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  2. You’re pleased to submit your proposal. So what? You care about quality. So what? You’ve got great experience. So what? You’ve got top-in-class, state-of-the-art solutions. So what? You’re fast growing. So what? You’ve won awards. So what? Why should the customer care? How do you know if you’ve said something the customer cares about? Ask yourself if it passes the “So what?” test. People often say things in their proposals that do not pass the “So What?” test. They start their proposals, and often most paragraphs with pleasant and professional sounding sentences full of words that don’t matter one bit. Of course you “care about quality,” but no one is really believing “quality is your highest priority.” All these sentiments add is noise. Extra reading. How do you think that makes the evaluator feel about your proposal? Do not write a single sentence in your proposal that fails the “So what?” test. For every single sentence in your proposal, ask yourself “So what?” If the sentence leaves that hanging, rewrite it. Never, ever assume that the answer is obvious. Your company has 30 years of experience. So what? What’s the customer getting as a result of all that experience? Why does it matter? What impact will it have? What difference does it make? So what? It’s a simple thing. And yet even people who have heard about it seem to forget. It’s a rare proposal that I review that doesn’t have at least one instance of failing the “So what?” test. Advanced application of the “So what?” test It's such an easy concept that many people overlook all the ways to use it. You can apply the “So what?” test to more than just your sentences. You are submitting a proposal. So what? Why should anyone except you care? You’ve got an approach, offering, staff, resources, etc. So what? The “So what?” test is about more than just sentence construction. It’s about discovering what it all means and creating a proposal that matters more than just as a way to get contracts that earn money. The reason the "So what?" test works so well is that it shifts people from thinking about what to say to the customer into explaining why. "Why" shows insight. The reasons why you do things can be a bigger differentiator than what you do. Do you prefer a vendor that does what they are supposed to, or a vendor that understands why things are supposed to be done that way? Answering "So what?" turns you into the vendor with insight. If you want to make yourself unpopular, try asking “So what?” at the next meeting you go to where people are talking about bid strategies. A lot of bid strategy suggestions are weak and fail the "So what?" test. But you can also be a hero by using the “So what?” test to replace all the platitudes with bid strategies that matter. A fun homework assignment would be to review the last couple years of proposals and look at the win rates of those with bid strategies that passed the “So what?” test compared to those that didn’t. The “So what?” test helps you create a meaningful proposal by seeing things through your customer’s eyes. The simplicity of the “So what?” test betrays some important subtleties. For example, you must ask “So what?” as if you were the customer in order to arrive at an answer that matters to the customer. The “So what?” test is a tool for understanding your customer. Try applying it to what you see in the RFP and you might be able to gain some insight into what matters beyond the requirements. One of the more challenging aspects of the “So what?” test is that it can be recursive. Ask and answer. Then ask again. And again. You can do this forever. Here’s an example: We are committed to keeping risks low. So what? We are committed to keeping risks low in order to prevent problems. So what? We are committed to keeping risks low in order to prevent problems that could increase your costs. Now you’ve said something that matters. But you can still ask “So what?” again. We are committed to keeping risks low in order to prevent problems that could increase your costs so that the project remains within budget. The point a which you stop asking “So what?” is when it doesn’t matter anymore. Adding “so that the project remains within budget” is pointless. It does not matter. It can also cause challenges with page limitations. When you are out of space, you have to prioritize what you add based on what will impact the evaluation criteria the most. The good news is that you can use the “So what?” test to identify beneficial sounding but meaningless sentences that can be dropped completely. Just don’t start applying the “So what?” test to instructions from your boss or executive mandates. Seriously, this simple test should come with a warning label.
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  4. The following links are from the Introduction to Content Planning course. They are here in case you need a quick refresher before jumping into the exercises: In the exercises, you'll be stepping through all 8 iterations for creating a Proposal Content Plan. Here are a list of those iterations so you know what to expect. For a reminder about what a Proposal Content Plan looks like and how it works, here is a presentation from the introduction course to help you visualize it. Here is a link to a sample Proposal Content Plan you can download where you can see examples of things that might help you complete the exercises. If you get stuck anywhere, remember you can always use the Q&A Forum to ask questions.
  5. Proposal managers get all the glory and usually more money. Proposal writers are sometimes treated like low-skilled interchangeable assembly-line workers, as if any writer can do the job. But proposal writers are different from other forms of writers. And if you care about your win rate, it’s a difference that matters. Proposal writers are matchmakers as much as they are writers. They don’t merely articulate, they put things in context. They don’t merely find the right words, they find the right considerations to bring into alignment, and then find the right words to express it in a way that matters to the proposal evaluator. There is always more than one way to say something. Proposal writers consider multiple ways of saying things until they find the combination that produces the best chance of winning. Then they articulate it. Their skill at what to consider is as important as their skill at writing. First, they must consider RFP compliance. Then they must consider optimizing the language for the evaluation score. Then they must incorporate the company’s bid strategies and positioning. They might even need to reference the company’s strategic plan or branding guidelines. Then there is the consideration of graphics and visual communications which are often initiated by the proposal writers. And oh yeah, while they’re at it they must not only describe the offering, but do it while focusing on what matters about it. Doing this usually means collaborating with one or more subject matter experts who understand the offering, but usually don’t understand the context that it must be presented in. And all of this must be written not as simple descriptions, but from the perspective of what the customer needs to see to make their decision. They must translate not only the words, but the perspective as well. And this is just the mechanics. Considering the strategies, positioning, and other elements required to put the offering in a context that makes it the customer’s best alternative is where a proposal writer's matchmaking skills come into play. Proposal writers create a match between you and your customer. Proposal writers create a match between your best attributes and strategies, and what the customer needs to see in order for you to be their best alternative. They not only produce a proposal, but they help you realize what your company needs to become to reach its full potential. While other forms of writing are pure art, proposal writing is just as much a process. It has a discovery phase, an assessment phase, a planning phase, and an implementation phase. It’s not just as simple as putting words on paper. It requires steps. In many ways, the writing part is the smallest. It's one part writing and 999 parts figuring out what to write. Proposal managers provide vital leadership. They herd cats. They implement the necessary process. It’s a critically important role and very difficult. But proposal managers need writers who can do more than put RFP compliant words on paper. Proposal managers lead, but they require proposal writers to win. And just as all types of writers are not the same, they don’t all have the right skills to win. Think about that the next time you select a proposal writer. You aren’t selecting a writer. You are selecting a winner. And to win you need someone who understands how to put things in the right context. Incidentally, the skills a proposal writer needs do not always correlate with experience or training. Sometimes well-trained proposal writers with tons of experience still write descriptive copy from their own perspective. If you are a PropLIBRARY subscriber, here’s an assessment tool we created to help you identify those who have the gift.
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  7. Technical writers value clarity and accuracy. People must be able to not only understand their instructions, but follow them. Technical writers describe carefully. They help people learn and execute tasks. Proposal writers put things in context. A descriptive proposal is a bad proposal. Proposal writers seek the alignment between the RFP, the offering, and the bid strategies. They position for advantage. They explain what matters about processes, instead of how to follow the process. They do not describe. Instead, they translate what needs to be known into what matters from the customer’s perspective. They help evaluators learn only what they need to know to make their selection. Even though both are writers, both are writing for a purpose, and both believe they can express what needs to be expressed, very few people can do both types of writing well. All proposal writing needs to make a point and not simply inform. The points made in a proposal involve positioning against everything that will impact the evaluators' decision. These typically include how the buyer will benefit from the offering, how the proposal relates to the evaluation criteria, and everything that matters to the customer. Proposal writers tell a story. Both technical writers and proposal writers need to anticipate the questions their readers will have. However, proposal writers position their answers to put them in the context that gives them the best chance of being selected. Both technical writers and proposal writers need to understand their reader’s perspective to translate what they want to communicate into terms the reader will best understand. However, proposal writers must anticipate the reader’s reaction and put things into terms that have the best chance of getting selected. A proposal writer and a technical writer might start with the exact same subject matter to cover. A technical writer will produce a clear and accurate description of what needs to be known. A proposal writer will produce a rationale based on the subject matter, written from the customer’s perspective, that makes it clear why their offering is the best alternative. Instead of describing the details, the proposal writer will position those details to relate to the decision the customer is going to make. A technical writer and a proposal writer have different goals, they have different approaches, and they produce a very different document. Where a technical writer communicates what needs to be known in terms the reader can understand, a proposal writer considers how the details relate to the evaluation process and bid strategies, and then articulates what the customer needs to hear to be convinced. Great proposal writing requires information and insight into the customer’s perspective and how they will make their decision. Great proposal writing also requires insight into the best pursuit strategy. Regardless of who you have writing your next proposal, your success will directly relate to your ability to position what you put in your proposal. Every single thing you say in your proposal should reflect your positioning. And while proposal writers will articulate your positioning, if you don’t bring the right customer awareness and bid strategies to them at the start of the proposal, you are asking them to write a winning proposal with both hands tied behind their backs.
  8. The way most companies do it Most companies have one proposal review, which is often worse than having none. Some have more than one, but still base them on milestones making them more progress reviews than quality reviews. This is especially true since almost no one actually defines proposal quality. The result is that quality is not quantified and they commit the worst sin in proposal development. The way everyone aspires to do it Everyone loves the idea of reviewing and scoring the proposal the same way the customer will do it. Unfortunately, this is easy to say and nearly impossible to do. It is a rare RFP that has enough detail to enable you to actually score the proposal. It is a rare company that has enough customer insight to score it the same way the customer will. The result can be a quantifiable assessment of quality, but not an accurate one. Because it is not reliable, it can be part of the mix, but should not be your only way of defining, assessing, and quantifying proposal quality. Define it and measure against your definition Proposal quality should be defined. Then you can use criteria to determine whether your proposal fulfills the definition. Few companies have the discipline to do this because you must define proposal quality before you write the proposal, and not fall into the trap of writing and rewriting until you think you’ve got it figured out. Few companies have the discipline to do this because it makes the job of the review assessing the narrative against proposal quality criteria and not simply reading and judging. Few companies have the discipline to do this because creating criteria that are sufficiently objective enough to become measurable is not easy. Combining them all Milestone reviews are necessary to prevent getting ahead of yourself. If you start writing narrative based on an outline that is invalid, you are creating the potential for a quality disaster. The outline needs to be reviewed before proposal writing starts. There is a similar issue with bid strategies. You can't write to substantiate the points you are trying to make, if you don’t know what they are before you start writing. Then there are bid/no bid and proposal readiness reviews, pre-final production, ready for submission, etc. Once you have identified your proposal quality criteria, you can allocate them to milestones in order to assure that proposal quality builds over the life of the effort. You can also make emulating the customer and scoring the proposal as the customer might one of your criteria defining proposal quality. Scoring is just one way to assess whether the proposal reflects the customer’s point of view and gives them the information they need to conclude that your offering is their best alternative. We use a combination of our Proposal Content Planning and Proposal Quality Validation methodologies to combine all these elements and quantify proposal quality. We start with a baseline set of sample proposal quality criteria and look at over 60 quality considerations that we then customize around what it will take to win each pursuit. In addition to quantifying proposal quality, this provides traceability from the proposal narrative to your bid strategies and what it will take to win. Combining them all enables you to assess proposal quality as it progresses through its phases of development. When you score your quality criteria, such as with a simple red/yellow/green or a scale of 1-10, you can chart the progress of your proposal. Do it across all your proposals and you gain a benchmark and can assess what correlates with your win rate. You can turn proposal development from an art into a science.
  9. If every company intending to bid is struggling to prepare their proposal, then perhaps the one who does the best job of recovering from their mistakes is the one who is most likely to win. Maybe, just maybe, in addition to giving your attention to implementing best practices, you should give some attention to getting better at submitting imperfect proposals. I’ve seen many more proposals that were a mess than I have proposals that went smoothly. A good way to hurt yourself is to review a proposal that you thought was one of your best after you submitted it, and start counting all the defects. We’ve never seen a proposal, including the ones we’ve worked on ourselves, check every box for how we define being a great proposal. All proposals, including the great ones, involved trade-offs, risks, and compromises. Facilitating trade-offs, taking risks, and expediting compromises better than your competitors is just as important to winning as aspiring to best practices. Maybe, just maybe, instead of submitting a proposal that is as perfect as you can make it, you should simply aim for a proposal that doesn’t make critical mistakes like: Compliance failures that get you thrown out Outlines that change after the writing has started Figuring out your bid strategies and the points you want to make after the writing has started Designing your offering by writing about it These are highly disruptive mistakes that can be impossible to recover from. Other mistakes and defects are easier to recover from or even tolerate. If you avoid these mistakes, there’s a much better chance your team will say enough good things to outscore a competitor who was also struggling to complete their proposal. Four mostly counterintuitive tips that can make a big difference Okay. I get it. You’re not going to have any failures on your proposals. Everyone will fulfill your expectations. And you will aim high and always hit your target. In my experience, it doesn’t play out that way. And insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over expecting different results. Even though it may be counterintuitive, you might achieve more success if you tried doing things differently: Fail quickly. If you wait for a major review to discover and fix your mistakes, your chances of recovering are less than those of a competitor who did smaller reviews more frequently. Consider validating decisions as they are made instead of waiting for the Powers That Be to see the document. Design your process around validating things right away instead of putting it off in the name of a “quality review” that comes too late to do any good. Manage expectations. The sooner you know that your expectations won’t be met, the sooner you can figure out how to work around them. Aim lower. Simplify. Go for simple elegance instead of ornate. Make it easy to produce and require fewer people. Aim for reliably preparing proposals that are good instead of heroically failing at producing great ones. It’s hard to look like an overachieving employee full of esprit de corps when you’re pulling your punches, but the odds sometimes favor a defensive game instead of exclusively relying on offense. Maximize your score by hitting what you aim for instead of overreaching. Make sacrifices for the greater good. Skip things, like proofreading. Which is more important, getting the bid strategies right or proofreading? If you answer both, you might be the reason why final production falls apart. It’s better to ship an intentionally imperfect proposal than a broken one. A wise co-worker of mine used to say, “Better is the enemy of good enough.” It’s about reliability and managing risk. Maximizing risk is not a good strategy for maximizing quality. Heroically challenging bad odds is a way to mostly lose. That occasional heroic win won’t make up for the lost revenue. Be the tortoise instead of the hare. Or better yet, build a process that is resilient instead of heroic, and steadily crank out proposals that are better than those of your similarly struggling competitors.
  10. It’s hard to write a proposal. There are so many things that need to be considered and factored into the writing. This also makes a proposal hard to review. How do you consider and double-check everything during a review? The answer is, “you don’t.” It’s not possible, unless you want your review to take nearly as long as the writing took. Do you really need to double-check EVERYTHING? My answer to that is only the things that are important for winning. And there should be nothing in your proposal that is not important for winning. Quality half-measures is not a winning strategy. A partial review is not better than nothing if it misses something that results in a loss. This means it’s not so much a question of “what should I look for” during a proposal review, but rather how to structure your proposal reviews to check EVERYTHING. This is a problem, because you can’t review: RFP Compliance Bid strategies Messaging Writing, style, consistency, and grammar Graphics, layout, and presentation all in one sitting. And even if you could staff the review and give it the time needed, it wouldn’t make sense to review all that as a snapshot in time. What do you mean by "proposal review?" So the first thing you should realize is that you’re not going to review EVERYTHING in one sitting. This means you’re going to need more than one review. In fact, it’s vital to have more than one proposal review. If you have multiple reviews, then each review should have a different focus, and you need to define the scope of each review. A proposal review without a defined scope is a safety net with holes, relying on luck to catch the problems. The best way to define the scope of your reviews is to start by defining what “everything” means. Identify “everything” that needs to be validated. Then allocate those things to as many reviews as it takes. Along the way, you’ll find that the things you need to validate fall into categories and phases of the proposal’s development. But don’t make the mistake of organizing your reviews around moments in time. Don’t look at the calendar, decide to have a certain number of reviews, and then decide what they should focus on. This tends to result in multiple un-scoped reviews. How do you define the scope of a proposal review? Instead, start with what you need to validate. What you review is far more important than how you review it or when you review it. You might have multiple teams validating multiple things at the same time. You might even have some things that can be validated while the proposal is still being written. Some things need to be validated before others can start. Some things can be reviewed by someone working on the proposal, while others might require some distance and objectivity. If the proposal is small, you might have one person validate an item. But if the proposal is valuable, you might require a team of people to validate the same item. So start with what you need to validate. Then allocate it to reviews, reviewers, and the calendar. This enables you to make sure that everything that needs to be validated gets addressed, and that you do it at the appropriate level. This becomes the scope for each review, giving your proposal reviews specific purpose, greater accountability, and more reliability. When you reach this level, there are several benefits that result. The first is that you can define your review criteria before the writing starts, so your writers and reviewers are on the same page. You can also turn the process of identifying criteria and allocating them to reviews into a forms-driven process that not only makes it quick and easy, but also enables you to review how you are going to review the proposal. This enables you to tailor the review to the needs of the proposal, while validating that it still meets the needs of your company for oversight. This takes you to much higher levels of proposal quality and improved win rates than simply having an un-scoped, un-defined proposal “review.” To accomplish all of this, we created a methodology called Proposal Quality Validation. This formalizes how to identify proposal quality criteria, allocate them to reviews, use them to define the scope of reviews, and even how to validate that you have sufficient validation.
  11. PropLIBRARY is rapidly changing from being a resource library into an organizational change tool for improving win rates. That’s not a bunch of marketing speak, that's a result of combining our information resources with a customizable online training platform. We have added more than a full day’s worth of online training to our process documentation and best practice guidance. We will continue to add courses until we have about a week’s worth. And we’re not charging extra for it. Our Corporate Subscribers can use PropLIBRARY to provide a week of training and business and proposal development to up to 50 staff. What will the impact of that be? But online training is not our full vision. We want to build something that shows people how to overcome their challenges so they can prosper. We’ve taken the idea of online training a few steps forward. We started by making our training customizable. We can tailor our courses to match your particular needs, like when, where, and how to account for time spent working on a proposal. Or to teach people the information you need to qualify a lead in your particular line of business. Then we realized something far more important about it. We can use that customization to solve problems. When you recognize a need to change, such as from a lessons learned session, you need to get that message in front of the right people at the right time. Building training into the process helps. But when the training itself adapts and changes, it takes things to a higher level. Imagine deciding that reviewers need to be on the lookout for something. So you make a change to the 20-minute reviewer orientation course. Then you send the link to your review team and ask them all to go there before the review on Wednesday. Incidentally you can track who does. The same approach can work with writers. You can have them take a course, whether short or long, prior to starting to work on the proposal. Or, if you look at their draft and realize there’s a problem, like if it’s not written from the customer’s point of view, you can send them a link to a course that explains it to them. The same approach can also work with subcontractors, consultants, or anyone else who needs to know your process or procedures. But wait, that’s not our full vision. We’ve taken the whole tracking and reporting thing, and turned it into a way to implement an internal certification program. You can have people certified as being qualified to review proposals, write them, etc. And they are certified in doing things your way. They have to prove their knowledge through the quizzes built into the training, and they have to demonstrate their skills through the exercises. PropLIBRARY tracks their course participation and issues awards and certificates when they meet the right thresholds. PropLIBRARY transforms training into something continuous and built into the process. It transforms it into a tool that you can use to develop an organization's ability to win what it pursues. It enables you to track participation and use your win rate and lessons learned as feedback to continuously adapt and improve. That way it’s more than just an online training platform. From a business model perspective, we’re aiming to get you there with our off-the-shelf training for about $100/person and customized for less than $400/person. We can show up and do instructor-led training when needed. But with online training, there are no travel costs and billable staff can stay billable. For less than the price of a single course per person, we’re delivering continuous organization development that continuously improves your win rate. A PropLIBRARY Corporate Subscription currently costs $3,000. On May 1st, it will increase to $6,000. We'll also be offering a fixed price customization service. If you purchase a Corporate Subscription before then, or at least contact us to let us know you've started the paperwork and are just waiting for it to complete, you get the current price. Click here to ask us a question Or call 1-800-848-1563
  12. Your people are afraid to lose proposals. This is true even though most companies lose more proposals than they win. Maybe it's the large value and huge amount of effort that's on the line. The people you most need to grow your business live in fear. And it’s not a productive fear. It’s an accountability avoiding I don’t trust you to watch my back I’m not going to take a risk win rate limiting kind of fear. Sometimes it’s an I need some CYA to avoid getting blamed and I'd better blame someone else first kind of fear. It’s not a healthy let’s all maximize our chances of winning by making expectations clear or let’s take some risks together so we can beat the competition kind of fear. It’s the kind of unproductive fear that makes you more likely to lose. Do you know anyone like this or resemble it yourself from time to time? Have you known business developers who avoid process because they are limited by how open and willing to share each customer is? Or that don’t want to be held responsible for providing information they can’t always get? Or who don’t admit what they don’t know and can’t find out? Or who don’t want to be held accountable if the information they get from one source is wrong or if that source does not participate in the decision? Have you known business developers who obfuscate and avoid participating in the proposal where spoken words become concrete? Have you noticed how they stay in prospecting and avoid closing? All because of fear. Fear reinforced by incentives that have negative side effects. Have you known proposal specialists who are terrified of being blamed for a loss because they are the last to touch the document? Have you noticed they sometimes create a process that’s not actually documented and when people can’t follow it they can blame them for not following it? When reviews are performed inconsistently and ineffectively, have you known proposal managers who sandbag the reviews by running out the clock and lumping everything into a single review that can’t possibly consider everything it should, so they can pick and choose which comments to ignore and which to take action on? Have you seen proposal specialists retreat and just focus on production, which is the only thing they control, rather than helping people prepare winning content? All because of fear. Have you known executives who participate in reviews just enough to take credit, but not enough to establish accountability for oversight? Or who create strategic plans that are all about the financials and encourage bidding anything, with positioning that has nothing to do with winning proposals? Or who arrive at reviews unprepared and avoid defining quality, let alone validating all its components on every bid? Have you known executives who don’t enforce deadlines, but expect people to be grateful when they expense some pizza because people are working a late night because deadlines were missed? All because of fear. Companies like this win by submitting merely compliant proposals that are low on price. The feedback they take away from winning is that they can get away with bidding anything and their process is just fine. Most companies aren’t that bad. But the feedback mechanism works the same. They play it safe, hedge their bets, don't go out on a limb, and get by just well enough that it takes away their incentivize to change. The difficulty of changing never seems worth the cost. They are made up of good people who work extra hard to hide their fears. But the fears are still there, quietly changing people's behaviors and eating away at your win rate. How much higher would your win rate be without this fear? And how can you possibly get there? Create an environment where you can have clear expectations that aren't turned into threats of performance accountability. Set standards for what constitutes a valid process and what proposal quality means. It's not enough to say you have a process. Implement a bid/no bid decision process that doesn’t hang people out to dry on low probability pursuits that are understaffed and being bid just because the company can. Make sure people understand how ROI, overhead, and trade-off issues impact staffing and resource allocation decisions. Of course you're understaffed. When people understand why and see a path to fixing that, they'll buy in and help you grow your way out of it. Make sure the potential upside of winning is far greater than the fear of making mistakes. Make trustworthiness as important as performance, and require people to have each other's backs and support each other Involve reviewers as collaborators and supporters, not as critics or drive-by lecturers. Make sure reviewers are as dedicated to their role as the rest of the proposal team. Or at least that they show up prepared. Make sure people are emboldened to take risks and foster a culture that recognizes the necessity. Make sure people realize that you don't have to do proposals — you get to do proposals. The difference is important Overcome fear with inspiration, at all levels of the organization. This is more than just having pep rallies. This is about giving people a reason to believe in what they are doing. If you're not sure about whether you have the right staff, watch their performance during a pursuit. Many truths will be revealed. Companies like this do exist. But more often it’s a group or unit within a company that has exceptional leadership. You know how you can’t win a proposal if the customer doesn’t trust you? You also can’t win proposals if your people are too afraid to trust you and each other.
  13. Price always matter. But some customers define price as value. They are willing to pay more to get more. Other customers want the lowest possible price. And the lowest possible price depends on what is the minimum they will accept. One term for this kind of evaluation is low price, technically acceptable (LPTA). In an LPTA evaluation, no matter what you say or do that's better than the minimum acceptable, the customer will not care. It looks like all the customer cares about is the price. And while this is mostly true, there is one thing other than price that the customer may pay attention to. A good strategy for winning an LPTA evaluation is to influence what “technically acceptable” means. This is far easier to do before the RFP is written, when you can discuss with the customer what they need to do to ensure they get what they need despite the award going to whoever lowballs the price the most. The end user is likely to be receptive to language that will prevent cost-shaving tricks. But what do you do after the RFP is released? How do you write a proposal, when what you say in the proposal hardly matters? In an LPTA evaluation it does not matter if your approach is better. It only matters if an approach is good enough. What can you do during proposal writing that will make a difference when the customer will only be evaluating minimal compliance? Try writing about what minimal compliance means Define your minimum standards and explain what happens when they are not met. Explain why they are your minimum standards. You want to provoke the customer into making a comparison and asking whether the other bids meet that standard. You want the customer to decide that if a company doesn’t meet that standard, their bid is not acceptable. The customer will not do this just because you think they should. They will only do this if the problems that result from failing to meet the standards you describe can’t be tolerated or lived with even a little bit. They will not do this if there’s a chance that something unacceptable might happen if the standards are not met. I’m not a big fan of selling by scaring the customer. But in an LPTA evaluation, you need to inform the customer about unacceptable things that can happen and motivate them to accept the standards you describe. If an award is made without discussions, then your definition of minimum acceptability must be clear, quotable, and result in any bid lower in price than yours getting thrown out. This is a long shot. But you know the subject matter, and you know what opportunities to look for to make your case. If the customer responds with questions or requests for clarifications before making an award, there’s a much larger chance that the issues you raise will become questions sent to your competitors. When a company receives a question from the customer asking if they meet a certain standard or have accounted for something, it’s hard to say “no.” You want those questions to trigger your competitors to raise their prices in order to meet those standards. In defining minimal acceptability, look for things that may cause your competitors to raise their prices. You must do this so many times and in enough magnitude that your proposal is not only the only one technically acceptable, it is also the lowest in cost. How do you implement this approach in your proposal? At every opportunity, preferably in every paragraph… Position everything you do that might be more expensive than a competitor’s approach as being absolutely necessary for success. Prove this point. Explain why your minimum standards are the absolute minimum for acceptable performance. Stay objective and avoid qualitative values like “less risk” because the customer has no way to evaluate qualitative differences in an LPTA evaluation. Avoid things that are improvements above the minimum requirements. You get no credit for being better. You get no credit for adding value. You only get credit for being acceptable. If you must propose an improvement, then it must be something that is necessary (and not just better) and you must prove that. Explain the trade-off decisions you made. But remember, there is no “better.” All trade-off decisions must be between unacceptable and minimally acceptable. Prompt the evaluator with everything that your competitors should account for in order to be minimally acceptable. Articulate things to give the customer the wording to use in justifying a claim that another bid is not acceptable, or to ask a competitor whether they meet a standard or have accounted for something.
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  15. Most companies perform their proposal reviews at level two. They recognize the need and are serious about reviewing their proposals. And yet, the results are not always effective and many ask themselves if it's worth it. Some have made it to the third level and they understand that reviews are needed across all phases of the pursuit. But they too suffer from inconsistent results. Few, if any, companies ever reach the higher levels. I wonder why that is. It's especially perplexing when you realize that your competitiveness depends on the level of sophistication of your proposal reviews... Levels of proposal reviews: We review most of our proposals. We don’t have enough staff/time to review all of our proposals. If you have reviews and no written quality criteria, then you do not have a quality process. You have a review process. A review process is a good first step, but you will be more competitive if you evolve it into a quality process. We do a major review of every proposal before it goes out the door. This seems like an accomplishment, but unless you push to the next level, you are vulnerable to discovering that systemizing one proposal review can be worse than having none. You have achieved improvement but not quality. We have several proposal reviews over the course of each proposal. This is a huge advance over only having a single review. It narrows the scope considerably, but can still leave the scope for a given review undefined or too wide. You still have a problem with subjectivity, writers and reviewers not being on the same page, and getting contradictory or irrelevant advice from reviewers, because you are still effectively asking reviewers to give their opinions. You have well organized improvement over the life of the pursuit, but not quality. We have multiple reviews of each proposal, and we train our reviewers. Ten-minutes of discussion about what to look for before starting the review does not count as “training.” Do you train them in procedures, or in what to look for? Training reviewers in what proposal quality is, what the standards should be, and what to look for is necessary for raising the bar on the competitiveness of your proposals. The most experienced and capable proposal specialists may not agree on how to define proposal quality and what the criteria should be. You have no quality standards for your proposal unless you create them, and your reviewers consistently enforce them. The process of debating, standardizing, articulating and implementing your proposal quality criteria is one of the most important things you can do to increase your competitiveness. It’s how you set the bar. It’s how you raise the bar. It’s a necessary step toward making sure things are done correctly. Reviews without this may sometimes be very effective, but they will also be inconsistent. Our proposal reviews are based on criteria and not on milestones. At this level, you realize that what matters most is to validate the fulfillment of your quality criteria. The number of reviews or how they are conducted is a lesser concern. But to maximize your competitiveness, some of these criteria will be pursuit-specific. This means you need a process for defining your quality criteria on every pursuit, and reviewers trained to enforce pursuit-specific quality criteria. This is the level where you switch from having a review-oriented process to having a quality-oriented process. It is as big a step as when you first implemented reviews, and it requires organizational commitment to change how you perform proposal reviews. We have a written definition of proposal quality based on what it will take to win that we use to inform our quality criteria, we customize our criteria for each opportunity, and our proposal writers and reviewers both use the same criteria. This is the level you should be trying to get to. This is where you take your quality criteria driven reviews and integrate them into the function of closing the sale. When you create your quality criteria before the writing even starts, so that writers and reviewers both have the same expectations and the same standards, you integrate quality into your entire process. This results in better proposals that are far more competitive than proposals that have been reviewed, no matter how many times. Which level is your company at? What we find at the companies that have engaged us as consultants is that they are willing but struggle with time management and getting everyone on the same page. The senior staff who often participate in proposal reviews often only have a limited amount of time to give. Making the shift from milestone-based reviews to criteria-based reviews can mitigate the time management issues. But it requires an organization that is willing to change how they perform their reviews, and it often requires a strong mandate to get everyone to leave their review process behind and embrace a quality-oriented process instead. Companies that embrace quality methodologies everywhere else, often fail to apply them to their proposals. If you'd like to discuss how to successfully make that transition, just let me know...
  16. While proposal sight reading is a good technique to know, if you are using it to perform all of your reviews something is wrong. It is better to have a proposal quality methodology that is comprehensive and not simply quick. You can read more about improving your proposal reviews here. The process we recommend for methodically reviewing proposals and maximizing their quality is called Proposal Quality Validation. We will post online training in how to implement it soon!
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  19. Congratulations! You've reached the point where you always have proposal reviews. You may even recognize that only having one review can be worse than having none, and have several reviews. But while your reviews make clear improvements, reviews alone are not enough to achieve quality proposals. It all comes down to how you define your proposal quality criteria. The odds are you don’t have any. Most companies don't have written quality criteria (and there is no other kind). Most reviews are performed by getting experienced people around a table with little or no advance preparation and having them sight read a draft of the proposal and give their opinions about what should be changed. A collection of people, no matter how gifted and wise, who think they know what quality is when they see it is not a quality methodology. If your reviewers just show up and render an opinion, then your definition of proposal quality is based on a whim. Sometimes many whims. That often conflict. So where do proposal quality criteria come from? It turns out that they're the same as the guidance you should be (but possibly aren’t) providing to your proposal writers. If the instructions you give your proposal writers reflect your definition of proposal quality, the instructions can be converted into quality criteria for use by your reviewers. We created a methodology for providing instructions to proposal writers called Proposal Content Planning and a review methodology based on converting them into quality criteria called Proposal Quality Validation. If you plan to convert the instructions in your Proposal Content Plan into quality criteria, you really should have a review to validate those instructions. And if you do this, that review will become as important as, if not more important than, the review of the draft proposal that comes later. Yes, your organization's decision regarding how quality will be defined for the proposal will do more to impact the quality of the proposal you submit than the review of the narrative draft if that definition is used as the blueprint for building the proposal. These instructions will need to reflect what it will take to win. And knowledge of what it will take to win will require customer intimacy, which will in turn require relationship marketing. You also need a way to design the winning offering that does not amount to engineering design by writing about it. To achieve proposal quality validation, you need more than reviews. You need quality criteria that derive from the instructions you give to your writers and are based on a flow of information that extends back in time to before the proposal even starts. In other words, to achieve proposal quality validation you need to integrate the steps that produce your quality criteria and not just simply have some reviews. Quality results from an integrated process and not from a step that occurs near the end. In many ways, the proposal process is not a writing process. It is a process of defining and achieving proposal quality. Since most companies don’t bother to define proposal quality, you can gain a significant competitive advantage and improve your organization's ability to win what it bids by being the one who does.
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