Owning an ambulance company today is often a tale reminiscent of David versus Goliath. As an owner or operator of an local ambulance company, you are faced with many challenges each and every day. Aside from ensuring you have the staff, the vehicles and the equipment to respond to ambulance calls, you are also responsible for growing your business by increasing market share.
Often times, you are faced with competing against one of the large national providers that have unlimited resources and a team of proposal writers dedicated to responding to RFP’s. The question many ambulance company owners are faced with is: How can I compete against Goliath and be successful?
Get Your Slingshot Ready
Developing the resources to respond effectively to a Request for Proposal should occur well before a RFP is released to the market. Many times, companies wait until the last minute to start gathering the resources necessary to develop a proposal. My advice revolves around the simple premise that “every day is a day we need to submit a proposal.” This means that your company should create a Proposal Database that contains graphics, pictures, company background information and documents that are standard to each and every RFP process. If you have responded to proposal requests in the past, each response should be located in a single electronic folder that will allow for easy “cut and paste” options.
Examples of documents that are usually required in a proposal include:
· Company background and formation documents
· Pending litigation
· Professional references
· Two or more years of audited or reviewed financials
· Certificates of Insurance (COI)
· Overview of clinical and billing practices
· Overview of operational practices and protocols
· Administrative and operational organizational charts
It is never too early to have these developed and saved into your Proposal Database. Developing these resources during a time when no proposals are pending provides your company with the ability to refine the message and edit for pertinent content. The best time to develop your proposal or work with a professional proposal writer is when there is no pressure of an impending submission deadline.
Write an Amazing Summary
There is an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but when faced with a multiple responses from several ambulance companies, each consisting of 200+ pages, you better believe that your proposal is judged by its first page. Most evaluation committees are faced with the painful scenario of having to read 200+ pages of different companies’ proposals. It is well known that many evaluators only read the first page and then start skimming. The executive summary or cover page should give a high value overview of your proposal, hitting all of the discussion points explaining your company is the only choice for their community or facility. Having that information on one page makes a great first impression and says to the client “we are professional and we are trying to be helpful”. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to set the tone for the remainder of your proposal.
Be Clear and Concise
Other than Chinese water torture, nothing makes the evaluator’s mind go numb like endless shop-talk, buzzwords, and information that isn’t requested nor has any impact on the request. Most evaluators will view 200+ pages of your proposal as punishment if you make them read more than they need to. If you can answer the question in one paragraph why make them read four? Be clear and concise; make sure that you stick to the points that are necessary to convey the information to the evaluator. Simply remember that “less is more” so long as you answer the questions.
Answering the Hard Questions
In my opinion there is never such a thing as a “stock request for proposal.” What’s the point in spending the time writing a proposal if you’ve answered questions the proposal didn’t ask for, or worse, didn’t answer the questions they did ask? As simple as it sounds, you must answer their questions. The easiest way to be eliminated from the competition is by not answering their questions. No matter how mundane or irrelevant, you have to assume they asked the questions for a reason and they’re judging you on the responses you provide.
References, References, References
The best way to prove to the evaluation team that your company is the clear choice to meet their needs is to show them examples of your success. Dispel any doubt that they might have regarding your ability to fulfill the project by listing three to five contracts of the same caliber that you completed and have strong similarities. Detail those similarities so that the client can say “oh, that’s just like ours”. If the next sentence from the evaluator is “I like what they did here” you have a great chance of being a finalist.
Telling the Story While Selling the Company
Are RFP’s won on price alone? The simple answer is usually not. Ambulance companies in a competitive market fall into the trap that pricing is the greatest differentiator between the competitors. If pricing is your sole focus, you tend to have two problems: there will always be a company that underbids you and you’re not focused on bidding the RFP but are worried what the competition will bid on the proposal. This narrow focus skews your pricing and sets you up for failure.
Try this approach: instead of focusing on the price, focus on your company. Be sure you communicate what makes your company the new, unique and perfect choice for the community. You want the evaluators to come away from reading your proposal thinking “they seem like the perfect fit for us” which is a much better takeaway than “well, they submitted an average proposal but they’re the cheapest”.
The million dollar question that you need to answer in each and every proposal is “why are you the right choice for this contract? It may sound elementary, but the answer to this question is never simple. It takes a well thought out plan of development and execution.
About the Michael Shabkie
Michael Shabkie has extensive ambulance business development experience and has also served as a key collaborator for EMS system design, developed winning contracting strategies, managed political and public affairs, and acted as an executive advisor on ambulance industry operational processes for both public and private ambulance organizations. For more information visit: http://www.engage911.net