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  5. The scope of work required to achieve a high proposal win rate is bigger than one person. Here are some of the differences in the roles that proposal professionals often play: See also: Proposal Management The things that a Proposal Director does are different from what a Proposal Manager does. A Proposal Director might not even manage individual proposals. They manage all the proposals. A Proposal Director sets standards, defines processes, ensures staff are trained, and allocates resources across all of the company's proposals. They play a critical role in quality assurance for proposals. A Proposal Director also addresses problems that cross organizational boundaries, which is a common problem for proposals. A Proposal Manager has responsibility for implementing the process for the development and submission of proposals. Proposal Managers herd the cats guide the proposal contributors through the process to complete their assignments. If the company has capture managers, a Proposal Manager works with the relevant capture managers assigned to their proposals. A key requirement for a Proposal Manager is to understand how a compliance matrix helps you create a structure for the document that will meet the customer’s expectations. This is key for understanding the relationship between achieving RFP compliance and maximizing your evaluation score, and for providing a structure you can build your messaging around. In most organizations, the role of Proposal Coordinator is poorly defined and ends up being a mini Proposal Manager, or someone who is cheaper, has less experience, has little or no authority and who assists the Proposal Manager. I prefer not to use the title "Proposal Coordinator" because it is too ambiguous and results in misuse of the role. I prefer to call them "Proposal Process Administrators" because what they should be doing is ensuring that process deliverables are completed, enhancing communications, facilitating expectation management, and helping to surface issues. The Proposal Manager sets expectations. The Proposal Process Administrator documents the expectations, makes sure that everyone is aware of them, and discovers if there are any issues in fulfilling the expectations on time. Proposal writers are responsible for completing the narrative portion of the proposal. Most proposal writers are not specialists, and many proposals have at least one person doing proposal writing for the first time. A distinction can be made between subject matter experts and proposal writers. Sometimes subject matter experts write proposal copy, and sometimes they just provide information. Proposal organization at small vs large businesses Large companies have more people. But small businesses can be better organized. This directly impacts proposal development and win rates. Small businesses can have better win rates than large businesses. There's also the difference between small proposals and large proposals to consider. Large companies may also have someone managing document production and graphics. They also have departments to address pricing and contractual matters. When a small business has one person effectively “doing” the entire proposal, it should still think in functional terms. Each person you hire will have strengths in some but not all of the functions required. How will you fill the gaps? If you start with a junior or mid-level proposal specialist, who will play the role of Proposal Director? If you hire a proposal writer, will they be capable of creating a compliance matrix? As you grow, how will you split the functions? Will you promote your first proposal specialist? Will they be capable of fulfilling the functional aspects of their new role? Will you hire someone new, give them a title, and just expect the work to get divided up? Or will you hire someone who can fill your functional gaps? As you grow, it is better to organize around covering the functionality required to win than it is to create positions based around the skills of the people you have or hire. First, identify your functional requirements and then map your people to them. Then fill the gaps. Along the way, you can also use consultants and training to address your gaps. Small businesses often have one proposal specialist. Large businesses may have a whole department. But the curious thing is that what it will take to win your proposals is functionally the same whether you have a single person or a whole department to do it. Titles do not matter. What matters is whether you understand what it will take to win, have people with the skills to turn that understanding into proposals, and have the capacity to meet your bid volume. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  6. This proposal template applies to any industry. When combined with your subject matter expertise, it will enable you to quickly write a proposal in a way that matters to your customers. The easiest way to understand this approach to proposal writing is to think about using it to structure your paragraphs. Once you see how to do that, you can use the exact same template at the section level by breaking down each section into its components (topics, steps, features, locations, etc.). The introduction paragraph makes the point, followed by paragraphs for the details. Within each paragraph, you have a main point supported by the details. Tips for preparing proposal outlines: Proposal Outlines This template will make it quicker and easier to write your proposal sections once you have your proposal outline. A proposal outline is not a generic thing, like you might have been taught in school. It must be created from the customer's perspective to help them make their decision and meet their expectations. Outlines based on a written RFP may require creating a compliance matrix first in order to get the outline right. A compliance matrix helps you map the RFP instructions, evaluation criteria, and requirements so that you can build an integrated outline that puts everything where the customer expects to find it. Follow the links in the highlight box for advice to help you prepare your proposal outlines.Proposal writing template There are two parts to this template. The first is the point you want to get across, and the second is how you will substantiate it. People often get these backwards. Here are 10 examples of what people do wrong when writing their proposals that this template can help you fix. For PropLIBRARY Subscribers, here is a visual that shows how the parts of the template below fit together. Start by thinking about the point you want to make Choose the point you want to make. In proposal writing, the conclusion should come first and not last. It’s really what the customer cares about. So what conclusion do you want the customer to reach? The rest of the paragraph substantiates the point and only gets read if the customer agrees with the point you made, cares about it, and it describes what the customer wants. Here are some examples of what the point can be about: How you will comply with requirements Your differentiators What the customer will get What the result will be An advantage you’ll bring How the customer will be better off Why you are offering what you are offering Relevance to the evaluation criteria The point you'd like the customer to reach about what you are going to write If you make the right points in your proposal, the customer will be sufficiently interested to read the details that follow. Paragraph after paragraph, the points you make should add up to why the customer should accept your proposal. Follow your point with sentences that substantiate and prove your ability to deliver as promised. This will show the customer that the point you made is valid and prove you can deliver and are trustworthy. Here are some examples of the details you might need to prove your point: The details of your approach Procedures or steps you will follow Details about how you will comply with the requirements Schedule details Resources and allocation Coverage This is where you demonstrate your credibility so that the customer will accept the point you made. Feel free to use bullets, tables, or graphics instead of narrative text in your proposal paragraph. A simple technique for proposal writing See also: Reuse If you are struggling with what to say about those details, you can use this simple technique. Address: Who What Where How When Why Click here for more details on this deceptively simple sounding but powerful approach to proposal writing. Tips to help you write a winning proposal In addition to the details, consider sprinkling some of these into your proposal sentences. Examples Experience citations Testimonials Graphics Finally, make sure you use the language of the RFP and optimize the points you make to score highly against the evaluation criteria. Use this over and over to iteratively build your proposal. No template can give you the points you need to make about your subject matter in a way that will reflect your customer’s preferences. But you can use this template to take what you know about your customer and offering and quickly create a great proposal. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  7. What is a pink team proposal review? The goal of a pink team proposal review is to determine if what you plan to write will produce the proposal that your company wants to submit, before you write it. At least that’s what it should be. If you define your pink team review as a review to make sure you are on track for having a successful red team review, your pink team review is likely to degrade into a draft review. This turns the pink team review into an exercise of trying to discover what you want in your proposal by tripping over it. This in turn contributes to a red team review that is a purely subjective attempt to decide whether you like the proposal that was written. A pink team review like this results in the expectation that you will do rewrite after rewrite until the proposal is due and submit whatever the proposal happens to be at that point. What should an effective pink team proposal review accomplish? An effective pink team review validates what you intend to write before you start writing it so that you can write it once and improve it from there. An effective pink team review leads to a first draft that already reflects what it will take to win. In reality, “pink team” is really a category of proposal reviews and not a single event. There are a number of things you need to assess to determine if what you are going to write is correct before you start writing it. Think about what you should accomplish before you start proposal writing: See also: Proposal Quality Validation You need to be able to articulate what it will take to win. You simply can’t write a proposal that reflects what it will take to win until you can articulate it. Writing to discover what to write is not a winning strategy. It’s a time-wasting effort-expanding strategy. You need to know if the proposal outline will meet the customer’s expectations. You should also think through any structure (subheadings, tables, etc.) that you’ll use at the subsection level and whether it will help the customer perform their evaluation. If RFP compliance is an issue, then you should start with a compliance matrix that shows which RFP requirements should be addressed in each proposal section. You should know what points you want to make in each proposal section, if not in each paragraph. This is important if you are going to make your proposal about substantiating the points needed to make your proposal the customer’s best alternative. Any win strategies or messaging developed before RFP release should be mapped to the post-RFP release proposal outline and reformulated based on the evaluation criteria. A list of themes is not sufficient to drive your messaging into the document. You need your messaging to correspond with the structure of your proposal and how the customer will evaluate it. You should have a written definition of proposal quality. This should establish a standard to be used by proposal reviewers. It should provide written proposal quality criteria not only for the proposal reviewers, but also for the proposal writers to use so they can determine if their efforts are delivering what is expected. You not only need to have these things before you start writing, you need to be able to rely on them being correct. This means you need to validate these things before you start creating a proposal based on them. If you don’t, you risk having to rewrite portions of the proposal because you changed your mind. You know, the kind of thing that frequently happens between an ineffective pink team and an ineffective red team. You can’t assess all of these in a single review. Perhaps if you have 5 or 10 reviewers, with 1 or 2 assigned to each. A series of validation efforts is often far more effective than one big, disruptive, formal proposal review that can't possibly assess everything it should. Is it worth it to change? The bottom line is that everything you do on a proposal should be prioritized by how much of an impact it will have on your probability of winning. What does a draft contribute to winning? It has an impact, but is it significant? What do the five items listed above contribute? Prioritize your effort according to that impact. If the way you are conducting your pink team is just because that’s how it’s always been done or when you tried to herd the cats that’s where they ended up, and you’re wondering whether it’s worth the effort to change, make your decisions based on what will impact your win rate. Make all the discussions related to “what to do about the pink (or other color) team” about win rate instead. If you are going to argue, then argue over what impacts win probability the most. You only need to change if the way you are doing things is producing (or likely to produce) a low win rate. P.S.: Color team labels are traditional and cause more trouble than they are worth. They are meaningless. Ask 10 people what a “pink team” is and you’ll get (at least) 10 different answers. The name has no relationship to the goal or scope. It’s meaningless. Give your reviews purpose. And then give them a name with meaning and a single definition. Otherwise you will watch your review effectiveness degrade over time, just like we see with blue teams, pink teams, red teams, and all the other colors. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  8. Getting into position to win before the RFP comes out requires preparation. Preparation doesn't just happen. The things you do before the proposal even starts can have a huge impact on your win rate. It makes more sense to focus on them than to rely on last minute proposal heroics. Here are links to five sets of tips that lead to even more content that can help you put just enough structure into place to be successful: Discovering what it will take to win. We think of sales as driven by charisma. But when the sale closes with a written proposal, sales is really driven by intelligence gathering. Charisma can be a part of that, but knowing what you need to know and discovering it is what determines the success of your sales efforts. What is even more important than charisma? It’s knowing what questions to ask and being able to ask them in such a way that the customer will want to answer them. Here are a bunch of tips and examples for doing just that. Gaining an information advantage. For proposals, an information advantage is the best competitive advantage you can have. The extent of your information advantage is how you can measure the real strength of your customer relationships. You can’t build an information advantage without knowing what information to gather and then gathering it. But it’s what you do with your information advantage when you do have one that determines whether you win or lose. Here are more than a dozen links with hundreds of potential questions and guidance for getting answers. Influencing the RFP. How can you help the customer write an RFP that will get what they want? Have you even tried? Do you provide them with tips and recommendations? When you respond to a draft RFP, do you respond with self-serving questions or do you suggest requirements, instructions, and evaluation criteria that will help the customer, while also helping you to make sure the RFP contains more opportunities than problems for your company? Here are more links to ways to get ahead of the RFP and tips for influencing it. Bid/no bid decisions. How do you get past the fact that making effective bid/no bid decisions is vital, but at the same time sounds a lot like not bidding potential opportunities? Making effective bid/no bid decisions is more than vital. It has a huge impact on the fate of your company, whether your company grows strategically or like a weed, and how well positioned it will be for bigger and better opportunities in the future. But first you’ve got to herd the cats into a rational way to approach them. Here are over a half-dozen links with examples of bid/no bid decision criteria and tips for how to make your bid decisions more effective. Readiness reviews. How do you know if you are on track for being ready to win when the RFP is released? Simply holding monthly business development meetings can do more to harm your chances than help them. How do you introduce just enough structure without creating something burdensome? How do you tie asking the right questions to discover what it will take to win, gaining an information advantage, influencing the RFP, and making effective bid/no bid decisions all together? That’s what readiness reviews are for. Getting ahold of the process details is one of the benefits of becoming a PropLIBRARY Subscriber. But we freely share the concepts that drive implementing Readiness Reviews. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  9. The goal of writing a proposal is to persuade the customer that you are their best alternative, so that they will accept your proposal. Being the best alternative means taking into consideration all of the factors that impact whether the customer selects your proposal. Even if your proposal is the only one under consideration, the customer may decide to do nothing. In fact, the customer deciding not to do anything can be your greatest competitor. See also: Winning Who decides what the customer’s best alternative is? So you think that your offering is the best. Of course you do. So does each of your competitors. But frankly neither your opinion nor any of their opinions matter. The only opinion that matters is the customer making the decision. You might think that your offering is superior in some pretty objective and compelling ways. You might even be correct in that assessment. However, those might not be the only factors involved in the customer's determination of what alternative is best for them in that moment. In addition, whether your proposal speaks to how the customer goes about making their decision can determine whether or not the customer perceives your offering as superior when compared to their other alternatives. So how do customers decide? Some choose what they want, and others follow detailed proposal submission instructions with written evaluation criteria that tell them what they are going to get. Some customers make a selection and other customers follow procedures and complete forms. Before you try to influence their decision, have you asked the most important question? Have you asked them what they think their best alternative will look like? You might also consider asking what concerns them, what they are hoping the outcome will be, and what their preferences are. If you don’t, all you can do is guess at the best way to influence their decision. What can you do to influence that decision? If the customer is following a formal process with detailed proposal submission instructions and written evaluation criteria, then you must achieve the top score in order for the customer to accept your proposal. You get the top score by presenting what the customer wants in a way that makes it easy to give it the top score. This means that you must accomplish two separate goals. Having an offering that the customer considers their best alternative and writing to achieve the top score. Doing both requires insight and execution in order for your proposal to truly become the customer’s best alternative. If you understand their process you can make educated guesses that drive your score up, but you will not maximize your win rate unless you are making your decisions with insight into the customer's hopes, concerns, and preferences. If the customer interprets their evaluation criteria as humans tend to do, or if the customer has no written evaluation criteria or decision making process, they will make their decisions as fallible humans do, with as many approaches to that as there are humans. If your customer is like this and you have not spoken to them, you can’t make an educated guess. You can still make a guess. But you are gambling and not being strategic. Your win rate will be much lower than someone with insight. The trick is to change how you think about becoming the customer’s best alternative Becoming the customer’s best alternative does not come from trying really hard to be the best. It comes from figuring out what the customer needs to see in order to reach a decision in your favor. Once you realize that, you also quickly discover that research into understanding your customers is as important as proposal writing, and proposal writing is as important as having the best offering. You must become the best at all three of those in order to consistently become the customer’s best alternative. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
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  12. If you don’t want your proposal to look and sound like every other proposal the customer will have to read, then you need to get good at reading your proposal like the customer, and being honest about what you see… See also: Differentiation Read you proposal and look for the differentiators. Ask if other companies will claim the same things, whether or not they are true, whether or not your claim is stronger. If they can say the same things, you’ll all sound the same. Differentiators are the secret to writing a proposal that stands out from the pack. Focus on getting them right. Make your whole process revolve around your differentiators. Try standing for something that is better than normal. Read your slogans. On second thought, don’t even bother. Just throw them out. Along with the slogans, throw out everything that sounds like advertising. Those claims belong in brochures going to strangers and not in proposals. They won’t convince the customer that you are their best alternative. But they might convince the customer that you sound like every bad ad they’ve ever seen. Read your statements about the subject matter. If you’re using academic or universal pronouncements that apply to everyone equally as an introduction to what you have to say, then rewrite them so they only apply to you or so they become part of what you will do or deliver. For example, I often see proposal writers start by saying things like… [insert something that is factually true] is [critically important|vital|a big fat concern|etc.] to achieve [the success of the project|a goal that everyone bidding will share or claim, probably because it says so in the RFP]. For example, “In these troubling times, it is critical that everything possible be done to maximize efficiency in order to continue to meet the performance specifications. [Company name]’s approach will…” The first sentence does not differentiate you because it is true no matter who wins. Efficiency is always important and the sentence doesn’t say that you’ll do anything about it or that your competitors won’t. And it doesn’t prove your understanding or set the stage in any meaningful way. Introductions like this can often be simply deleted, but sometimes they can also be turned into a statement about what [Company name] will do or deliver. And if you really want to stand out from the pack it will describe the differentiated approach [Company name] offers. Read your proposal and ask why it is more credible than those of your competitors. Then ask whether your proposal explains that and then proves it? If not, you’re no more credible than you competitors, no matter how much you want to believe in yourself. Being more credible than your competitors is important for standing out from the pack, because it makes you more trustworthy than the pack. You don’t become more credible by claiming it. You become more credible by proving it and by having approaches that deliver it. Focus on credibility and your approaches to risk and quality may write themselves in a way that is more authentic. Read your proposal and ask whether you’ve treated the customer and the opportunity as if they are unique and worthy of special attention. Have you offered something that is a perfect match, or have you just done what you were told? Like everyone else. If your offering is as unique and special as the customer and the opportunity are, you will stand out from the pack. But you can’t claim uniqueness. You shouldn’t even use the word “unique.” Instead, just propose an offering that is a perfect match for what is unique and special about the customer. Read your proposal and ask whether the approaches you describe are merely competent and routine. If so, they will sound just like everyone else who is competent. Widely accepted best practices can easily become boring when you have to read through dozens of them. The standard of care does not make you stand out from the pack. If your approaches aren’t exciting, you’re just not trying hard enough. You can improve on the standard of care by going beyond procedures and focusing on your interactions, communications, transparency, delivery, metrics and performance measures, decision making, logistics, or any of the other factors that impact the efficacy of your practices. Try writing your approaches as if failure is not an option and you need to prove that they will hold up under any contingency. Read your proposal and ask whether you sound beneficial or whether you sound like you will have a profound impact. Every one of your competitors will sound beneficial. Addressing benefits in your proposals tends to degrade into a lack of specifics. For example, people start claiming their experience will deliver benefits without itemizing what those benefits will actually be. Will accepting your proposal have an impact on the customer? Or will it just keep the trains running on time, just like everyone else will promise? Try showing how you matter by having an impact. Read your proposal and ask if you are avoiding talking about certain things. Are you saying things to yourself and cynically mumbling under your breath when you read it? If so, then your self-censorship is probably making you sound like everyone else. You may be hiding some awareness that could be turned into advantages if you address them properly. If you want to stand out from the pack and sound different, try sharing some truth that you don’t normally reveal. By far, the best way to stand out from the pack is to start before you read your proposal. Start before the proposal is even written and determine how you are going to stand out and differentiate. Then plan the content around proving how you’ll deliver your stand-out offering as promised. Fixing these issues on the back end of your proposal is like trying to repair the foundation of a house after it is built and doing it against a tight deadline. That’s not a reliable way to create something exceptional that someone else would want to purchase. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  13. Don't look at filling your pipeline as one big monumental task. Divide and conquer. Do this based on defining categories for your leads and setting targets. People often look for “a” source of leads, when they should be looking for all of the potential sources of leads. But what percent of your leads should come from each? This varies a great deal, company by company. What you don’t want to do is chase them all with the results being random, because then your company will grow like a weed. Decide what a healthy mix of leads for your company will be and set targets accordingly in each of the categories. This will ensure your long term growth is balanced and strong. It will also help keep you from getting overwhelmed because each problem you have to solve, like how many leads can you get from relationship marketing, becomes a smaller more solvable problem. It will also help provide focus, resource allocation, and time management. Finally, it brings some structure to how you track your progress toward filling your pipeline. Here are some sources to consider: Recompetes of your competitors. These will most often be found in databases. But nearly every government opportunity you decide not to bid or lose will come back around. Private sector opportunities are not as likely to be recompeted periodically, so this may not be a viable market segment if you are not a government contractor. If you are, you can know of recompetes years in advance. These are often the easiest to get ahead of the RFP and practice relationship marketing on. Organic growth. Can your current contracts expand in scope or volume? It may require a contract modification, but if the customer agrees that there is a need and a budget, a contract modification is easier than a new procurement. Always be thinking about what else you could do for the customer and try to have the kind of discussions where they can discover that you have capabilities that are broader than what you are currently doing for them. Relationship marketing generated leads. For some portion of your leads, you should drop the databases and discover those leads by talking to and getting to know your customers. How do you know which customers will provide leads? Start with a database that can show you who buys what you sell. Then get to know them by becoming an asset to them instead of a narcissistic vendor. The more what you offer resembles a commodity, the less interested the customer will be in having a relationship with their vendor. However, the more what you offer resembles unique solutions to problems or complex services, the more that the customer will want to know enough about its vendor so it can decide whether to trust them. In between is a bell curve and your offering will likely lean to one side or the other. How much it leans determines how many of your leads should be generated through relationship marketing. Relationship marketing will pay off even on bids where the customer doesn’t tell you about the leads by giving you the kind of insight that provides an information advantage for your proposals. Marketing. Marketing is about reaching out to potential customers to bring them into your sales funnel. It comes in both inbound (waiting for them to contact you, such as through your website) and outbound (email, associations, tradeshows, etc.) variations. Marketing is crucial for companies that sell commodities. It is often ignored by companies that look for a relatively small number of large contracts for complex solutions. Small businesses tend to ignore marketing because it looks like a high risk expense. However, if you're planning for the long term and you don’t start marketing in the short term, you’ll never get there. Contract vehicle considerations. Customers have different ways of buying. This is especially true for government customers, who may purchase through specific contracts, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contracts, catalogs, ordering agreements, sole source contracts, micropurchases, and simplified acquisition. You want to be able to sell through the contract vehicles that your customer prefers to use. If they like a certain ID/IQ, you need to be on it. If they like the GSA schedule, you need to be on that. If you are an 8(a), you want to find agencies that do a lot of sole source procurement. And if what you sell can be packaged under the threshold for simplified acquisition (currently $250,000 but it can vary so look it up), then ask because you might be able to make things easier for your customers. And if what you sell can be packaged under $10,000 it might be as easy as a credit card transaction through micropurchases. Having more contract vehicles means having more options, but don’t expect the vehicle to bring your customers to you. Expect to bring the vehicle that the customer prefers to them. Prime vs sub considerations. When contracts cover more than any one company can provide, they form teams that share the work and provide a stronger solution than any of them could provide individually. In some areas this is so routine that all business involves teaming. In others, it’s the opposite. While there are companies that prosper with all their business coming from subcontracting, they tend to be manufacturers of unique devices that aren’t easy for other companies to make, and services that are truly unique. This means that everyone else needs to be a prime. You can still do some subcontracting, and the mix will vary. It will largely depend on how well you trust your primes, and that will largely depend on how much they need you. Small, minority, and disadvantaged contracting requirements play into this. So set your targets strategically according to how much you want to play each role and begin networking with companies so that you can better find the prime or sub that you want instead of getting stuck with whatever you can find. RFIs and Sources Sought. Requests for Information (RFIs) and sources sought notices are often announced ahead of a solicitation, usually around 30 days. If the customer plans to announce a draft RFP, sometimes longer. Occasionally much longer. If you start your pursuit at a public announcement it is not the same as getting ahead of the RFP. They are nearing the end of their acquisition process and are not at the beginning. Your chances of influencing it are small. But you can try. The first thing you should do is determine why they made the announcement. In some cases it will be an inconsequential routine. In others it will be strictly to determine whether two or more small businesses will respond by saying they can do the work to determine whether to make it a set-aside. In other cases it will be to head off any protests. And in a few rare and precious cases, it will be because they aren’t sure how to write the RFP and want to get some industry advice. The reason they are making the announcement will determine how or if you respond. Responding will almost never give you an advantage during the evaluation of proposals. But it does give you a chance to introduce your company and show that you can be an asset to them.
  14. Recently I talked to a government employee who was transitioning to the private sector. He asked me if I could recommend any particular contractor because they all sound the same. I thought of all the articles I’ve written about good and bad proposal writing habits and the things I see over and over again when I review proposals for companies and realized it’s true. If the problems I see are in most companies' proposals, then to the customer, those companies must all sound the same. Thinking about it more, there are reasons why your proposals all sound the same. Some may not apply to you. But I’m betting that some will. Maybe most. Hopefully not all. But possibly. And I doubt there’s a company out there that will not have at least one apply to them. Warning: This may not be easy to hear. Sometimes I can be too honest. But every harsh reality I’ve pointed to is an opportunity to beat your competitors who stay where they are. And if you can’t do anything about them, then at least have a good laugh at yourself and your industry. Here's why your proposals sound just like everyone else’s proposals: See also: Great Proposals Your proposals are about your company. When the customer says “Describe your company’s…” or “Contractor shall describe its approach to…” you do just that instead of focusing on why the customer asked for that or what the customer hopes to get out of it. If you want to differentiate, make your proposal about the customer. Then whatever you say about your company has to matter to the customer. Describing who you are while sounding beneficial is easy. Showing how you matter to someone else is not so easy. You make the same writing mistakes as everyone else. You are pleased to submit, fully committed, understand, brag, and claim all the same way. You even use the same clichés. It’s easy and it passes your proposal reviews because it sounds like all the other proposals. You've developed some bad proposal writing habits. If you want to sound different, try sharing some truth. You all talk about quality and risk in the same way. You provide the lowest risk and the highest quality without any proof just like everyone else. If that was true you wouldn’t have had any problems on any of your past projects, and yet… Maybe this one should have been titled that you tell the same lies as everyone else. Try doing something about the risks or improving quality and then proving that you’ll follow through after award. Try focusing on credibility and your approaches to risk and quality may write themselves in a way that is a bit more authentic. You lack insight and are talking around it just like everyone else. So the RFP came out and you decided to bid it because “you can do the work” and your proposal is responsive to everything in the RFP while trying to sound beneficial. But there’s nothing in there that anyone would look at and say “Wow! I’ve never thought of doing it that way before. That’s going to make a huge difference.” The truth is you just don't have any insightful information to work with and are trying to word around it like you do. Try treating the customer and the opportunity as something that is unique and special. Then offer something that is a perfect match. You won’t take the risk of saying the wrong thing so you end up saying nothing just like everyone else. Being exceptional requires being different. But if you do something different you might get dinged in a review, or worse. If the proposal loses you might get fired. So you do something normal and completely expected. Try making the entire proposal process revolve around differentiators. Try standing for something better than normal. Your approaches are good enough. You have achieved RFP compliance. This is important. You may have even eked out a little better than merely compliant here or there. That’s good enough to submit and maybe you’ll win on price. Try raising the bar. There is no good enough. Losing is always blamed on price. It’s politically acceptable to lose on price. Every proposal that makes the competitive range and loses will be blamed on price. The truth is you scoped it wrong, your overhead is too fat, or your value is too low. Try being honest about why you lost so that you’ll leave your comfort zone in order to change. You implement the same best practices. The acceptable ways of doing things are not competitive. Everyone does acceptable. You’ve got to be better. Try taking what’s acceptable and then modifying it to be a better match for this particular customer, their preferences, and their circumstances. Your management plans are all boring. Most management plans are competent and routine. If your management plan isn’t exciting, you’re just not trying hard enough. Try writing your management plan as if success or failure of the entire project depends on it. You aim to be a little better than your competitors. You’ve done what the RFP told you to. You’ve done it well. This means that you may have done what you were told to do better than your competitors. And if so, you might win. But you're probably going to lose. How far below 50% is your win rate? And aiming to be just a little better is not much of a long term competitive strategy. You are all writing to the same RFP and trying to be better. Try doing what the RFP requires in ways that are different from what others will bid and matter in ways that are compelling. When it comes to service proposals, your capabilities are defined by who you can hire. You didn’t get into the service business by assessing the market or trying to disrupt the market. You got there by responding to RFPs that were low hanging fruit and then hiring staff to do the work. Whatever the customer said they wanted in their RFP, you morphed into. You are all hiring from the same labor pool and you all claim staff counts that are true but will have no impact on the next customer because they are all already billable. When someone asks about your capabilities you often start talking about your experience, as if the two are the same. Try focusing on your differentiators other than experience. Those are what can define a company that isn’t defined simply by who it hires. Then turn those differentiators into sustainable ways of operating that are different and use them to produce differentiated capabilities. Add it all up and you all sound the same. And not very credible. And there’s no connection between what you’ve said in your proposal and how the project goes. So your customers don’t believe half of what vendors say in their proposals anyway. And the next one they read sounds like more of the same. Is it yours? Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Click here to start a conversation by email Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  15. Everything you want your customer to conclude about your proposal should be in your Executive Summary. Not the details. But what the details mean, what they add up to, and why that makes you the customer's best alternative. Your Executive Summary should introduce every key point you’re trying to make. It's not actually a summary at all. If you don’t know what to say in your Executive Summary, it’s because you don’t know what the point of your proposal should be, and this is a major problem to solve before you start writing anything. You won’t discover what the point of your proposal is by writing about it. You want your proposal writing to prove the points you make. The points won't make themselves. You need to know the points you want to make before you start writing. In fact, you should probably hold a major review to make sure you intend to make the right points before investing in writing to support them. This is a solid argument in favor of writing your Executive Summary before you write the rest of your proposal. What’s in most Executive Summaries When you read your Executive Summary the way the customer will read it, you may not like what you see. Here is what most companies offer their customers: See also: Executive Summary Bragging. Clichés. Unsubstantiated claims. The word "unique." Beneficial sounding platitudes that everyone will claim and are ultimately meaningless. Statements of commitment instead of how you will deliver results. A great deal of focus on being exactly what the customer asked for instead of being something better. A great deal of focus on your being experienced and qualified, as if everyone who is a contender to win won’t be. And just to top it all off, some background about the customer that they already know, as if being able to copy and paste from their website proves how well you understand them. Or worse, a claim that you understand them without anything to make it credible. And a pinch of stating the obvious about what will be “critical to the success of the project” or what is "vitally important" presented in such a way that it applies to everyone bidding. Oh, and let’s not forget the big revelation about how pleased you are to take the customer’s money submit your proposal. If these things are in your Executive Summary, then this is what you have offered. In some Executive Summaries I have reviewed for companies, you have to read through almost a page of this stuff before you see anything offered at all. And then it's not differentiated. Is this what you think the customer wanted? You may think your offering consists of the details that appear in your technical approach. However, the Executive Summary is essentially a statement of what you are offering. The way you articulate it in the Executive Summary is what you are offering. The rest just provides details that prove you can deliver what you’ve promised. Is this really who you are? The Executive Summary is also who you are. Your mission statement, branding, and/or corporate identity statement are not who you are. You are what you claim to be in your proposal. And the Executive Summary is your proposal. If your Executive Summary is pointless then you are pointless. If your Executive Summary doesn’t say things that matter to the customer, then your offering does not matter and you do not matter. It does not matter how much you want to matter. And if your Executive Summary is all about you instead of being all about the customer, then who you are is narcissistic. You don't have to tell the customer who you are or what's great about you. You have to show the customer that they will get great results by selecting you. The proposal is who you are until you win. Only if you win the proposal, do you get the chance to become what you deliver. Prove that you matter If you really do matter, then your Executive Summary should explain why. Only it shouldn’t be about you and why you matter. Your Executive Summary should be about what matters to the customer and how by accepting your proposal they will be better off than by choosing any other alternative. This is what your offering should be, and what your Executive Summary must show. Your Executive Summary is not a summary of your proposal. It is the reason why the customer should accept your proposal. And you can’t write your proposal without knowing what that is. So start by figuring out why you are the customer’s best alternative and write an Executive Summary that demonstrates it. Then your Executive Summary truly is your proposal. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to ask Carl a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  16. How much experience do you have? How relevant is it? How about staffing? Do your staff have the right qualifications and skills? Do you have enough staff? Behind these questions are two win strategies you should know by name: depth and breadth. They are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes one is more relevant to a customer than the other. Depth communicates sufficiency of quantity See also: Themes If the customer is looking for one type of experience and I have 10 project examples, I may have the depth of experience they are looking for. If I have more staff than the minimum needed, I have sufficient depth to be able to replace staff due to turnover. Depth can be applied to things other than just experience and staffing. It can also apply to resources, technology, parts, and more. Depth can prevent disruption, provide back-ups, increase speed, mitigate risks, improve capacity, and enable you to meet surge requirements. Depth implies resilience. Breadth communicates coverage If the customer is looking for a range of experience and I have a project example for each, I may have the breadth of experience they are looking for. If I can cover all of the positions with the qualifications or skills required, I have sufficient breadth to cover the requirements. Breadth can apply to more than just experience and staffing. It can also apply to locations, technology, resources, skills, procedures, and more. Breadth can meet all the requirements, reach all the locations, cover the hours of operation, and ensure readiness in every area. Breadth implies coverage and range. Presenting depth and breadth A table or matrix is commonly used to show depth and breadth. For example, a staffing matrix might have columns for the qualifications required, and rows for the labor categories. If you are showing breadth, you want to cover every single cell to show that you have staff with every qualification in every labor category. If you are showing depth, you might show the number of staff in each cell, or better yet, the number you have above what is required. Or even both. With a combination of colors/shading and numbers you can show both depth and breadth at the same time. Other examples where depth and breadth can be presented in a table or matrix: Experience in each statement of work area Staff in each statement of work area Staff with degrees, years of experience, certifications, etc. Locations with numbers of staff Years in each location Required parts coverage Ability to cover the level of effort (hours) Ability to cover the positions (people) Coverage of the range of technology needed Coverage of the skills required for the project Current hires, contingency hires, and recruiting required to fill positions Staff available by the prime contractor, subcontractors, and other sources Size, scope, and complexity of experience Equipment required Depth is usually quantified. But breadth doesn’t have to be. When you have both depth and breadth, then you can communicate that you cover all of the requirements with sufficient back-ups to mitigate risks and ensure delivery. I like to use depth and breadth by name because they are easy for the customer to understand. And presenting them in a table or matrix makes them easy to evaluate. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to ask Carl a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  17. When I tell people that they should exceed RFP compliance if they want to win, they often reply “But if we do that we’ll be too expensive.” When I point out that you can go beyond the RFP without it actually costing anything, they often reply with “But how do we do that?” Well, here’s how… Proposal writing examples See also: Great Proposals 1) Focus on “why” in addition to compliance. Show that because you will not only meet the specifications, you have better judgment, so you are the better alternative for the customer to select. The reason we do [RFP requirement] by [differentiated approach] is that it [mitigates risk|improves quality|achieves a benefit]. 2) Make something common uncommon. Everyone is going to propose a quality assurance plan. What makes yours special? Everyone is going to have an approach to staffing the project. Everyone is going to be compliant (at least the only competitors to be concerned about will be). Everyone can do the work. Everyone has experience. How companies do these things is mostly routine. So in everything you do, what can you do so that it is not routine? Our approach to [quality|something else] goes beyond the [double checking|something else] it should so that it also serves as a [project management|design|something else] tool. This not only ensures [goal] but also adds value by [additional benefit]. 3) Focus on how you will deliver instead of what you will deliver. This works best when the RFP forces everyone to bid the same thing. Everyone who makes the competitive range will be compliant. If you are going to differentiate, you have to do it without adding to the cost. So don’t change what you will deliver, just deliver it in a better way. By [differentiated approach] we ensure [better|faster|more reliable] [delivery|implementation|execution]. 4) Use compliance to solve a problem that others leave unspoken. Everyone will be compliant. But you can show more value delivered by talking about the problems you will solve while being compliant. This is also much more compelling then telling the customer you’ll do what they asked you to do. By meeting the required deadline for [requirement] we ensure we have enough time later to [second requirement] This [mitigates the risk|something else] of [problem] and ensures we can [benefit]. 5) Ghost the competition. Explain why if someone else doesn’t do things the way you do they’ll be unacceptable. We do [differentiated approach] because it [avoids a problem|mitigates a risk|ensures compliance|adds value]. A contractor that doesn’t do this will expose the customer to unacceptable risk of noncompliance and [other problems]. 6) Offer something intangible. Intangible benefits are difficult to quantify and usually less compelling. But as a last resort, they can sometimes earn you a few points in evaluation. Because we have experience with [reference], we can better anticipate problems like [examples]. 7) Make something intangible tangible. Do you provide better quality? Are you faster? More reliable? More experienced? More capable? More responsive? More flexible? If you simply claim these attributes, they will be ignored. What can you do to make them tangible? Can you quantify it? Can you draw a picture? Can you provide an example? Can you make the impact clear? Making intangible differences tangible can be challenging. Which is why most of your competitors will not do it and why if you do it you can outscore them. The reason our services are of better quality is that we define it. See Exhibit X for a sample of the quality criteria we use. We use one checklist for each task assignment to ensure that we can define success. We use the second checklist after completion to verify that we delivered as promised. By simply checking the boxes, we accumulate performance metrics that identify trends, uncover problems, and support making decisions such as resource allocation. The result is tangibly better quality of service. 8) Quantify things they don’t. Take the key tradeoff decisions from your basis of estimate (BOE) and explain why they are the right choices. Or explain why your capacities beyond what the RFP requires mitigate risks or provide other benefits. In addition to the X staff required for this project, we have an additional X staff who enable us to respond quickly in the event of turnover or a change in the requirements. 9) Address the stakeholders. You may be delivering the exact same thing, but by citing benefits to the customer's users, partners, executives, and other stakeholders you can show greater value. We will leverage [compliance with requirement] to ensure that [needs] of [customer]’s stakeholders are not only met but that they also [receive benefits]. 10) Don’t just comply, accomplish the goal. Make the benefits of everything you do achieve the goals the customer has for conducting the procurement. While everyone will be compliant, you will be accomplishing something that matters to them. We will achieve [goal] by [approach to compliance with RFP requirements] so that [bigger picture]. 11) Offer a better future. Think of it as a long-term relationship. What are the possibilities down the road? In addition to [required capability] we bring capabilities in [related but not required]. As [project] matures, these additional capabilities will become more relevant and could position [customer] to better meet its future goals. 12) Be easier to work with. If you’ve got several vendors who can all supply what you want at a reasonable price, who would you pick? Would it be one that’s uninspiring but compliant, or one that seems super helpful? A lot depends on what you’re procuring. Is it a bit uncertain? Outside your area of expertise? Complicated? Sometimes being easy to work with matters a lot to the customer even though it’s not part of the specifications. In several important ways, our approach adapts to [customer]’s preferences. Since they require similar level of effort, we will consult with [customer] to determine which of the following approach options you prefer. 13) Exceed the specifications. If you can complete the transition in half the time, then do that and explain how the customer will benefit. If some of the performance specifications are easy to meet, offer to accept a tougher standard that you know you can still meet. Because others won’t. While the requirement is that monthly reports be delivered on time 90% of the time, we commit to delivering these reports on time 98% of the time. The difference is that we will be late five times less than our competitors who merely comply with the RFP. 14) Be more compliant than compliant. Offer compliance that goes beyond the RFP. When customers care about compliance, it is usually because they have things they have to comply with. In addition to complying with the RFP requirements, we will ensure that the work is performed according to [relevant laws, regulations, and directives]. Do you want to submit an ordinary proposal or a great proposal? Taking approaches like these enables you to go from submitting an ordinary proposal to submitting a proposal that is better. And you can do this with any RFP, no matter how specific or limiting the requirements. You can do these things without adding any cost to what you are offering. And if you are in a best value competition, you can take each of these things further by investing time or resources into turning them into differentiators and then quantifying the difference in value to the customer. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to ask Carl a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
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  19. Often preparing the pricing is that last thing people do when working on a proposal. This is especially true with proposals for services where people have to figure out what their offering is going to be before they can price it. However, a good argument can be made that proposal pricing should be done first. In between those two sits the basis of estimate (BOE). See also: Technical Approach A BOE is a combination of the data and formulas you’ll use to calculate an estimate, such as the price for doing something. A BOE does not require a lot of writing to prepare. But it does require that you think things through well enough to calculate them. Or at least to identify what the variables are. You may be able to get things started just by understanding what the variables are and how to turn them into the formulas that will produce the estimate you need. Then you can collect the data later. When companies do their pricing last, they sometimes fall into the trap of figuring out what to offer by writing about it. This is extremely risky and can send a proposal into a death spiral. You should design your offering before you write about it. This is much easier said than done because there is no single way to design an offering. Does this mean to create a diagram or blueprint? That’s not normally appropriate for a service proposal. But what is appropriate for a service proposal is to calculate how many people, in what roles, at what level of effort, with what tools, materials, and resources will be required to accomplish the project goals. If you do this first, even at a high level, you will have to think through what you approaches are. You will have to quantify them. And before you write anything you can determine whether they fit the budget. You may find creating the BOE to be… challenging. But you have to do it sooner or later or you can’t price your proposal. And if you do it first, then proposal writing becomes describing an approach you’ve already figured out, instead of a tangled mess of figuring it out while rewriting it with every little change until you run out of time. If you want a better proposal experience and a higher win rate, you should do everything possible to begin creating the BOE sooner. Here are some things you can do to streamline creating the BOE. Create templates that do the math for people Create lists of possible variables to consider. List sources of data or possible formulas to use for quantifying the variables. Don’t try to produce final pricing. You might not need to prepare any pricing at this stage. Sometimes just figuring out the variables is enough. Consult with the people who do the pricing for your company and find out what inputs they usually need. They might even be able to provide formulas. They might appreciate getting the inputs required up front. Guide people to answer questions like these: Do you know what you need to know in order to make the required estimates? Do you have the details you need to perform the calculations necessary? How do you quantify what you have to do to meet the RFP requirements/specifications? How many people at what level of effort do we need? What are the variables that determine that? Location, shifts, productivity? What tools, resources, or other things will be directly required to fulfill the contract? Do you need a Bill of Materials (BOM)? Are there supply chain concerns? Will you have teammates? How will the effort be divided among them? How do they impact what will be needed? What things will be needed that are indirect, outside the project, or not billable under the contract like invoicing or HR support? Is our approach feasible? Extra credit if you determine whether you can deliver at the price-to-win. Does the BOE account for what you need to do to add value, differentiate, and win the proposal? You can make preparing the BOE part of the planning people need to do before they start proposal writing. Consider holding a review of the BOE before writing can start. The discussions that fall out of doing that will benefit the proposal immensely.
  20. To help you implement our recommendations in 6 things you need in your proposal reference library, here are some subtopics to address in each area. If you are avoiding narrative, you can keep this information in a spreadsheet, with a tab for each category. For graphics, quick notes, etc., PowerPoint can also be a convenient format since it’s easy to move through. I’ve also seen Evernote, Google Keep, and Microsoft OneNote used to store this information. Keep in mind that some information will be pursuit specific and some will apply to all of your pursuits. Pursuit specific may not be worth saving in a central repository, but when you apply your reference material to a new pursuit you should specifically provide a place for people to contribute pursuit specific variations for use in the new proposal. Also, for business lines or markets, you can create categories or columns. Topics to consider for your proposal reference library: Proof points See also: Reuse Performance/accomplishments Specifications/comparisons Features/benefits Quantities/capacities Capabilities Qualifications Durations Results Turnover Cost reductions/efficiencies Sections/topics: Technical, management, quality, risk, staffing, transition KPIs, metrics, and performance measurements Sample reports, documentation samples A single version of the truth Dates Durations Numbers Locations Names/labels Events/history Certifications Tests/audits Steps Procedures/processes/approaches/methodologies Sections/topics: Technical, management, quality, risk, staffing, transition Options Results Reasons Graphics Concepts of operations (CONOPs) Standard approaches leading to results Standard comparisons/metaphors/messages Standard positioning Pictures as proof Differentiators Frequent evaluation criteria Approaches Competitive positioning Capability/qualifications Ghosts Strengths Sections/topics: Technical, management, quality, risk, staffing, transition Approaches mapped to different circumstances Customer circumstances Evaluation criteria Incumbent/not incumbent Local/not local US/OCONUS Single site/geographically dispersed Technology/platform Subject matter Commodity/bespoke Business line Competitive circumstances Risk Environment Capacity/scale Jurisdiction Customer concerns Timing/schedule Accuracy/precision Predictability/consistency Specified/Indefinite quantities, deadlines, etc.
  21. What should a proposal library contain? If you think it should contain proposal text ready to use so you don’t have to write as much in your future proposals, you’re setting yourself up to lose your proposals. There are better ways to speed up your proposals. But there are some reference materials that are handy to have. And people need inspiration. These things can help improve your proposals instead of weaken them. See also: Why proposal reuse is really much more expensive than fresh proposal writing Are templates the best way to prepare proposals? Proposal Sample Makeover: Before & After What is the best way to accelerate proposals? Sample Proposal Introductions Template alternative: proposal cookbooks What matters to the customer depends on what they are buying Creating a win strategy re-use library Matrix of key customer concerns and how they relate to your proposal Why proposal win themes are so hard to write (and what to do about it) What matters to the customer about your offering? 20 questions and an example that shows why every proposal is different The problem with proposal re-use repositories The best example of bad proposal writing I've ever seen Proof points. You obviously think that you are the customer’s best alternative. But how will you prove it? All those benefits you’re promising, how will you prove the customer will actually get them? Your credibility lies in how compelling your proof points are. When you claim that you will complete the transition without disruption, how will you prove it? When you claim you can staff the project without risk, how will you prove it? Each proposal likely has dozens of claims. How will you prove each and every one? While the narrative of your proposal will change greatly with every proposal due to changes in what the customer cares about, it is a good idea to remember your proof points and be able to refer back to them. A single version of the truth. How many staff does your company have? How many locations? When was it founded? What is the proper way to describe a certification you have? Or word around the fact that you don’t actually have it? It’s a good idea to have a reference where you can look up definitions, names, facts, dates, events, numbers, etc. Otherwise, they may get reported differently by different authors. Steps. While you will want to tailor the language you use to describe a standard process in order to match the goals, reasoning, benefits, participants, terminology, and more to the current RFP, the actual steps may remain the same. Or not. For example, the recruiting process is not actually the same for every project. Nor is the transition plan. But while you can’t just copy the processes, you can recycle the steps. You don’t need or even want the entire writeup for a process, but it can be handy to see a list of steps so you can decide what to add, delete, or change and then prepare a narrative based on what the new customer cares about and the language they use in the new RFP. Graphics. For process-oriented proposals, sometimes a good approach is to create a graphic based on your standard process and begin proposal writing by doing a gap analysis against the current bid to determine how it should be changed. These graphics can be simple wireframes or even hand-drawn graphics because they are not intended to be the finished product. The marked-up graphic is very valuable for planning the writing. It tells you how this project will be different from the last one. And if you build your graphics around your messaging, starting by marking up your standard graphics will also inform the writers about what points they should be making. Here is a ton of inspiration for your graphics. Differentiators. What makes your company, staff, and approaches special? If you believe them to be unique, what makes them so? Why should the customer conclude that you are their best alternative based on these attributes? Some of your differentiators will be specific to a pursuit. But some of these relate to your company, resources, and other things that may apply to more than just one bid. Once you’ve got your differentiators figured out, it’s a good idea to turn them into a reference resource that not only informs people but also inspires and helps them figure out the pursuit specific differentiators. You get extra credit when you map your differentiators to your proof points. Approaches mapped to circumstances. If you look across many proposals, you’ll find that certain approaches lend themselves to certain circumstances. For example, certain approaches make sense when you are the incumbent. Other approaches make sense when you are not the incumbent. Some approaches work best for a customer that is obsessed with quality, other approaches are for customers obsessed about risk. Or performance. Or schedule. Or cost. Etc. Think of all the approaches you have, both technical and management. Then think of the variations and options. Then organize them according to which circumstances they apply to. The goal really isn’t to recycle the approaches, but to provide inspiration for people in those circumstances to help them think of better approaches so you can win more of what you bid. Don’t try to capture a lot of narrative text. That form of proposal reuse can be more expensive than starting fresh each time. Instead focus on reusing data, remembering ideas, listing options, and providing inspiration. Narrative text is not only a pain to maintain, but will also lead to people emphasizing the wrong things for the new customer, or worse not emphasize anything. When you map the proof points, graphics, steps, approaches, and differentiators to the circumstances of your current bid, you get a ton of powerful inspiration. That’s why on PropLIBRARY you see over 500 recipes that provide the ingredients instead of finished proposal sections intended for reuse. For PropLIBRARY Subscribers we've taken these 6 areas and identified 58 subtopics to help you figure out what proposal reference materials you should have on hand. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to ask Carl a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  22. Ghosting the competition is an advanced proposal skill. It involves explaining why the customer should not select your competitors. Here are some examples of the wording you can use to do that covering many proposal sections. Click here for an explanation of techniques for ghosting the competition. Use care when ghosting the competition and note how important it is to offer a differentiated solution that shows why the customer should select you before pointing out that it is also a reason why the customer should not select a competitor. Experience One of the things we’ve learned about doing [fill in the blank] for [fill in the blank] is the importance of [fill in the blank]. If a contractor does not [account for|anticipate] doing this, [consequences]. At [fill in the blank] we developed techniques for overcoming the challenge of [fill in the blank]. This enables us to prevent [fill in the blank]. These techniques include [fill in the blanks]. If a contractor has not developed techniques for [fill in the blank] you will be at risk for [consequence] during the [project activity]. We require all of our Project Managers to make contributions to our [lessons learned database]. The result adds value to our experience and makes it tangible. We do not claim years of experience while delivering inexperienced project staff. The project staff working on your project will have access to this valuable store of problems to anticipate, risks to mitigate, and ways to address issues that occur. Staff We have exceeded the number of key personnel required by the RFP by adding [positions]. We have named the staff who will fill these positions and are committed to delivering them. This means that on the project start date, we will deliver more than our competitors and less recruiting risk. It also gives you better insight into what you will be getting than other contractors offer to you. We have identified staff and provided resumes for all of the positions required for this contract. If we win, we will either hire and use the incumbent staff or use the proposed staff, depending on your preferences. This means that we actually offer less chance of positions not being filled (for example due to turnover) than the incumbent, more choice of qualified required staff qualifications and capability, and significantly better value. We have reduced the recruiting required and substantially mitigated the risk of not being ready at the project start date, by naming half of the staff required to perform this contract. A contractor that does not do this has double the risk that we offer. Approach We considered [approach option] but ultimately rejected it because of [reason]. Instead we have chosen [another option] that delivers [result] with less risk of [trade-off]. A contractor who bids [approach option] will be delivering a higher risk of [trade-off] that could in turn [consequence]. By using [tool] we completely remove the risk of manual errors, while simultaneously lowering costs. This is significant, because otherwise lowering costs using manual approaches requires either using fewer staff with higher workloads, or using less experienced staff, with either approach increasing the risk of manual errors. We designed our approach to solve the problem of [problem] by [techniques]. If this is not addressed, then [consequence] is likely to occur. While it is slightly more expensive to do this, it is far less expensive than fixing things when [problem] occurs. A contractor that does not do this will not only be ultimately more expensive, but they will also cause disruption to [customer]. Transition Our transition accounts for everything required, while completing in half the allowed time. Faster start-up adds value and significantly reduces the risks of not completing the transition on schedule. A transition plan that requires all of the allowable time exposes [customer] to risk if any transition activities, such as recruiting, take longer than expected. Our transition plan addresses updating project procedures to incorporate [new RFP requirements]. Even the incumbent can’t be ready on “Day One” because they too will need to make changes based on the new RFP. A contractor that does not account for these changes is basing operational readiness on flawed assumptions that could disrupt the project start. By using a transition team separate from the operational project management team, we ensure that RFP requirements will be met during the transition period. A contractor that does not do this will be relying on staff to develop infrastructure while also fulfilling operational requirements. This is an unreasonable expectation that our approach resolves. Quality We have reviewed the performance standards required in the RFP and in several key areas have improved on them. We are voluntarily accepting more difficult performance measures. This matters, because a [%] difference in performance results in a [%] difference in [availability|errors|other impacts]. A contractor that merely meets the requirements will result in [consequence]. Our approach to quality management not only fulfills the RFP requirements, but will also surface relevant metrics that will support making data-driven decisions. [Customer] staff will have full access to this data in order to better pursue your mission. Our quality surveillance approach collects data and documents findings. The result is full transparency regarding what was checked, when it was checked, what was found, and what was done about it. This extra effort reduces the burden on the customer to oversee our work, provides historical data regarding trends, can be used in predictive analysis, and helps ensure that lessons learned get applied. A contractor that merely claims to have a quality surveillance approach without doing this will have nothing to show for it if it is actually performed. Resources We have itemized in detail the reach-back resources available to this project. Companies make a lot of claims about resources, while at the same time making as few promises as possible. This is especially true regarding personnel and reach-back resources. Large companies with huge staffing counts can be just as resource poor as a small business because nearly all of those staff are billable and fully committed. The resources we have identified are available and will be deployed when needed. Like all companies, we delegate authority to different levels of management. What we do differently is that we escalate authority regarding resource allocation based on how long an issue has been unresolved. As the escalation table below shows, we also escalate issues all the way up to the CEO. We do this automatically. Companies that don’t describe how they escalate issues can hide them and delay in the hopes that a resolution will somehow occur. Our resources have been tailored to your environment and needs. This is important because [describe problem with generic or off-the-shelf resources]. When resources aren’t tailored, they can result in [consequences]. If a contractor has not described how their resources have been tailored, then you are at risk for these issues. Pricing Our pricing accounts for the following [issues]. Pricing that does not account for those issues will [not be compliant|have higher actual cost|be unreasonable|not be technically acceptable] because [reasons, give them the math]. In preparing our pricing we determined that there are several pricing strategies that could lower the numbers while introducing unacceptable risks. In preparing our pricing we calculated that below [number] it would not be possible to [hire the incumbent staff|perform|fulfill the requirements] because it would require [pricing x% below market|overhead below x%|other reasons]. Our pricing is above this threshold, but not excessively so. Pricing below this threshold exposes [customer] to unreasonable risk of [default|delay|other reasons]. Low price technically acceptable (LPTA) Our approach delivers [results] by [differentiated details] in order to ensure [goal] in spite of the risk of [describe risk]. When this happens, the impact results in performance that is not technically acceptable. A contractor that has not accounted for this and included it in their pricing is not being realistic or technically acceptable. Our solution includes [feature]. Without [feature] [describe negative outcome]. While the RFP does not specifically reference [feature], it is necessary in order to achieve the required goal. A proposal that does not mention [feature] and account for it in the price will not fulfill the requirements and therefore is not technically acceptable.
  23. Ghosting the competition is an advanced proposal skill. It involves explaining why the customer should not select your competitors. It is best when: Ghosting comes after proving why they should select your proposal. You shouldn’t play on the dark side until you’ve established your inherent goodness. And even then, use it with care. Ghosting should also be handled indirectly, so that instead of being a direct attack it is more of a consideration that just happens to paint them in a bad light. You don’t name names unless you are certain in your fact-checking and provide the proof. Even then I’d avoid it. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a proposal there. In the right circumstances, ghosting the competition has strategic value and can impact the evaluation of your proposal. Plus it’s fun to be a tiny bit snarky. Think of ghosting the competition as subtly educating the proposal evaluators by dropping hints. If ghosting informs them of important things they need to know before they make a selection, then it delivers value to the customer and is not simply casting aspersions. But use it with care since being snarky can backfire. Techniques for ghosting the competition throughout your proposals This article is about techniques. PropLIBRARY Subscribers can also click here for 23 examples of wording that you can use when ghosting the competition. Here are some ways to employ ghosting in various sections of your proposals: See also: Winning Experience. Why do customers care about experience? It often comes down to the customer not wanting things to go wrong. If you have experience, you should play up your ability to prevent that. And if you want to ghost against customers that don’t have experience, point out all the things that could go wrong without the experience that you have. Since no one will bid without being able to claim they have experience, you should expect them all to have it. With ghosting you can undermine the relevance and applicability of their experience. The key to this will be the examples you provide. Claims about the benefits of having experience without examples of how it provides advantages are not compelling. The same applies to claims of other experience not being relevant. Staff. If you have the staff, then name names. Prove it. And ghost the competition by pointing out the recruiting risks. If you don’t have the staff, then you can still ghost the competition by providing a better approach to screening, qualifying, and onboarding staff. Don't forget to include everything that the staff will need to be successful, so that you can end up with better staff. Ask yourself, "What does the customer care about regarding staffing?" Is it speed of project startup, performance of the staff, coverage, or the risk of disruption to something ongoing? Provide more of what the customer cares about, while ghosting against those who don’t or who merely say they’ll meet the requirements. Approach. Why did you decide to do things the way you did? What could go wrong if you didn’t? That’s what you need to explain in order to ghost your competition. Show that your approaches will succeed and explain why. Use those explanations to show why others who don’t follow your approach or don’t cite the issues you do may fail. Then let them compare the approaches. Simply providing the details, examples, or proof points gives your proposal strengths when others fail to mention them. Especially when you add what might happen if the customer selected a proposal that didn’t mention those things. Pricing. What must be reflected in the pricing for it to be reasonable? What must be accounted for? What bad things might result if a competitor’s pricing doesn’t account for or mention the things you did? What might surprise the buyer? Transition. Incumbents often get lazy and cite transition superiority without proving it. You can steal contracts from incumbents by showing that there are considerations that if not accounted for can cause disruptions even by the incumbent. When you are thorough and account for every little detail, you not only mitigate the risk for the customer of selecting you, you can introduce risk if they do not select you. When projects can fail right at the beginning, transition plans matter. Quality. If quality matters to the customer, then don’t treat it as a mere requirement. Show that you will achieve what matters about quality and ghost your competitors as merely following procedures and not achieving the right goals. Resources. Companies make a lot of claims about resources, while at the same time making as few promises as possible. This is an opportunity to explain why all those resources that a competitor claims to have will never impact or be made accessible to the project. It is also an opportunity to offer resources that will and explain the positive impact they will have. Special note regarding low price technically acceptable (LPTA) bids If the customer will select the lowest price bid that meets their specifications and you are concerned you might not have the lowest price, all you can do is make sure that your proposal is the only one that is technically acceptable. Your proposal becomes about two things: Proving that you meet the specifications Proving that anyone who doesn’t do things the way you do will not be acceptable Ghosting the competition may be your only chance of winning if your price is not the lowest. Don't be a hypocrite One of the things you will notice if you try ghosting is how important differentiation becomes. It's hard to point fingers at someone else if you are not any different. You should always give them a reason to select you that also implies a reason not to select someone else. Before you can do that you must be able to articulate why they should select you in a way that others will not also claim. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to ask Carl a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
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  25. Every one of the sample proposal write-ups below is selling the same widget. With minor edits, that widget could be a product, a service, or any other offering. The widget is not the point. Good news and bad news See also: Reuse First the bad news: Even though they offer the exact same thing, your proposals should end up so different from each other that it doesn't even make sense to recycle the content. Now for the good news: Creating highly tailored proposals increases your competitiveness so much it is highly profitable. Note how different each example is. The number of words that are the same in each writeup is practically nil. This is an excellent demonstration of the dangers of proposal reuse and starting from pre-written proposal content. Each customer has different concerns, and even if you’re selling the exact same widget, the proposal must be very different if you want to be competitive. If you start from the same sample proposal every time, you will not achieve this level of customization and your win probability will drop. You may save a little time, but the cost of the reduced win rate will be orders of magnitude more than what it would have cost to prepare better proposals. Another way to look at this is that proposals should be treated as a profit center. If you invest in better proposals that increase your competitiveness, you will make more profit than if you don’t. These examples also show why you can’t be everything to everybody, and why you will be far more competitive if you have even just a little insight into what concerns your customer. You can’t address all nine of these at the same time, and even if you could, the ones that matter to the customer would get lost in the noise. Besides, every customer articulates their concerns differently. Even if you had these 9 and 99 more like them ready to go, you’d need to reword them for every new proposal. If you don’t write your proposals to a specific customer, you are really just sending expensive brochures. Examples of proposal writing Proposal to a customer concerned about quality: The reason our widgets are more effective is the way we design quality in from the beginning. We not only apply quality criteria to sampling and testing our widgets after they are made, but our design methodology uses those same quality criteria to create a manufacturing process that eliminates the source of most defects. The result is greater reliability, lower total cost of ownership, and customers who can focus on their mission and spend less time on widget maintenance. Proposal to a customer focused on experience: Our widgets are better [cite differentiators] because they benefit from all our experience with installing them at [identify customers like this one]. This experience enables us to anticipate the inherent project risks [identify them for better credibility]. Our [lessons learned methodology] enables us to deliver more value to our customers [better if defined]. Our approach transforms experience into action, which will have much more impact than empty claims of years of experience. This is important because an implementation without the vital lessons learned that our staff bring would be at risk of [negative outcomes]. Proposal to a customer concerned about risk: We have identified and mitigated the risks associated with delivering the widgets to you by [insert differentiated approach]. We will also give you direct access to our widget tracking system so that you can see issues as they arise, monitor our timeliness in resolving them, know when we’ve escalated issues, and see how we’ve resolved them in real-time. Nothing will be hidden from you and you will be able to provide feedback and be as involved in the decision making as you choose to be. We will manage things just as if you are watching, even when you aren’t, because we will never know whether you are or are not. Because of this, you may not have to put as much effort into monitoring us in order to get the widgets you were promised, when you were promised them. Proposal to a customer focused on the staff: We will provide all the staff named in our proposal, all of whom are dedicated widget specialists. We do not expose you to the risk of us having to recruit the key staff needed to do the job. We know that it’s the people on the ground who will make this project successful, and not promises from the home office. We also have not included resumes that look good but are for staff you will never see, and our level of effort tables prove it. A contractor who does not provide level of effort commitments will be tempted to withhold their more experienced but expensive staff during performance. As a result, widget quality and performance will suffer. Our staff are not only fully qualified widget specialists, but they are also supported so they can be effective. Our people perform better because of the knowledge resources and best practice forums that we provide. Proposal to a customer with trust issues regarding vendors: While our past performance shows that we deliver as promised, it’s our approaches and transparent management that ensure you will get the widgets just they way we’ve promised them moving forward. These [provide differentiated examples] ensure that no step in the widget workflow can be overlooked or skipped and that every widget is fully functioning at or above specifications before they are delivered to you. Proposal to a customer who is happy with their current vendor: Our approach uses new [technology, approaches, etc.] to produce a better widget that will enable you to [insert example of better goal fulfillment]. Our approaches are proven to be low risk because we have already implemented them for other, similar clients. We have the people, processes, and tools to begin immediately with an approach that will enable you to pick up from the current state without any disruption and then raise the bar. The result will be a smooth transition that not only continues a reliable supply of widgets, but also [achieves benefits like lower costs, improved performance, time savings, etc.]. Proposal to a customer concerned with compliance: [customer name] will be better able to [insert goal of procuring widgets] because our approach is based not only on fulfilling the specifications in the RFP, but on helping you to achieve your goals. [Exhibit/table] shows that our widget meets or exceeds every specification. In addition, because our widget also complies with [insert other relevant standards, rules, laws, etc.] you will be able to confidently rely on our widgets. Widgets that do not meet these additional standards will not only represent a compliance risk, but they will also ultimately cost more than our widgets due to lower performance and reliability. Proposal to a customer concerned about widget performance: The increase in performance that results from using our widgets will [Lower cost? Improve results? Save time? Other benefit?]. We achieve better performance by [differentiated process] that [delivers benefits]. When widgets aren’t produced this way [describe how disaster may ensue]. Proposal to President Trump: It’s a great widget. We only sell the very best widgets. Anyone who says they are not the greatest is Fake News. People love our widgets. Recycling and automated assembly are dangerous and will cost you more than doing it right How well do you think a recycled widget write-up from a previous proposal would stack up in competition? Anything you copy and paste from a past proposal will have been written for the wrong context and show that you are out of touch with the new customer's concerns. What would the win probability of any one of these be if given to any of the other customers? It is better to focus on competitiveness than on reuse and assembly. More proposals produced faster but less competitively will not lead to growth. Instead of focusing on proposal assembly, focus on differentiation that better addresses customer concerns. I hope my competitors all recycle their narratives and automate their proposal assembly. Because I won’t. Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to ask Carl a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  26. Carl Dickson, Founder of and PropLIBRARY sat down for an interview with Ashley Kayes and Baskar Sundaram of the Scribble Talk Podcast. He shared some insights into the nature of proposals as well as some details about himself that have never been published before. 90
  27. Here is some guidance that can help you when you sit down to write the proposal. While we've broken it down so that someone could follow it sentence by sentence, the goal is really just to enable people to write better proposals by giving them something to check their paragraphs against. If you are stuck regarding how to approach proposal writing, this can help. See also: Great Proposals A structured approach to writing introduction paragraphs When you sit down to write, before you start summarizing ask yourself, “What makes my offering different, and how is that better?” Then drop the summary and focus on making your introduction about how your differentiation will produce better results for the customer. Compose your paragraph like this: The point you want to make set up as something the customer will get This should be followed by points about your differentiators, set up as things that will make what the customer gets better An optional competitive ghost, saying what bad things might result if things aren’t done this way and intentionally targeting competitors who don’t meet your standards If possible, organize what follows your introduction around your differentiators. If what follows must follow an RFP-mandated outline, then map your differentiators to that outline and differentiate how you comply with the RFP requirements. Keep in mind that what the customer gets should address all of their concerns, from how to complete their evaluation, will they actually get what you’ve promised, and how will it impact their future, to the unwritten requirements that didn’t make it into the RFP. Also keep in mind that strengths, while good to have, are not differentiators. Writing responses to RFP requirements When you sit down to write, before addressing the RFP requirements ask yourself, “What point do I need to make here?” Then ask yourself, “What does the customer need to see here to perform their evaluation?” Also ask yourself, “What might the customer be concerned about?” Then address the RFP requirements in a way that is easy to evaluate and achieves compliance, while making your points and addressing the customer’s concerns. Try this model for paragraph construction: An insightful point you want to make about why your approach matters and what it will achieve. This should be followed by sentences that show insight into achieving the goal of the requirements, using the RFP’s key words, and addressing the customer’s potential concerns in a way that turns them into advantages of your approach. Each of these sentences should have two parts: What you will do or deliver Why you will do it that way Make sure that you follow the RFP instructions and optimize what you say to achieve the highest score against the evaluation criteria while responding to the requirements. Note that why you do things is sometimes more important than what you will do. Use lots of tables, text boxes, and graphics Wherever possible create tables, use text boxes, and incorporate graphics. Use them to reduce the writing while improving communications. Try to move all details into table, lists into text boxes, and procedures, relationships, and metaphors into graphics. This will enable you to focus the text on telling your story about how your differentiators will produce better outcomes.
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