You can submit literal reams of sales material, develop an impressive use-case document to include in the appendix, etc... but none of it will matter without sturdy contacts that you've worked with in the past.
In terms of importance and "how much does this matter?" - references come in second place, after your pricing.
But wait... does the purchaser/agency actually call up each reference and ask them a standardized list of questions?
In fact, yes. And in most U.S. states, they're bound by procurement law to do so. They may wait until the vendor is shortlisted before calling references, but you never know where along the process they'll call; it's not something that is externally shared with the public, and for good reason. They would prefer at least some level of uncertainty (some call this war fog) so that references can't be coached too extensively.
Our Methodology and Ask
We ask that our proposal development clients think about, strategize, prepare, and assemble powerful client references for inclusion into a future proposal or template.
We want to know a little bit about the following:
The scope of the project (specifics of the work performed for the reference)
A dollar amount range for the total estimated contract value, which helps us rank the references
What problem was solved, how you solved it, and some other misc. information about the project - if possible
Considerations for Looking Forward
Assembling the Reference List
A varied mixture is better than a uniform list of projects that all look similar. Different stakeholders, beneficiaries, customers, end-users, etc., but also different levels of complexity and creative team structures are best.
Make sure you receive verbal permission to use them (possibly, repeatedly) as a client reference and describe your goal(s) with the new business development effort. Also, confirm phone numbers, emails, addresses and current titles during that call.
Optimizing the List
It's always best practice to revisit the reference list for each major pursuit. Moreover, we recommend that you assign someone internally to touch base with your references every 2-3 months.
Testimonials versus Phone Calls
The purchaser/agency will always prefer phone calls over vendor-supplied testimonials. While the former is active, current, warm, responsive - the latter is passive, assumed to be outdated, cold, and non-responsive. You want to encourage more new dialogues and show an openness to impromptu questioning about your past performance.
One Final Statement
We are happy to review your best references (or really, any references) to gauge inclusion and fit. TKS cannot provide a reference for you; rather, we can point you in the best direction for where to look.
You may submit any other questions regarding this topic to: firstname.lastname@example.org