Level the Playing Field – Never!

In the middle of a conversation the other day when something just popped out. I told a client that our basic philosophy is to level the playing field with your competition and then use brand differentiation to tip the scales your way. I have never been able to say it so simply and I wanted to pass this along. Let me explain.

Level the Playing Field – In business, especially A/E/C, you have qualifications you have to meet and certain capabilities everyone has to have to be in business. This can be a LEED certification or a particular crane, just something everyone has anyway. In your marketing, you must convey that you are qualified so you are not passed up for RFPs or private work. After you have meet the qualifications & leveled the playing field, it’s time to stand out.

unfair field

Clients are looking for an easy choice, even beyond price. If you are reading 10 documents that all read the same with a different logo, you can only choose based on 1 thing – price. If your proposal stands out from the other 9, you can win even with a higher price. Your proposal needs to focus on what sets you apart from the others – customer service rating (good service does not count), expertise, niche market, specialized equipment, faster & more efficient turnaround are all great differentiators.  If you convey that your company is special and why it makes since to choose you – based on ROI, speed, ease of use, etc. – then you win. Each of these reasons can help you win even if you cost more. In fact, what makes you special, your differentiation, should poke holes in the other companies’ bids. Your proposal should make the client ask, “Why don’t they have this?” You just unleveled the playing field!

Don’t believe me, here are two examples:
– One of our clients does public roadways, chemical plants, and parking lots. The company has a superior reputation for customer service which leads to non-compete bids and more private work. They actually care about customer service in the public works arena when they really don’t have to worry about it. Their reputation for attention to detail and extra care precedes them and bleeds over to the private sector when other public work companies can not compete because of their reputation for dragging their feet, poor quality, and poor communications.

– Another one of our clients won a federal Corps project where they were double the lowest bid. How did they possibly win that bid? They focused on what makes them different – specialized equipment unique to themselves, past project experience, and decades of experience. The other company had only been in business for a couple of years and combined, the company had less than 25 years of experience while our client had two superintendents each with 40+ years experience. The client needs to make this project right because of public scrutiny and the need for fast results questioned if the other company could actually do the job. The project was performed beautifully before the deadline with no work change orders.

If you were the client picking the winner who would you rather pick, the lowest bidder or the easy to work with, most experienced company that has the know how for doing the job? Easy to pick when the field is not level.