A friend who’s a schoolteacher commented to me the other evening, about one of her more challenging teenage pupils:
“He’s incredibly articulate, but when I ask him to write anything it’s like asking a monkey to colour in a picture.”
I challenge you not to conjure up that image next time you’re working with a salesperson who’s brilliant in meetings and when presenting, but who struggles to convert that into similarly-eloquent proposal prose! Part of our role, as proposal professionals, is to take away the fear factor that so many of our business colleagues experience when it comes to the written word – allowing them to focus on the customer and proposition, drawing on our help to articulate their great stuff as powerfully and persuasively as possible.
I recently presented at a conference held by one of our clients. For this client, the market has shifted significantly and they no longer can rely on the steady stream of business from existing client they’ve enjoyed for many years. For this reason, the focus of their annual event was business development with an emphasis on winning new business (rather than renewals or additional business from an existing client).
Several of the presenters spoke about sales people being “hunters” and offered suggestions for improving with their “hunting” skills. Among such tips were to start learning about the potential client as early as possible and not waiting for the RFP to arrive to get started. The other was to do their homework and learn as much about the potential client as possible.
The speaker’s use of the terms hunter and hunting prompted me to consider the parallels between business development and deer hunting. I imagine this was also prompted by my residing on a very large piece of property that is home to many deer and the fact that this is deer hunting season.
The people who are given permission to hunt on the property fall into two groups. The first group is those hunters who have hunted the property for many years and who hunt each year for several days or weeks. This group is made up of people who live nearby and/or close friends. The second group consists of individuals who haven’t hunted here previously and typically only hunt for one or two days. These might be clients or someone I’ve recently met who are hunters and who, upon learning that I have access to good property for deer hunting and request permission to hunt for a day or two.
Those hunters who haven’t hunted here previously, and who only hunt for a day or two, rarely see, let alone manage to shoot a deer. They might stumble upon a deer and take a shot at it as it runs off. They have no idea where the deer are and have no understanding of their habits. They will inevitably come in after a day of hunting to inform me there probably aren’t many deer on the property anymore.
In contrast to these occasional hunters, those hunters who have hunted the land for several years know a great deal about their prey. Throughout the Spring and Summer, they are out on the property, watching the deer and learning the habits of the deer. They know where they sleep, where they eat and drink and they know which paths they follow. They even go so far as to put up motion-activated cameras which take pictures of the deer as they pass. These hunters have a plan when they go out to hunt. They often have selected the deer with wish to get and will pass up deer that come by to get the one they have decide to pursue. Inevitably, these hunters get the deer they are after. They inform the herd on the property is large and there is no shortage of game for hunting.
As with most of my analogies, I think the parallels to our business are fairly obvious. The majority of opportunities are won by those companies that engage with the client well before the release of an RFP. These companies have extensive knowledge of the client and understand their concerns and their objectives for both the business overall and the RFP specifically. They know the competitive landscape and have developed their strategy for capturing the opportunity. In many cases they may have even assisted the client in the development of the RFP. (This is not dissimilar to hunters that provide food for the deer in the later part of winter to ensure the deer remain healthy when natural food becomes scarce.)
Please feel free to offer this analogy the next time a sales person requests that you provide support for a last minute hunting trip on property where they’ve never hunted before. In all likelihood, they’ll end up telling you there weren’t any deer there.
There are lots of textbooks out there for proposal professionals. What we’ve always thought is missing is something that explains the key principles of the proposal process for the folks with whom we work – salespeople, subject matter experts, senior managers… So, lo and behold, here comes our attempt to fill that gap!
We’re delighted to announce that our new book, “Proposal Essentials”, is now available on Amazon. (Click here for the UK, here for the US, or search your local country site). Written in the straightforward style you’ll be used to here on “The Proposal Guys”, with plenty of quotes from proposal teams around the world – and weighing in at an easy-to-absorb 128 pages – we hope you’ll find it useful in disseminating best practice:
We’re both really proud of the book – and hugely grateful to our designer, the incredibly talented Ciara Gilsenan, for her excellent work on its layout.
If you’ve already picked up a copy at one of the autumn conferences at which we’ve presented, do let us know what you think in the comments section on this post!
By the way – if you want to order multiple copies, we can ship them directly to you at a discount. A fair few organisations have already ordered copies for all of their salespeople and content contributors, for example. Just email us for more details via firstname.lastname@example.org .
This really doesn’t have anything to do with proposals, other than very tangentally – in that I was on the way back from a meeting on Friday when I saw it at Earls Court tube station. But I loved it: it made me smile, and I thought readers here might enjoy it too:
So, how many are you going to do today?
The speaker of the UK House of Commons gave a witheringly sarcastic put-down to prime minister David Cameron last week:
“It’s a good idea to try to remember the essence of the question that was put.”
We could apply this to proposals, of course – not only answer the question (’compliant’) but address its essence (’responsive’). When speaker Bercow gets kicked out of office, he might think of proposal management as a second career… and in the meantime, I can see myself quoting him to various recalcitrant content contributors!
Presenting to a group the other day about proposal strategy, I posed a challenge to the team. “Take a pen and paper,” I requested, “and write down the three or four key themes from your last proposal.”
I stopped them about thirty seconds in. One or two had immediately written their lists. The rest were floundering: looking to the heavens for inspiration, scribbling the odd note, but clearly unable to spontaneously recall the story that they’d embedded in the most recent document they’d produced.
Would you pass the test? And if not, isn’t it time you for you to shine a brighter spotlight onto the need to develop a clear and compelling strategy in your proposal process?
Are you one of those people who just can’t help look for errors when reading documents – any documents, not just proposals? Me too! In which case, you might like this – from an Observer restaurant review a couple of weekends back from the marvellous Jay Rayner:
There used to be a cartoon stuck to the wall of this newspaper’s office, mocking the deadening effects of the pedantic subeditor. The sub is leaning over the shoulder of a Victorian chap who is scribbling away with a quill. “Come, come, Mr Dickens,” the sub is saying, “it cannot be both the best and the worst of times.”