waving
      Impartial evaluations convey credibility
      Find out what sources the customer trusts
      Continuous monitoring and data collection
      Objective information enhances ghosting
    • 36. Will Our Competition Ghost Us?
      Every offering has vulnerabilities
      Invisible to people vested in the solution
      Should be offset
      Not really ghosting
      Vulnerabilities should have already been addressed
    • 37. Apply our Knowledge
    • 38. Case Study: Background
      Medium-sized IT company
      Bidding against incumbent that—
      has been in place for 10 years
      is similar in size
      has virtually no turnover for the past five years
      has a rich benefits package and nice offices
      staff organized into four teams
      deals with the customer through four different POCs in different offices
    • 39. Case Study Updated
      1. Per an announcement in the newspaper, the customer’s budget has been cut by 30%.
      2. 25% of the incumbent staff has posted their resumes on
      3. According to someone who just retired from the customer’s organization, where he worked closely with the program manager, the customer program manager is about to retire.
      4. According to the incumbent company’s website, they have just won an award from the customer we are targeting for the high quality of their work.
      5. The RFP is out.
    • 40. Applying Our Knowledge
      Based on the information presented in the case study
      1. Do we have enough credible information to ghost?
      2. What ghosting techniques should we use in this scenario?
    • 41. Summing Up
      Knowledge is key
      Exercise restraint
      Ghost early
      Be deliberate
      Ask what happens if you are wrong
      For more proposal knowledge, visit sign up for our Section L E-zine.