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.
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 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.
Posted by Jon
Whilst the candidates sat their APMP Foundation exam yesterday during a course I was running in our Utrecht office, I raided the bookshelves of my Dutch colleagues.
One very cool volume was “Gamestorming”, by Gray, Brown & Macanufo. I particularly liked their concept of “The Anti-Problem”: ask the team to solve the problem that is the exact opposite to the challenge that they’re currently facing. I can see lots of applications:
I also loved “Brainwriting”. Identify the topic you want to solve (”Improving our proposal capabilities”, perhaps). Give each participant a large blank card on which to write an idea relating to the matter at hand. Get them to pass the card to the person on their right – and ask each individual to add an idea to the card that they have just received, to enhance or build on what they have just read. And keep on circulating and adding to the cards. (If you use paper instead, the authors suggesting passing the sheets on by turning them into paper aeroplanes…!)
A couple more: conduct a “Pre-Mortem” – rather than “what are the risks?”, ask “how did this end in disaster?” and work backwards. Or hold a “show and tell” session in which (perhaps) at the start of the campaign you ask your contributors to bring and discuss one thing that could contribute to your success on the bid (for example, something that they have delivered for another client with similar needs).
Let us know if you play with any of the ideas! I certainly intend to…
Posted by Jon and BJ
A reminder that there’s still a few days left for you to make your voice heard in our research project for this year’s APMP “Bid & Proposal Con”, and to receive a white paper with the results.
You can complete the survey online at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/9C5WZV7 where we’re asking you to do two things:
Thanks for your support!
Posted by Jon and BJ
We’ve just been selected to present at APMP’s “Bid & Proposal Con 2014″ in Chicago on the topic of “Secrets of Proposal Success”. The formula: that we ask bid/proposal staff to share the following:
We’d love it if you would be able to take part. The survey will be online until 20 January at:
There’s no need to rank answers in priority order, and you can just provide free-format text: we’ll categorise the answers provided! Obviously, all results will be presented anonymously, although we do need to know sector & country for all respondents. But if you choose to provide your email address (and this is entirely optional), we’ll share the results with you as a white paper.
Thanks from us both for your involvement!
Posted by Jon
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?
Posted by Jon
Ever seen people distracted in meetings, as they furtively read their Blackberry emails under the table? Yeah, thought so!
I heard a lovely anecdote this morning from a client, of one of his proposal team who finally decided she needed the attendees’ full concentration in a meeting. She picked up the waste bin [trash can, for you Americans!]; walked around the table; solemnly removed the smartphones from everyone in the room – and threw them away. She placed the bin outside the door, closed it, and continued the meeting with: “Now I’ve got your full attention…”
I’ve confiscated phones from people on the way into sessions before now – but never during a workshop. It’s quite a nice tactic to bear in mind!
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BJ Lownie and Jon Williams are the co-founders of Strategic Proposals.