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  3. Exercise: Using the outline to tell a story

    monthly_2017_02/58a9b79f1d57c_Exercise-Usingtheoutlinetotellastory_docx.e9b8eb2ec512272d06dc27de629e32bb
  4. monthly_2017_02/58a9b72d416d3_Exercise-Creatingamorechallengingproposaloutline_docx.79c4338740506bc07f2b10d23c555252
  5. Exercise: Creating a Proposal Outline

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  6. Most of the examples of proposal outlines we see on the internet are bad. Really bad. And many of them are used in textbooks! Here is a typical example: Title Summary/Abstract Introduction/Background Statement of the Project Problem Recommendation/Solution Objectives Scope Methods Schedule Budget/Pricing Resources/Staffing Conclusion References Now, forget you ever saw it and never use any of these headings. While this outline may get you a good grade on a lab report, using it in a proposal could result in a loss because: It forces the decision maker to read halfway through your proposal before they find out what exactly it is you are proposing. It at best creates extra reading for the decision maker and at worst is patronizing, by telling them about themselves and telling them what their problem is. Recitation does not show understanding or scope. It’s giving them information they already have when what they want is a solution that proves you understand because it addresses their concerns. It saves the conclusion for the end, when that should be the place where a proposal starts. You see variations on this outline all over the place, probably because that's what people learned in school. It might be easy for a teacher to grade, but it makes a buyer’s decision more difficult, and that will increase your odds of losing your proposal. This outline is not competitive against an outline that’s written to give the decision maker what they need. The headings in your outline should tell the customer what they need to know The best way to understand how to write a proposal is to put yourself in the shoes of the person making the decision. When someone sends you a document asking you to do something, what do you need to see to decide what to do? The decision maker starts with questions and looks for answers. They don’t read your proposal. They look for answers. When you are the decision maker, your questions might include: What am I going to get or what will the results be? Have my expectations been fulfilled? Do I have sufficient information and have my questions been answered? What could go wrong? Why should I believe I’ll get what’s been promised? What does the vendor want from me? How much is it going to cost and is it worth it? Am I sufficiently motivated to move forward? If I accept the proposal, what do I have to do? Now pretend that you are receiving a proposal from someone who wants you to do something, approve something, or buy something. Think about the first thing you want to read. If you weren’t expecting to receive a proposal, it might be “What do you want (from me)?” If you were expecting the proposal, then the first thing you'll probably want to know is “What am I going to get?” This is closely followed by “What do I have to do to get it?” and “Is it worth it?” If you agree that it’s worth it, you’ll want to dig deeper and find out what it will take to make it happen. At that point you start looking for things that could go wrong and will want to make sure you can trust the person or company who brought you the proposal to deliver what they promise. If this is what the decision maker is looking for, then that is what your outline should be. You can use the questions above to organize your proposal: Introduce what the customer is going to get Are you fulfilling their expectations? Explain how you will do or deliver the desired results Are you answering all of their questions, addressing and mitigating any risks, eliminating obstacles, establishing value, and proving that your proposal is their best alternative? Have you credibly shown that they will get what you’ve promised? If you are basing that (at least in part) on your experience or track record, have you shown what they’ll get as a result of your having that experience or how it will impact this project? Describe the cost and explain how to move forward Have you made it clear what they need to do to act on your proposal (including both their procedures as well as yours) and given them sufficient motivation to take that action? Converting what the customer needs to know into your outline You should organize your proposal around the questions that you anticipate the customer will have. But to convert these questions into an outline you present the answers. Instead of words that define categories, you can use your headings to deliver a message. If your headings are answers instead of questions, they can tell a story on their own. They should all add up to proof that you are the customer’s best alternative. When you answer the questions you anticipate the customer having, provide each answer as a heading and then substantiate them in the text. Each heading should provide one more reason why the customer should accept your proposal. After you do this, compare it to the outline at the top and ask yourself which best provides the buyer with what they need to know. What about the RFP? If you're writing a proposal in response to a written RFP that specifies how they want the proposal organized, you must follow their outline. If you are like me, you didn't learn in school how to parse the instructions in an RFP into an outline, let alone how to incorporate multiple sections of the RFP to create a compliant outline. And you definitely didn't learn how to create a compliance matrix. However, the evaluator still has the same questions and they still need to find the answers in your proposal. An excellent way to exceed the RFP requirements without increasing the cost of your solution is to do a better job of answering these questions, especially the ones they forgot to ask. If the RFP permits it, you can usually add to the customer's required outline. This gives you a chance to create a proposal that does a better job of answering the customer's questions. The primary goal of a proposal is not to inform or describe, it’s to persuade by helping the reader decide. To win your proposal, you need to provide the decision maker with the answers they need and then motivate them to accept your proposal. Your outline should be organized to meet their needs and not simply recite the problem or categorize information.
  7. 16 things to make your proposal about

    One way to approach proposal messaging is to make it about something. It helps to focus your thoughts. And it can give you something to stand for. Instead of simply positioning against the competition and everything else, you position to matter about something. This helps the customer perceive your value. When the competing proposals aren’t very different from each other, this kind of subtlety can determine who wins, because it shows better insight, understanding, and even value. The list below is also a good tool for learning to think about things from the customer’s perspective. You shouldn’t just focus on what you’d like to make your proposal about. You should make your proposal about what matters to the customer. 16 things to consider making your proposal about: You. It’s usually a mistake to make the proposal about yourself. But most companies do. It’s kind of like trying to get a date by talking only about yourself. Likewise, if you are the buyer, do you want “pick me!” to be a constant refrain? You can make the proposal about your being the customer’s best alternative, but this works best when you take it a step further and make it about what the customer will get by selecting you, instead of simply being about why to select you. The customer. All proposals are about the customer, whether you write them that way or not. Recognizing this explicitly and writing from their perspective is very powerful. Your offering. While you need to describe your offering, that’s not what your proposal should be about. Your proposal should usually be about why your offering is the best alternative for the customer. It’s always about the customer. Fulfilling the customer’s needs. Making your proposal about fulfilling your customer’s needs is one way to bring focus to making your proposal about the customer. Just be careful to make it about the customer getting their needs fulfilled and not about you as the one who will fulfill them. Don’t cross the line and make it about you by accident. And don’t make it about the fact that the customer has needs because that awareness of that fact doesn’t deliver any value. Instead make it about the fulfillment of those needs. A solution. While you’re offering a solution, what the customer is really interested in is why that solution is the customer’s best alternative. What the customer will get out of your solution and what makes it the best alternative may matter more than the solution itself. Giving the customer what they asked for. When the customer tells you exactly what they want and expects your proposal to be about that, it’s still about them. It’s about why your way of delivering exactly what they asked for will give them the best results or benefits. It’s about them getting what they asked for with the most value added. Even if price is the only value they are concerned with. And keep in mind that everyone else will be proposing at least what the customer asked for. Being about something doesn't have to cost any money and can make the difference. Getting results. It’s not the offering that customers usually want, it’s the results that offering delivers. Or more accurately, it’s about how much better off they’ll be because of those results. It’s always about the customer. The results of a procurement are often just a means to an end. When this is the case, the results that best facilitate achieving that end will have the most appeal. A recommendation. If you want the customer to take action, you can make a recommendation. You can recommend that the customer select you, but that’s the same as making the proposal about you. If the customer isn’t sure about what they want, or if they don’t realize the implications of what they’ve asked for, you can make recommendations that will achieve better results. If this deviates too far from their expectations and evaluation process, this can be risky. But if you deliver what they asked for, and can give them better options while staying within the structure of the RFP, you can offer a value that is highly differentiated. If the customer lacks expertise or has difficulty deciding what to do, you can make your proposal about your willingness and ability to make recommendations and enable the customer to make better informed decisions. Informing and teaching. Sometimes the customer just doesn’t know what they are doing. Maybe they’re just not good at writing RFPs. If you can avoid patronizing and offending them, you can deliver a proposal that is informative and teaches them what they need to know, and along the way you can show them that you are their best alternative. Even a well written RFP will require trade-offs, and your rationale in resolving them can matter. When you make your proposal about informing and teaching, you demonstrate the value of your expertise. Demonstrations trump declarations. Preventing a problem. When a key feature of an offering is that it prevents problems, you can make your proposal about that. The trick is to make it about the benefits of the resolution, and not about the problem itself, because your value is the resolution and not the problem. Focusing too much on the problem is just selling fear. Reducing risk. Reducing risk is similar to preventing problems, but with more uncertainty. With risk it’s not a feature in your offering that prevents a problem, but your techniques for identifying and mitigating risks that matters. You might not even know what the risks are at the beginning. For example, in systems development there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Your ability to prevent, monitor, and respond when they happen may matter to a risk averse customer. Making an improvement. Do you know a better way? Can you help the customer become better, more capable, faster, or more efficient? Just remember to make it about the customer and how much better their improved future will be instead of the improvement itself. And make sure you address any reluctance they may have in changing the status quo. Return on investment. Does the customer consider what you are proposing to be an expense or an investment? What they need from a vendor is different between the two. How does the customer perceive the procurement? You can prove it is worth it to spend as much as possible if your proposal nets a high return on investment, but if they view your proposal as an expense you need to reduce costs. If your proposal is about return on investment, make sure you prove your case. When a customer talks about obtaining the best value, it means they may be willing to invest in a better return but that their ability to do so may be limited. Answering the customer’s questions. If the customer is full of questions, your proposal can be about providing answers. But don’t just simply provide answers. Your proposal is really about generating sufficient confidence for the customer to move forward with what you propose. A destination. Where will the customer end up if they accept your proposal? How wonderful will it be? You can go beyond features and benefits and make your proposal about where they’ll end up as a result. Just make sure that’s where they want to end up. A differentiator. Customers look for the differences between proposals to determine which is better. If you are not actively identifying differentiators and featuring them in your proposal, you’re not trying to win. If you are, you can take it a step further and make your proposal about your differentiators. If you do so, make sure you make it about how the customer will be impacted by those differentiators and not the features that are different themselves. Features that differentiate get noticed, but it’s their impact that determines whether you win. Because many of these are related, you might be able to employ a couple at a time. But even though many will resonate with you, you can’t use them all at the same time and still have a proposal that is about something.
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  9. Proposals should stand for something. They are inherently aspirational. You aspire to win and beyond. The customer aspires to procure, reap the benefits, and beyond. Proposals matter when they fulfill aspirations. You want your proposal to matter. But are they your aspirations, your company’s, or your customer’s? Even within your own company, executives, sales, marketing, and proposal development staff all have different aspirations. Something similar is true for the customer’s aspirations. And which aspirations should impact your strategies? How do they impact what ink you put on paper? Discovering how you and your company’s aspirations impact your bid strategies: Are your aspirations tied to this particular pursuit, or are they broader? Should your strategies be aimed at developing the foundation for your broader aspirations? Are your aspirations personal or organizational? And if you answer “organizational,” who defines those organizational aspirations? How does this pursuit relate to them? Where is the line between your dreams and what can be achieved through this pursuit? How do those aspirations produce benefits for the customer of this pursuit? If you achieve your aspirations, why would that matter to the customer? Why should your aspirations make the customer more likely to accept your proposal? What should you change in your approach to the bid that would make this more likely? Discovering how your customer’s aspirations impact your bid strategies: Will the customer’s personal aspirations impact their decision making? Who defines the customer’s organizational aspirations and do the decision makers share them? Are the customer’s aspirations well focused, overly broad, or somewhere in between? Where is the line between what the customer dreams of and what can be achieved through this procurement? Does the customer have a consensus regarding their aspirations? How could this procurement impact the customer’s organizational aspirations? How do the customer’s mission, goals, and needs relate to their aspirations? Are there any conflicts between the solicitation requirements and the customer’s aspirations? Is your understanding of the customer’s aspirations up to date? What about fulfilling their aspirations could lead a customer to select one proposal over another? What can you do to further you and your customer’s aspirations in a way that makes your proposal the customer’s best alternative? Answering this in a way that impacts your bid strategies and what you say in your proposal can put you in a position of being the way for the customer to achieve their aspirations. What can you do or say in your proposal to become a vital part of the customer’s dreams? Or should you simply respond to the RFP like everyone else?
  10. Q&A or point-by-point proposal formats are so easy. You don’t have to give much thought to the outline. But that’s not the reason to choose them. What should drive your approach to creating an outline for your proposal is what the customer wants to see in your proposal and where they expect to find it. You do not want to lose just because the customer didn’t see things where they expected them and didn’t go looking for them. The first goal for proposals is to not get thrown out. If the customer has given you instructions regarding the outline or proposal organization and you do not follow them, they may throw out your proposal without even reading it. If there is an RFP, you should start there. Your outline should make it easy to find what they will be looking for. Usually, this is best done by putting things in the sequence and terminology used in the RFP. Within the structure mandated by the RFP, you can add more headings of your own underneath theirs if needed. That might lead you to a Q&A or point-by-point low level outline. Or not. If the RFP itself specifies a Q&A or point-by-point response format, then you are lucky because it is clear what the customer expects and you’re not just doing it because it is easier. As long as they don't conflict with the RFP, there are many ways to organize the material you want to present. A Q&A format is best when you can anticipate the questions that the customer will have. A point-by-point response is best when that suits the nature of your offering. This can happen when there are specific locations, components, or details about your offering that fit with the customer’s needs or understanding. But not all offerings lend themselves to a Q&A or point-by-point response. A proposal to provide complex services or a solution might not have a finite set of objective components to structure your response around. They might be better suited to organizing based on results, a process, functions, work breakdown structure, or something else. If telling a story is part of your proposal strategy, a Q&A or point-by-point response format can also make it more difficult. If the customer will have a formal evaluation process, like they do in government procurement, you might organize your response first around the RFP instructions, then the evaluation criteria, and then the offering in response to the statement of work. Organizing around the way the customer makes decisions or will perform their evaluation is a powerful way to build your outline. The best outline format is one that the customer thinks is best, and not necessarily the one that you think makes the most sense. Q&A outlines have the advantage of helping to make sure you answer all the questions that a customer might have. But not all subject matters are best organized around questions. You should choose the outline format that will: Not get you thrown out Meet the customer’s expectations Best support the customer’s evaluation or decision making process Facilitate telling your story Help guide them to realize that your proposal is their best alternative Consider each of these carefully before committing to a Q&A or point-by-point outline format for your proposal.
  11. Estimating course length

    Some people are faster than others. Estimating how long it will take someone to read something or perform an exercise can sometimes be very subjective. Here are some benchmarks we use to estimate course lengths to help refine and standardize our guesses: 1 article = 5 minutes 1 quiz question = 1 minute 2 presentation slides = 1 minute 1 video minute = 1 minute 1 page file = 5 minutes Here are a couple of examples: A one-hour course might consist of a single module with 5 articles, a 10-question quiz, a 10-slide presentation (or 5-minute video), and a 20-minute exercise. A 1.5-hour course might consist of two modules with 10 articles, a 15-question quiz, a 10-slide presentation (or 5-minute video), and a 20-minute exercise. A 2-hour course might consist of two modules with 8 articles, one 20-slide presentation, one 10-minute video, and a 1-hour exercise. Many other combinations are possible. Courses can be longer, there really is no limit. But for online consumption and development, it's better to break things up into smaller pieces. Sixteen one-hour courses are better than one 16-hour course.
  12. Course creation roles and responsibilities

    We'll do the actual posting of your content online. You just need to show up with the right content, ready to post. But there will be overlaps where we need to work together. Here are some examples: You have files that might be better converted to articles You have PowerPoint that could be post as a presentation, video, or just a file You have recordings that are long and may need to be broken up into small pieces You need to create quizzes and exercises You need help estimating the length of the material you have and whether to add, delete, or change it to fit your target Contact us early. That way we can talk through what needs to be done, help you avoid problems, and figure out how to best work together to get your course posted.
  13. Planning your courses

    If you have existing content, then your primary consideration will be identifying and filling any gaps. If you are creating a course from scratch, you will first needs to identify your needs. But even if you have existing content, you need to understand those needs to fill the gaps. Mapping instructional needs to course Start by identifying requirements such as: Capability to perform tasks Knowledge, awareness, or understanding Preparation required for contingencies Creating courses from scratch Map requirements to courses and identify course item topics to fulfill the requirements For each course item topic, identify the course item type based on subject matter (articles, presentations, videos, etc.). Consider whether subject is best learned by reading, stepping through the material, having it explained, performing exercises, etc. Consider quizzes for knowledge-based courses and exercises for skills-based courses Consider course length and reorganize courses as needed Create draft items Use the system to track progress and work towards a process of elimination Repurposing existing content While you should still consider the instructional goals above, repurposing content can be as easy as: Create a course item library Drag and drop into courses to create drafts Consider whether to post items as files, article, presentations, or videos Create draft items to fill any subject matter gaps Add quizzes and exercises Creating an outline You should plan your courses in an outline that looks like this: Course name(s) Module name(s) Item name(s) and type(s) Quiz or exercise in each module (optional but recommended) If you put your outline in a spreadsheet you can track other details like contributors, number of quiz questions, length targets, etc., it convert at least some of your course development into simple data entry.
  14. Course media and content types

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  16. Part of writing a proposal from the customer’s perspective involves not simply responding to the RFP, but understanding what the customer will do with your response when they get it. How will they read it? Will they read it, or will they simply score it? And if they score it, how will they go about doing that? If the customer has a formal evaluation process, like they do with government proposals, the evaluation criteria can give you clues about that process. Are the evaluation criteria objective or subjective? If they are scoring, how are they awarding the points? Or are they accumulating strengths and weaknesses without a numerical score? These questions are where you start before you ask yourself the really important questions: What do they need to see to give a maximum score? What do they need to justify the score they give you? What will they put on their evaluation forms? Where will they find what they need in your proposal? A sample of commonly used RFP evaluation criteria Too often people fill their proposals with the things about themselves that they think sound good, hoping the customer will take action on them. Only that’s not what the customer needs to complete their evaluation or even what they really care about. Sometimes companies do a little better and fill their proposals with beneficial sounding claims. But not all benefits translate into things that can be scored. If the customer likes your offer and wants to make an award to you, what words do they need to justify their decision? That is what you need to put in your proposal. And the RFP will give you clues as to what those words are. You must carefully parse the language of the evaluation criteria. How are the criteria grouped? Will it be treated as one bid item, or a bunch of specific items? How will they be labelled? What will they be giving credit for? Then ask yourself how can you organize and word your proposal so you can get the maximum score. Everything that you know about the customer, the opportunity, the competitive environment, and your own company and offering must be aligned with their scoring methods for it to impact whether you win or lose. And outside of things necessary to achieve RFP compliance, if it doesn’t impact your score, it’s probably not worth saying. If you want to say something, say it in a way that will make it onto their scoring justification forms. If you put saying things your way ahead of saying things the way the customer needs them said to process their evaluation, you will likely end up with a brilliantly eloquent proposal that loses. Along the way, you will make many discoveries, which could include things like: Will the customer be able to compare apples to apples? Will they be more focused on strict RFP compliance or have they given themselves room to use their judgment? What does the customer think is important? Price always matters, but how much in this case? Are they concerned about risk? You may also be able to detect whether the RFP is wired for someone else, like the incumbent. But don’t fool yourself. All RFPs can look wired and they almost never really are. Don’t just treat this as an exercise in presentation. There are strategic implications as well. What do you need to emphasize in order to win? What does your offering need to do or be? What strategies do you need to employ in your proposal to outscore your competitors? For formal evaluations, great proposal writing is not about finding the magic words that will hypnotize the evaluator. Instead, great proposal writing is about translating what you are offering into what the customer needs for their evaluation process in a way that maximizes your score. Everything about the pre-RFP phase of pursuit and everything that goes into your proposal needs to be done with achieving this goal in mind.
  17. Simple compliance matrix template

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  18. Exercise: Creating a compliance matrix

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  19. The best way to write a great proposal is to get inside the mind of the evaluator and make it easy for them to reach the desired conclusions. It helps to be able to read the proposal like an evaluator. This can be challenging when you don’t know who the evaluators are. But you can still anticipate what an evaluator has to go through and how they’ll approach looking at your proposal. You might also consider the culture of the customer’s organization and the nature of what they are procuring. The answers to the questions below can vary bid by bid based on these factors. The following questions are intended as a way to consider the customer every time you are writing a proposal, and not as a one-time exercise. Is the evaluator the end user of what is being proposed? How does that impact what they’ll look for in the proposals? What guidance has been given to the evaluator regarding their assessment? Are they free to consider whatever they want or reach their own conclusions? How does that impact how they’ll read the proposals? If the evaluator is not technical, when they read a proposal do they want an explanation of the technology or an explanation of why it is the best way to get the results they are looking for? Is the evaluator primarily concerned with the qualifications of the vendors (who has the most), or how their qualifications impact their ability to deliver as promised? How does this impact the way you should write about your qualifications? How does the evaluator assess experience? Do they quantify it and look for the vendor who has the most? Or do they look for vendors who explain how they apply their experience to achieving better results? How does this impact the way you should write about your experience? Does the evaluator want you to describe yourself, or do they want to know how those details will provide them with better results? How does this impact how you should present details about yourself? If the evaluator is not the decision maker, what do they have to do to justify their evaluation? What do they need to find in the proposals to accomplish this? What tasks does the evaluator have to perform in order to complete their evaluation? Will the way your proposal is presented make this easier or harder? If the evaluator has forms to complete, how will they approach reading your proposal and completing those forms? What is motivating the evaluator to take action and what does that imply? How will what they see in your proposal impact their motivation and the actions they take? What must the evaluator believe to accept your recommendations? Does the proposal have to change their beliefs or reinforce them? What does the evaluator fear? How will this impact their assessment? What can you present to avoid having their fears negatively impact how they assess your proposal? What are the evaluator’s aspirations and goals? Can you show them how to fulfill their process and still achieve their goals? What if the evaluator can't find something they are looking for? Have you anticipated what they'll need to locate in your proposal to perform their evaluation? Is it easy to find? Is the evaluator in a hurry? Does the level of detail and way your proposal is presented support the evaluator’s pace? How many proposals does the evaluator have to consider? How much attention will they give each one? Will they be motivated to disqualify proposals? Does your proposal focus their attention on the right things? Must the evaluator reach a decision at all? What alternatives do they have? Does the evaluator trust you? Does what they see reinforce trust or detract from it? If the evaluator is concerned about price, will they also be concerned about a company’s ability to deliver at that price? Does the evaluator see your proposal as more work or as an opportunity? Why? What can you do in your proposal presentation to change that? If you have a formal evaluation process, how would you set up your evaluation forms? How would they relate to the instructions and evaluation criteria? Will the evaluator start the proposal review with the RFP and look for how the requirements are addressed in the proposal? Or will they start from the proposal and then try to match it up to the RFP? If you were the evaluator, and you gave the vendors instructions in the RFP and vendors didn’t follow them, how might you react? How would you assess whether vendors followed the instructions? What would make it easy to determine this in some proposals, but hard in others? If you are evaluating proposals based on the RFP, but the headings and terminology of the proposals are all different, how do you react? If you are the evaluator, how hard will it be to compare the proposals you’ve received from different vendors? Do you compare them to each other, or to the RFP? How should all this impact the way you write and present your proposal? How does it impact the outline, headings, layout, text, and graphics? How does it relate to your strategies for winning? How does it impact the way you articulate things in writing? When you sit down to write a great proposal, you must take the information you have to share and present it from the customer’s perspective. Answering the questions above can help you discover your customer’s perspective and present things in the way they need to see them in order to accept your proposal.
  20. Change management

    Some organizations seek change and some resist it. Both need to plan and manage change whenever possible. Sometimes change management is addressed explicitly, and sometimes change management techniques are incorporated as part of a project rollout. Contractors who carefully plan and of changes can appear to offor greater value, develop more trust, demonstrate insight, and prove that they are a considerate partner. Change management considerations What is the nature of the change? Why change? Why change now? Is the change a familiar change or an extreme change? Is the impact of the change expected to be minor or major? Can the changes be rolled out in a steady, predictable manner? How much repetition will be necessary for employees to get acclimated to the change? How can you ensure there is a clear understanding of the reasons the change is being implemented? What are the key aspects that you will focus on to ease the transition? How can you involve stakeholders in creating the change so as to help them respond more favorably? How do the changes relate to the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission and goals? Who will be impacted the most by the changes? How can you parcel out complex ideas in such a way that stakeholders can understand and absorb them? How can you diversify the way you package new ideas to encourage stakeholders to pay close attention? How can a sense of stability and a vision be instilled as the change is enacted? How can you incorporate cultural diagnostics to identify conflicts and define factors that can recognize sources of resistance? What are the training needs that are driven by the change? When and how do you plan to implement training procedures during the rollout of the changes? How can you create accountability for stakeholders? What short-term targets can be set to aid in the transition? How can you prioritize change initiatives to avoid change fatigue? Are the resources allocated for implementing the changes sufficient for completion? What risks do you anticipate related to the changes and how do you intend to mitigate them? Will there be any overlap between the current state and the changed state? Is it possible to roll back the changes once implemented? How will you monitor status and progress during the rollout of changes? How will status and progress be communicated to stakeholders? How much notice or preparation time will be given to stakeholders prior to changes? How will resource requirements change before, during, and after the changes? How long will it take to realize the anticipated benefits of the change?
  21. Winning when you start at RFP release

    If you don’t sell a commodity, starting unprepared to win at RFP release is an organizational failure. If you don’t sell a commodity, you’ve missed your chance to develop an information advantage. But it takes solid organization to know what information to gather and how to assess it to turn it into a winning proposal. Now that I’ve said that, let’s talk about winning at RFP release. Because it happens. If you want to achieve a high win rate, you won’t let it happen. Moving from a 20% win rate to a 30% win rate increases your revenue by 50% with the same number of leads. So a high win rate should be a contractor's top priority, second only to maintaining excellent past performance. Nonetheless, it happens. Winning at RFP release can be like playing a game. Achieving the maximum score without any real customer insight involves optimizing the proposal around the evaluation criteria and process. It’s about organizing your proposal and using the right words to score well. It’s easy to fall into the "say anything to win" trap, because words are all you’ve got to work with at that stage. It helps to understand the specific customer’s evaluation process. If the customer is scoring you based on “strengths,” you really need to know what they consider a “strength.” Is it a feature or qualification that fulfills an RFP requirement? Or is it something that goes beyond the requirements? Is it just something that appeals to them? Does it have to be a differentiator? Different customers define the term differently. But if you’re starting at RFP release, you probably don’t know. You have to guess. You may also have to resort to word games when designing your offering. Designing your offering by writing about it can be a terrible mistake. When designing your offering, you are going to have to consider trade-offs. If you don’t know what the customer’s preferences are, you’re just going to have to guess. Or weasel-word it. You might have to make the wording a little fuzzy to avoid committing so you can offer the customer both sides of a trade-off while appearing to be flexible and willing to partner with them. Generally it is better to take risks and be decisive than it is to try to be everything to everybody. Your win rate will come down to how good your guesses are. A proposal that is everything to everybody will score below a proposal that is exceptional and insightful every time. It is better to risk losing by being exceptional and wrong than it is to be completely and totally satisfactory and win occasionally only because your price is lower. It is even better to have done your pre-RFP homework so you can win by being exceptional and insightful. But since that’s probably not you, you might be able to be exceptional and right because you guessed well. The good news is that even though by starting at RFP release you will lose to a company that is exceptional and has insight, few contractors know how to write an exceptional and insightful proposal, even when they have the insight! If you find yourself starting at RFP release, seek differentiators that correspond to the evaluation criteria and an offering design that differentiates by taking risks to be categorically better than simply meeting the RFP requirements. Take risks to offer substance instead of weasel-wording. If you are starting at RFP release, you are probably new and the customer doesn’t know you or trust you. If you are meek, compliant, and ordinary you can only win on price. But if your proposal inspires the customer with aspirations that turn out to match theirs, while also being compliant, qualified, competent, and substantiated, they might just pick you over someone else they already know who submitted an ordinary proposal.
  22. Creating a compliance matrix

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  23. Normally I think that even looking at a past proposal is asking for trouble. You don’t need that kind of pain. You made mistakes you don’t even know about. A lot of them. In fact, based on what we see when we review proposals for companies, there were a lot of problems in them. Even the proposals that won. Why open those wounds? Two words: win rate. A small increase in win rate is worth a large investment. Do the math. But what should you do to improve your win rate? Looking at your proposals to see what’s actually getting to the customer and assessing what that says about the organization that created it is a good place to start. It’s objective. The customer does not see your intent. Only what you submit. So here are 11 examples of the kinds of things we learn when we look at previous proposals for companies: Do your writers focus on the RFP or their own ideas? Do they show insight that goes beyond the RFP? Do your proposals effectively present your differentiators? Are they writing around the fact that they didn’t have the input they needed? Do they have bad writing habits? Does the organization show they were writing according to a plan or were they making it up as they went along? Is writing from the customer’s perspective institutionalized? Is writing to optimize the evaluation score institutionalized? Were reviews effective? Did the team run out of time? Is visual communication an afterthought? And for each item above, here is where you can invest to improve your win rate: Focus on RFP compliance first, but don’t stop there. Insight beyond the RFP is an important quality indicator, since it indicates whether your proposals demonstrate an information advantage. If you want your proposals to show insight, you have to supply that insight to your writers. In order to be the best, you must be different in all the right ways. Differentiators matter. They must be a priority. Yet they are often an afterthought. Instead, identifying and articulating them should be the focus of the entire pursuit. You can’t write from the customer’s perspective if you don’t know what that is. Fluff and unsubstantiated claims do more harm than good. You must gather the right data, assess it effectively, and deliver it to the proposal writers at the right and in the right format for it to impact the proposal. Does your organization tend to write in passive voice? Does it tend to make unsubstantiated claims? Does it avoid the issues? Does it speak with the right level of formality or informality? Should any bad habits be fixed by training proposal participants or through back-end editing? Are your reviewers trained to catch bad habits when they reappear? Implement an effective proposal content planning methodology. It helps to integrate it with developing the quality criteria for validating the quality of your proposals. If your proposals describe your company and your offering, you’ve got a problem. Your proposals are probably written from your perspective instead of the customer’s. This is a major training issue. It even has the potential to impact your corporate culture, because once people start considering the customer’s perspective during proposal writing, it tends to spread. And that’s a good thing. If the customer follows a formal evaluation process, then your proposal is more likely to be scored than read. That means writing your proposal to maximize its score can be more important than maximizing it to read well. This requires training proposal contributors to organize and write your proposals according to a different set of priorities. It also requires understanding your customer’s evaluation process in detail. If problems are slipping past your reviewers, you’ve got process and/or training problems. Ineffective reviews can also introduce problems, and sometimes that’s the explanation for problems you see in the proposal. An ineffective review process can be worse than not having a review at all. If you don’t have a written definition of proposal and criteria for use in performing the reviews, there’s a good chance your review process needs improvement. Changing the review process often means retraining the highly experience senior staff who often participate in the reviews. If your proposal team ran out of time on a bid it can be understandable. If they run out of time on a significant portion of your bids, your win rate is likely suffering and it’s probably worth improving your process and/or resource allocation in order to improve. Is the message built around the graphics, or were the graphics tacked on at the end? Graphics can be tremendously effective, but only if they are effectively built into the proposal. PropLIBRARY Subscribers can access our methodologies for Proposal Content Planning and Proposal Quality Validation. They are two of the core methodologies for the MustWin Process that is documented within PropLIBRARY. If you are interested in having an experienced person outside your company review your proposals, here is how to contact us.
  24. We're turning PropLIBRARY into a platform for corporate-wide continuous win rate improvement. We're starting by adding three days' worth of online training to our single user subscriptions and creating a new Advanced Subscription that will have a week's worth of online training. Guess what we're doing for our Corporate Subscriptions... Currently a Corporate Subscription provides access for up to 100 people. All of them will also get the same week of online training we're providing for our Advanced Subscription customers. Here's a list of topics that training includes. One of our goals is to provide a cost-effective way to train everyone in your organization. But we're doing it in a way that is customizable Do you have business-line considerations that should be part of a bid/no bid determination? Special charge code procedures? Specific people to notify when RFPs are received? They can all be incorporated into the training so that your staff learn everything they need to know the way they need to know it. But because it's online training, when things change you can easily update the training. If you conduct a lessons learned review and discover that something slipped through a review, you can update your reviewer training to improve things in the future. This transforms PropLIBRARY into a platform for organizational change --- true continuous improvement of your win rate. And because we have an efficient content management system as a baseline to work from, we can create customized online training and roll it out to everyone who needs it at a cost that's an order of magnitude less than it has traditionally cost. Let's talk prices and return on investment A PropLIBRARY Corporate Subscription currently costs $3,000/yr. That price is going up to $5,000/yr when we release our Advance Subscription training. If you purchase a Corporate Subscription before then, you save $2,000/yr. Customization costs can vary, but we think customization for 80% of companies will cost below $15,000. The net is that a week's worth of customized business development and proposal training for 100 people can cost only $180 a person. What will the impact be on your win rate of that level of training continuously updated and provided to all your staff? We're creating the platform you need to revolutionize the way your organization wins business. We're creating something that will give you a precious competitive advantage against other bidders. Ordering is easy and electronic You can place a Corporate Subscription in your cart and checkout using PayPal and a company credit cart. But you don't have to do it that way. We have other options. And you probably want to discuss it first and see a demonstration. We want to show it to you. We're excited about how it's turning out. Click here to grab a timeslot and we'll set up an online meeting. Just do it before we finish releasing everything and raise the prices.
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