There’s a reason we refer to proposals as “live engagements”. It’s because the development of a proposal isn’t a static, onetime event. As we all know quite well, it’s a complex series of many activities, many happening in parallel and many dependent on the preceding activities.
That why it’s important to be thinking actively and in the “ing” rather than thinking in the “ed” and as activity done once and closed.
You shouldn’t be thinking “ed” as in qualified, planned, assigned or motivated. You should be thinking qualifying, planning, assigning, motivating, etc. In this way, we recognize that activities are ongoing, ever-changing, fluid and need to be updated as changes occur and new information is received.
It is a naïve proposal person who qualifies an opportunity and makes a decision to pursue it and then not re-qualify it as new information comes in. Inevitably, as a proposal effort gets underway, new information is garnered, both from the client/customer and internally. The qualification/selection decision needs to be reviewed in light of significant new information. Likewise with other proposal activities: You develop a proposal plan and then you continually adjust and revise that plan. Throughout any proposal development effort the plan will change many times as you adjust for real life coming in to play.
You’ll remember that the over-riding purpose of a kick-off meeting is “to inform and motivate”. Hereto, you don’t want to think of the team as informed and motivated. You need to be continually informing and motivating the team (I refer to this as “knowing when to hand out the candy bars”.)
So, when working on your next proposal development effort, think “ing”, not “ed”.
*Credit for this great tip goes to David Oliver, a member of the Professional Ski Instructor Association’s Demo team. He provided this tip during a session I was fortunate enough to attend with him as group leader. Dave pointed out that in skiing, you’re never “ed” and always “ing”. You’re balancing, edging, pressuring, etc. Great tip Dave!
OK, I confess…. my office is something of a mess. Not in terms of paperwork on projects that I’m running: I can lay my hands on that in a flash. But I’m forever tearing items out from newspapers and magazines, and then finding that they show up a year or more later. “Oh yes,” I then think: “That was interesting!”
One such materialised as if from nowhere on my desk this morning. It’s from The Economist a fair while back, about research into gambling addicts by neuroscientists at Nottingham University. What caught my eye was the opening line of the article, which could almost have been written about bidding:
It is not the thrill of winning, but the thrill of almost winning that sets a problem gambler apart from those who just fancy a flutter.
Not, of course, that I am suggesting that salespeople ‘gamble’ when it comes to bids, wanting to roll the dice whenever they think there’s the slightest chance of success. Or that this is a ‘problem’ needing help (i.e. a much stronger qualification process). Oh no…!
Those of you in the UK may have been following the political satire “The Thick of It” over recent weeks. One of the characters – number 10’s spin doctor – is played by an actor called Vincent Franklin. I stumbled across something he wrote for a corporate audience the other day, and it resonated with the work we do on proposals:
Writing is about editing. Only a genius gets it right first time. So once you’ve written something, it’s time to make it better…
[E]ncourage people to share their work and get feedback early on. If you wait until people have put hours and hours into something, how open are they really going to be? So share plans and first drafts, not just highly polished work.
Now, most proposal processes incorporate some form of ‘red team’ process: letting one or more independent reviewers scan through a near-final draft of your proposal so they can make positive suggestions for improvement. But, of course, that’s too late to do anything other than fine-tune the document – even if such fine-tuning can add several percentage points to your evaluation score: I’ve known good red team reviews to have made the difference between finishing second and winning the deal.
In the proposal world, the formal ’storyboard review’ processes – as advocated in the APMP accreditation scheme – is a great way to get early input. But, of course, many proposal teams struggle to find the time or resource for this. Yet that mustn’t be an excuse: there’s a mindset that’s called for here when planning your content development process, which encourages content contributors to produce the first draft early and share it for review before it’s too set in stone.
In a recent post I mentioned my having changed dentists (the one I’ve been seeing for years retired) and her using technologies and methods that are new to me.
One such method this new dentist uses is a scoring system for the health of my gums. Some of you will no doubt be familiar with a dentist probing “pockets” around each tooth. A pocket is an indicator of how healthy gums are, with a healthy pocket being very shallow and problem areas being deeper. My previous dentist would do this and then typically tell me I need to floss more often or pay better attention to a particular area of my mouth.
When I first visited her about 3 months ago this new dentist did such a probing and associated scoring. She then showed me the scores for each tooth and I was able to understand, tooth by tooth, where there were areas to which I needed to pay better attention. Having this information didn’t really cause me to change my dental habits. I was still pretty casual as to my flossing, or I was until my next visit.
I recently went to this dentist for my 3 month cleaning. She once again did a probing of the pockets. Then, on a spreadsheet she printed out, I was able to see, once again tooth by tooth, which of my scores had improved and by how much (these were in green), which scores had remained the same and which scores had gone down and by how much (these were, as you’d expect, in red). I was able to see both where I‘d improved and where things had worsened.
Seeing that I had made improvements (my score had gone up on about 6 of my teeth) and where I’d slipped a bit (my scores were lower on 3 teeth) was very motivating. I am much better about flossing and using my electric toothbrush. I’m working towards improving all of my scores and not having any of them in the red on my next visit.
I’ve no doubt you can see where I’m going with this as it relates to the work we do, right? Knowing the level of quality you’re submitting, knowing where improvements have been made, and where they need to be made, is motivating and causes people to strive to make improvements. I know this from my experiences with clients for whom we conduct periodic assessments and provide scores on proposal quality and capabilities. Those teams are always eager to learn the results of an assessment and use that information to formulate improvement initiatives.
If you’re already assessing and scoring both the quality of your proposals and your capabilities, then you know how beneficial this is and you are to be commended. If you aren’t conducting assessments and getting scores to help you know how you’re doing and what needs to be improved, you really should consider doing so. Hey, it got me to start flossing on a regular basis!
I recently changed dentists (the one I’ve been seeing for years retired) and this new dentist uses the very latest in technology. One of the tools she uses is a an optical camera that allows her to show me, via a monitor in front of me, the tooth or area of my mouth to which she is referring as she explains what needs to be done. In this way I can see the same thing she is seeing and, rather than imagining what she means when she says, “I don’t like the looks of this older filling,” I can see it as well. Seeing the image on the monitor is so much more powerful than her describing what she is seeing.
It’s the same with graphics. Showing a product along with specs is certainly more powerful, and will be retained remain in the reader’s memory longer, than a written description. A process is much easier to follow when it is depicted as a flow chart rather than described. As Mike Parkinson over at 24 Hour Company has said during many a presentation, graphics, especially photos, provide realism and credibility and people retain the information much longer.
And as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Using an optical camera my dentist let the image provide me the information I needed. Graphics will do the same within your proposal.
One of our readers, Melissa D, a co-chair of the New York Metro Chapter of APMP, recently received a commendation from her company for her work in developing the proposal support team which she manages and of which she is also a key member.
In an article published by the company, Melissa highlighted the role accreditation has played in the development of her company’s proposal group. She commented, “Just as an accountant should have a CPA and a lawyer needs to pass the Bar, our proposal professionals should be accredited and have the chance to participate in learning and development programs.”
In the article, Melissa also offers her views on ways to develop your team (and echoes many of the things Jon and I have stated and written about here in the blog). Here’s what Melissa advises:
- Recognize that each individual is different – with different skill sets, needs and interests.
- Understand the expectations for your group and consider ways you can coach and mentor.
- Join professional organizations (such as APMP) to stay abreast of best practices for your group or industry.
- Seek out training opportunities
- Don’t get too comfortable – There’s always something to learn!
Congratulations to Melissa on this prestigious award, on her promoting APMP accreditation and her obviously ‘getting it’ when it comes to the profession of proposals.
Many of you will be familiar with the surveys that have been conducted previously by our good friend Barbara Esmedina (aka – The Proposal Goddess :-) ). The survey results are always informative and enlightening (and helpful in leveraging funding for salaries, training, resources, process improvements, etc.).
Like any survey, the more people that participate and the more data collected, the more powerful the results. That’s where you, our readers, come in. Please take the time to provide input to this survey. It’s similar to the previous salary surveys, with additional questions to address the 2008-2011 economic climate. The survey will run until the end of the year and we’ll provide highlights here on a regular basis.
We recognize that many of our readers reside outside the US and, as the survey requests input in US dollars, you will need to convert your currency into US dollars prior to providing the data. (You can access a converter here.)
According to Barbara the survey should take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Clicking text at the end of the survey will take you to the contacts page to access real-time results. If you want to be notified when reports, presentations or articles from the survey are available, you can sign up to be placed on a mailing list (optional).
As always, the data from the survey is available for free to anyone who wants it and if you submit contact data it will NOT be shared or used for any other purpose.
The link to the survey is here and the survey results can be found here.
Jon and I hope that many of our readers will provide data to this important and very useful survey.