Competitive Analysis in Proposal Response

First time here? Check out our previous entries in this series:

  1. Game Theory and Proposals: An Intro
  2. Applying Game Theory to the Bid/No-bid Decision

Having discussed how game theory can influence the bid/no-bid decision process in our last blog, we’ll explore another significant aspect of responding to proposals: competitive analysis. This crucial step involves understanding the competitive landscape and formulating strategies to help an organization stand out. 

Competitive Analysis in Proposal Responses

Competitive analysis thoroughly examines competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategic behaviors. It helps an organization identify potential advantages and understand what sets it apart. When responding to a proposal, organizations must consider their capabilities and the proposal’s requirements, and how their competitors might respond. 

Understanding the competition is crucial. It helps shape the proposal, emphasizing specific capabilities, pricing strategies, and value propositions that can make the organization’s offer more attractive than its competitors. 

Game Theory and Competitive Analysis

Game theory provides valuable insights into competitive behavior. Let’s explore how two of its principles — zero-sum games and the prisoner’s dilemma — can be applied to competitive analysis in the context of proposal responses.

Zero-Sum Games and Competitive Analysis

A zero-sum game is a situation in which one player’s gain is another’s loss. In the context of proposal responses, a zero-sum game would occur when there’s a single contract or grant at stake and multiple competitors: whoever wins the contract, the others lose out.

Understanding competitive scenarios as zero-sum games can help organizations anticipate the strategies of their competitors. For example, suppose a competitor believes the organization will likely submit a lower-priced proposal. They might highlight their unique value propositions to sway the decision.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Competitive Analysis

The prisoner’s dilemma is a common game theory scenario in which two individuals could benefit from cooperating but are tempted to betray each other for personal gain. This is a key game theory element, so let’s linger on it for a bit.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Imagine two friends, Alex and Bailey, who get caught doing something wrong together. The police don’t have enough evidence to convict them of a big crime, but they suspect they have committed a smaller crime.

Alex and Bailey go into separate rooms for questioning, so they can’t talk to each other. The police offer them a deal: if one of them stays quiet and doesn’t confess, while the other confesses and cooperates with the police, the one who cooperates will get a lighter punishment, and the other will get a harsher punishment. If both confess and cooperate, they will get a moderate punishment. But if both of them stay quiet and don’t confess, the police only have enough evidence to give them a minor punishment.

What should the robot do?

Here’s where the dilemma comes in. Alex and Bailey must decide without knowing what the other person will do. They both want to avoid the harshest punishment, so they must consider the other person’s choice.

If Alex thinks Bailey will stay quiet, Alex might confess and cooperate with the police to get a lighter punishment. But if Alex thinks Bailey will confess, it might be better for Alex to confess and cooperate to avoid the harshest punishment.

Bailey faces the same dilemma. If Bailey thinks Alex will stay quiet, Bailey might choose to confess and cooperate to get a lighter punishment. But if Bailey thinks Alex will confess, it might be better for Bailey also to confess and cooperate.

In the end, Alex and Bailey might end up confessing and cooperating with the police, even though they would have been better off if they had both stayed quiet.

The prisoner’s dilemma shows how two people, even though they want to help each other, might end up making choices that hurt both because they are worried about what the other person will do. It’s a tricky situation where trust and cooperation can be difficult. Game theory helps us understand these situations and how people decide what others might do.

In proposal responses, a similar situation could arise when two organizations could both benefit from not underbidding each other (cooperating). Still, each might be tempted to underbid to secure the contract (betraying).

Understanding such dynamics can help organizations predict competitor behavior and craft more strategic responses. For example, if an organization anticipates that a competitor might be underbid, it could preemptively address this in its proposal by highlighting the risks or downsides of choosing a cheaper but potentially lower-quality option.

When Should You Cooperate with Another Organization in Submitting a Proposal?

It may be beneficial to cooperate with another organization when submitting a proposal in several situations:

  1. Complementary Capabilities: If your organization and another have complementary capabilities, cooperating on a proposal could allow you to provide a more comprehensive and compelling solution than either could offer alone. 
  2. Sharing Resources: If the scope of the RFP or grant opportunity is larger than what your organization can handle, partnering with another organization can allow you to pool resources and share the workload.
  3. Increasing Credibility: If your organization is new or less established, cooperating with a more established organization can help increase your credibility and improve your chances of success.
  4. Accessing New Networks: Cooperating with another organization can provide access to new networks, clients, or markets your organization couldn’t reach.
  5. Learning Opportunities: Partnering with another organization can provide valuable learning opportunities, allowing you to gain insights into different working methods, new industry best practices, or innovative strategies.

Before entering such cooperation, it’s essential to ensure that both organizations share similar values and goals, have clear and open communication, and have defined a fair and mutually beneficial agreement.

Tools and Strategies for Effective Competitive Analysis

Many tools and strategies can help organizations conduct effective competitive analyses. SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), for instance, can be used to understand the organization’s and competitors’ capabilities. Porter’s Five Forces framework can help analyze the competitive environment.

Game theory complements these tools by providing a mathematical framework to predict competitor behavior and identify optimal strategies. By combining these approaches, organizations can better understand the competitive landscape and develop more effective proposal response strategies.

Follow up: Tools for competitive analysis.


SWOT analysis is one of the most valuable tools in a strategic planner’s arsenal, allowing organizations to understand their operational landscape in-depth. This easy-to-use framework encourages businesses to examine their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – forming the SWOT acronym. Let’s explore each of these elements in further detail.

Strengths: Recognizing Your Competitive Edge

The initial stage of conducting a SWOT analysis involves recognizing the strengths inherent within your organization. Strengths can be any attributes or capabilities that give your organization a competitive advantage and help you excel in the marketplace. They might include unique products or services, a strong brand reputation, innovative processes, or exceptional human capital. 

Understanding your strengths is about more than just acknowledging what you do well. It’s about strategically leveraging those strengths to gain an advantage over competitors, to attract and retain customers, and to navigate challenges. By correctly identifying and applying your strengths, your organization can better position itself within its industry and marketplace.

Weaknesses: Identifying Areas for Improvement

A frank examination of organizational weaknesses forms the next part of the SWOT analysis. This introspective stage involves pinpointing areas in your organization that might not measure up to the competition. Weaknesses can take many forms, such as limited resources, outdated technology, service or product quality gaps, or lack of brand recognition.

Acknowledging weaknesses isn’t a process of self-defeat but rather an opportunity to improve. Recognizing and understanding these weaknesses allows your organization to devise strategies to mitigate their impact, shore up gaps, and prevent these areas from eroding your competitive standing. This process can also help ensure resources are effectively allocated towards these areas of improvement.

Opportunities: Capitalizing on External Prospects

Opportunities in a SWOT analysis refer to the favorable external factors or trends your organization could exploit for its benefit. These might include market growth, societal shifts, technological advancements, policy changes, or any other external factors that could provide a platform for growth or improved performance.

Identifying opportunities involves being in tune with your industry and wider environment. By keeping a finger on the pulse of external developments, your organization can react swiftly and effectively to capitalize on these opportunities, thus gaining a competitive edge.

Threats: Preparing for External Challenges

Finally, a SWOT analysis examines potential threats to your organization’s success. These threats, originating from the external environment, might include new competitors, regulatory changes, economic downturns, shifts in consumer behavior, or disruptive technology.

Recognizing threats is a crucial aspect of strategic planning, as it enables your organization to anticipate potential challenges and develop preemptive strategies to mitigate their impact. Understanding these threats can safeguard your organization’s competitiveness and resilience.

A SWOT analysis is a powerful tool that helps you understand where your organization stands today and how to position it for future success. By comprehensively analyzing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats in your environment, you can develop robust strategies that propel your organization forward. Through this, you can leverage your advantages, address your shortcomings, seize external opportunities, and navigate potential threats, thus enabling your organization to thrive in an ever-evolving business landscape.

Porter’s Five Forces

Porter’s Five Forces framework is a tool that helps analyze the competitive environment of an industry. It was developed by a professor named Michael Porter. This framework considers five important forces that shape competition and influence the profitability of companies within an industry. Let’s take a closer look at each of these forces:

  1. Industry Rivalry: This force examines the level of competition within an industry. It considers factors like competitors’ number and size, market share, and the intensity of competition. If there are many strong competitors in an industry, it can make it harder for companies to stand out and be profitable.
  2. Bargaining Power of Suppliers: This force looks at suppliers’ power over the companies in an industry. Suppliers are the ones who provide the necessary resources, materials, or components needed for a company’s products or services. If suppliers have a lot of power, they can dictate terms and raise prices, affecting the profitability of the companies that rely on them.
  3. Bargaining Power of Buyers: This force focuses on the power of customers or buyers within an industry. If customers have a lot of power, they can demand lower prices, better quality, or additional benefits from companies. This puts pressure on the companies to meet these demands and can affect their profitability.
  4. Threat of New Entrants: This force considers the possibility of new companies entering the industry and becoming competitors. If it is easy for new companies to enter the market, it increases competition and can lower profits for existing companies. However, if there are significant barriers to entry, like high costs or regulations, it can protect existing companies and their profitability.
  5. Threat of Substitutes: This force looks at alternative products or services that can fulfill the same purpose as the ones offered by companies within the industry. If many substitutes are available, it can limit companies’ pricing power and profitability. Customers may switch to substitutes if they offer a better value proposition.

By analyzing these five forces, businesses can gain insights into the competitive dynamics of their industry. It helps them understand their opportunities and challenges and make strategic decisions to position themselves better. For example, they can identify areas where they can differentiate themselves, negotiate favorable terms with suppliers and customers, or develop strategies to deter new entrants. Overall, Porter’s Five Forces framework provides a structured approach to analyzing the competitive landscape and making informed decisions to achieve a competitive advantage.

In our next blog, we’ll delve deeper into how game theory can inform the development of the proposal itself. Until then, remember that understanding your competitors and anticipating their strategies can give you the upper hand in securing that next big contract or grant!

Further Reading

This article by Gurl does a great job of overviewing the literature behind SWOT, but the community toolbox provides a huge resource on implementing it. Click below!