I am a partner at 24 Hour Company, a firm that specializes in graphics for proposals. These days my primary role is the development of workshops and tools to share my best practices and secrets with proposal professionals. Previously I designed graphics and presentations for proposals, something I still do on occasion. I am committed to helping the proposal industry evolve and I recently released the third book in a series on graphics, Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Business Graphics.
How did you first get involved in proposals?
Reluctantly. Nine years ago I had a choice to make: a) become a partner at a multimedia firm or b) become a partner at a proposal graphics firm (24 Hour Company). “What’s a proposal?” was my first reaction. However, as I learned more about the proposal industry, I soon saw it as an underserved market. I knew it would continue to grow and mature, and I wanted to be a part of its growth. Part of my continuing to enjoy working on proposals is the adrenaline rush that comes with the pressure of working to a deadline, having to produce the highest-quality documents possible and competing.
What characteristics do you feel make for a first-class proposal?
Interdependence. The proposal team must work together and communicate properly. They must have a schedule and a plan and stick to it. I want everyone to be on the same page. For example, I want the Capture Manager, sales lead, or person closest to the future client to share what s/he knows with the proposal team (everyone on the team… not just key personnel).
Play to the individual’s strengths: A subject matter expert should not spend hours designing a graphic if they have a designer on their team. It would be a waste of the team’s time and money for a subject matter expert to make graphics when they could be focused on developing the solution or writing.
Compete to win, not just “let’s-just-go-for-it”. The work should start before the RFP is released with a rough sketch of the solution at a very high level that slowly gets down into the weeds (linking back to the high-level view of the solution) If the team can picture the solution, they will have a much better chance of effectively explaining it in writing. I have seen hundreds of times where once the team can visualize the solution, the writing comes easy and they tell a story that solves the future client’s problem.
Link features to benefits and discriminators. The proposal must be audience focused. It also needs tolook like a first-class proposal-aesthetically appealing, no clip art, well formatted, consistent, and well edited.
In addition, a first-class proposal needs to be easy to evaluate and score and it needs to follow the RFP.
If you were given responsibility for a proposal center, what would you do first?
Talk to the team. I would have and schedule time for a free flowing conversation addressing specific areas and questions with the team to understand their wants, needs, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. I would review their processes and systems, as well as the company’s products, services and offerings. Lastly, I would evaluate old proposals and find out what worked and what did not and why.
I would then develop a plan for developing and streamlining proposal development. I would get the team involved so everyone had ownership of our new process/system. I would also involve senior management in the process and get their input and support to help make changes as needed and get funding approved.
How do you respond to those who claim, “It’s all about price”?
Hockey Puck! If this were true the lowest cost solution provider would always win. RFPs from any U.S. government agency state that the proposal will be awarded to the company showing they can provide the “best value” not “lowest cost.”
Many proposals win because the sales representative or capture manager did a fantastic job developing rapport with the future client and learning their hot buttons and key issues (often not stated in the RFP), giving the team give an edge over the competition.
I’ve even heard stories of proposals winning because of the cover! One such story is of a military agency that needed a product built. Only one company had the product ready-to-go, and they put a picture of it on their proposal cover. Ironically, they almost lost because the proposal was so poorly written; however, they showed the product working on the cover so they won. In addition, their proposal had the highest cost.
What’s the worst (or funniest) proofreading error you’ve ever seen in a proposal?
“Jerminal Arena Destruct Limes.” It should have read: “Terminal Area Destruct Lines”
If you were to recommend one book to proposal managers, what would it be? (It doesn’t have to be specifically about proposals!)
I’d have to say, “Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Business Graphics: 3 Fast and Easy Steps to Turn Your Text and Ideas into Graphics That Sell.”
We asked over 400 proposal professionals what their biggest proposal challenges were and one of the top challenges listed was translating words and ideas into graphics. (I’m sure it sounds self-serving to recommend a book I’ve written but I know the value of the best practices and “secrets” in this book.)
I can’t stress enough the power of visual communication. Too many proposals are lost because the winning solution gets lost in a sea of words or is missed because the graphic is indecipherable. Visuals (even rough sketches) get everyone on the same page fast! Good graphics are proven to increase success rates by 43%. The book shows proposal professionals how to translate their winning solutions into a memorable, compelling graphics.