A fellow proposal professional, to whom I am a mentor, was describing the many challenges they were having with a particular client. These ranged from the sales person not having much information about the opportunity, to subject matter experts repeatedly missing deadlines and to production time being decreased to the point that quality was being seriously jeopardized.
We discussed some of the measures this individual might put in place on future efforts to avoid such challenges. When we finished the discussion, I commented, “So, now you should thank your client.”
This caused the person I mentor to be somewhat taken aback and they replied, “Why on earth should I thank them. All they did was make my job harder.”
I explained that, while certainly trying and perhaps painful, there were many lessons being learned and this would only help them become better as a proposal professional. I went on to state, “As I know it, the definition of an expert is ‘Someone who has made most of the mistakes that can be made, learned from them and was then able to avoid them in the future.’ You should look at what you’ve just been through as a learning experience and thank this client for assisting you on your journey to become a proposal expert.”
Posted by Jon
Posted by Jon
How good are your organisation’s proposal capabilities? Are you doing great stuff, or doing great stuff against the odds. Does your process work like a dream – or feel more like a nightmare? Are you winning lots, or losing too much?
Earlier this month, we launched our free online benchmarking tool – the Proposal Benchmarker. It allows you to quickly assess your capabilities against best practice: what’s working well, and where are the opportunities to improve? It distils down over twenty years of our benchmarking experience into a 30-minute self-assessment – giving you an instant score. Each company will also receive a more detailed, tailored report.
It’s had great feedback from those who’ve used it so far – and Martin Smith (Managing Director of Bid Solutions) has described it as “unquestionably the simplest, most effective way to get instant and accurate feedback on your current organisational capability – it really is an industry-leading tool”.
Comments from users in the past few days have included:
Have a play: it’s at www.proposalbenchmarker.com – and, as we say, it’s free to use. It should be fairly self-explanatory, but there’s a video from our colleague Graham Ablett if you want to watch. It might even form a fun basis for your bid/proposal specialists to work through and answer together, in a team meeting?
To inform and enlighten the profession more generally, we’ll be sharing details of the key overall trends we uncover. There are already some fascinating patterns emerging as to what’s working well, and where people are struggling.
There’s still very much a place for more formal benchmarking – where clients invite us in to assess their proposals and their capabilities, and to build and embed improvement plans. We love doing that, and the improvements to efficiency and proposal quality (and hence win rates) that consistently result are incredibly satisfying. But in offering our expertise free, online in this way we’re trying to provide a resource that makes benchmarking far more widely accessible – and we hope you find it useful.
I recently attended a session at the SPAC conference (Atlanta, March 23rd) wherein the presenter stated, “Proposals don’t lose business.” That certainly raised a few eyebrows (and a few butts as several people - coincidentally? - chose to leave the session at that point).
Those who have been in the proposal game for even a short period of time will know that a proposal certainly can cause the loss of an opportunity that might well have been won otherwise. As I’ve often said, “Proposals, in and of themselves don’t win business. But many a poor quality proposal has resulted in losing business. And there is a reason we often hear during qualification, “This is ours to lose.” Translation, we are in a position to win as long as we don’t do anything wrong when responding.
The reasons a proposal can cause an opportunity which might have been won otherwise to be lost are numerous. This list includes: submitting after the deadline (especially true with Federal RFPs), failing to comply with the instructions, not addressing a requirement, inconsistencies, typos/errors and/or submitting a less than professional response, to name just some of them.
Proposals don’t win business either … but that’s an entirely different discussion, right Jon? (for a copy of “Beyond Win Rates:” Fair and Appropriate Measurement of the Proposal Support Function” just send me an e-mail requesting a copy.)
Posted by Jon
Ours is fast-moving profession. When I moved from procurement into proposal management back in 1999, there were relatively few written resources available to provide ideas or inspiration. Now? Well, I've seen three things so far this week - since returning to work after moving house - that each seem to contribute to developing what APMP calls the 'art and science' of proposals.
First came the excellent launch issue of "Bidding Quarterly", a new magazine from Bid Solutions. BJ and I first worked with Martin Smith, their managing director, over fifteen years ago. We count him as a good friend, as well as a valued colleague. "Hope is Not a Strategy" - downloadable as a PDF here - brings together articles on proposal strategy from their panel of industry experts. You'll find an article from me towards the back of the issue. (Hey, I've always liked having the last word!) .
Next up was an industry survey from the UK chapter of APMP, exploring the role of technology in bidding. It struck me completing it that we take so much IT for for granted. After all, when BJ started working on proposals, 'cut and paste' was quite literally 'cut and paste'. Systems play such a vital role for an effective proposal function, and done right do so much to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Yet I'm curious to see the findings of the survey, as technology can also be the cause of so much frustration. That library of outdated pre-written proposal content, which wastes more time than it saves and merely enables sales staff to issue poor proposals faster? That client portal, which inhibits bidders from presenting their solutions and telling their stories as professionally as they could? My own mobile phone, which repeatedly delights in refusing to tell me that I have voicemail messages accumulated over the week, until I sit down at home on Friday evening with a nice glass of red...
And last but not least came a new training prospectus from our colleagues in Strategic Proposals NL - their version of the UK syllabus that we unveiled last autumn. I'm not sure that many "Proposal Guys" readers speak Dutch - but it was a useful reminder of that proposal management really is an international profession these days, having evolved very rapidly from its anglophone roots.
So, here's the challenge: what have you read in the past few days that's provoked you to think differently about proposals, to ponder best practice, or to come up with new ideas? If we're not learning, we're falling behind the competition, and ours is a hugely competitive world.
Posted by BJ
A fellow proposal professional, S.W., (whom I’m currently mentoring) received the following mail:
“We met at [industry show] and I got your card. I just found out about a government bid I want to pursue. I’d like you to manage the response for me!”
When S.W. asked what his budget was, that person said: “Oh, I don’t have any money to pay you but if you write it for free, I’ll pay you if/when we win.”
No doubt, many of you who provide proposal support services have had a similar request. I have certainly heard this a fair number of times.
I’ve been struggling with a good analogy for this. Perhaps it’s like asking a personal trainer to train you for free, agreeing to pay for their services if you win the body building contest in which you plan to compete. Or how about asking a painter to paint your house for free, agreeing to pay them if/when the house sells.
Either analogy highlights something Jon and I have discussed for many years. That is, that while proposals can have a significant impact on the probability of winning, the proposal itself is only one component (of the long list of factors, what I refer to as ‘the components of the win) which a client evaluates when making their bid decision.
When S.W. and I discussed this, we agreed the best course of action with this (probably not) potential client, was to provide a bit of education as to the role proposals play in winning an opportunity. And to then explain that the service provided is charged by the hour and is payable whether the bid is successful, with a bonus to be paid if/when the opportunity is won.
Posted by Jon and BJ
We're delighted that, after taking a break from blogging, we're back!
To those of you who followed us before, when we posted between 2006-2014: it's great to see you again. Did you miss us?
And to new readers: welcome! I guess we owe you an introduction. 'The Proposal Guys' is written by Jon Williams and BJ Lownie. We're the principal directors of Strategic Proposals, an award-winning proposal management consultancy, in the UK and US respectively. And we're both Fellows of APMP - the Association of Proposal Management Professsionals.
This is our space for exploring topics about bids and proposals that interest us - and which we hope you'll find thought-provoking too. You'll find there's much the two of us agree on - and some fun to be had in those few areas in which BJ's still wrong. Which, coincidentally, are those in which BJ thinks Jon's wrong!
We've been busy since we last posted. If you want to read about some of that, you can head to the Strategic Proposals news page, or follow us on Twitter (@ProposalsSP and @BJLownie). And we've seen a lot of you around at events and conferences anyway!
But you'll find that whilst our work with our clients - and our wonderful team of colleagues in SP and our partners around the world - informs much of what we write here, it's not our main subject matter. Neither of us is a salesperson, and neither of us feels comfortable with such blatant self-promotion. We hope instead that we'll share some of our passion for proposals, and in doing so offer ideas, inspiration and a little amusement. Sometimes we'll provide answers and advice; often we'll just share things that catch our imagination and (perhaps) pose questions. And we'd very much welcome your input and comments.
See you around, very soon – we promise!
Posted by Jon
My current favourite way of challenging the salesperson owning an opportunity?
“What do we know about the client and opportunity that none of our competitors will know?”
Try it sometime: it’s amazing what it can unlock – either:
Posted by Jon
I rolled up pretty early to a client site the other Monday morning, to set up for the day’s training course.
Their sales director – one of the very best in the business – was listening to, and occasionally participating in, a “bid / no bid” conference call. The hoped-for outcome was the latter course of action, and he was merrily helping the participants talk themselves into that not-always-easy decision.
What struck me as interesting was the timing of the call, not something to which I’ve ever given much thought previously. But if you want to get a team to qualify out of an opportunity, which time would you choose:
a) 8 a.m. Monday morning (”you could have a straightforward week, or it could be stupidly busy and stressed if you take on all this extra work”)
b) some time on, say, Thursday morning – when the participants are already deep in hero-worker mode (”look at how much I’ve done this week!”) and not that fussed about or focused on the following week’s schedule.
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BJ Lownie and Jon Williams are the co-founders of Strategic Proposals.