It may be a cliché, but it is one that holds true – a picture really can paint a thousand words. Effective graphics make proposals easier to read, improve understanding and enhance persuasion. Yet many proposal teams fail to make good use of graphics, sometimes omitting them altogether. The latest article from i4 explores some of the rationale behind why graphics are so useful and explains why there is a photo of a horse here.
Image courtesy of bk images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Ever heard of "free-writing"? Neither had I.
I guess it's the modern day term for what I remember as automatic writing. I was reminded of it today when I came across this blog on the excellent Copyblogger website. It got me thinking about how to use free-writing in my proposal work.
The author, Bryan Collins, quotes Mark Levy, author of Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, as having a "a spot-on description of free writing", which is "a fast method of thinking onto paper that enables you to reach a level of thinking that’s often difficult to attain during the course of a normal business day."
The blog is full of ideas on when to use free-writing and how to do it. For me, free-writing is like doodling with words - just let stuff come out your head, through your pen and onto your paper. It's what you want to be doing at the early content planning stage of proposal development. Think of all the possible content that will build your compelling story and then go back to the structuring and editing task.
Another excellent APMP conference this year on the theme of skills development. Inspiring speeches from Michelle Mone, Professor Lord Winston and Brian Mayne.
I was delighted to present my first workshop session entitled "Another Brick Out The Wall". I never have any trouble getting on my soapbox when it comes to clearing up any doubt about the roles and responsibilities of salespeople in proposal development.
With Pink Floyd (Another Brick Out The Wall) playing loud to welcome the audience, I drew the parallel between kids and salespeople thinking they "don't need no education". Apart from the appropriate, yet light-hearted, inclusion of a double negative to kick things off, I was deadly serious throughout. My thesis was that salespeople must qualify their opportunities and must develop value propositions and win strategies during capture to ensure the proposal team has a fighting chance of putting a decent document together.
Whilst the old lags in the audience nodded sagely and cynically declined to believe such things would ever happen, the younger folk seemed to take heart. I hope many of them walked out with more confidence to challenge their sales colleagues rather than soldier on through another blind bid in despair.
Those of us in the world of professional bidding and sales have long known the importance of building value and quantified benefits into our proposals. All good structured sales and bid methodologies include this fundmental point. However, there is strong statistical evidence that salespeople continue to fail to articulate value.
According to the recent Qvidian Sales Execution Trends report, 60% of buyers disengage because sales reps are not communicating compelling value. Moreover, an executive survey by SiriusDecisions found that, for the fourth year in a row, the top reason sales reps fail to make quota is due to sales reps' "inability to communicate value."
This is clearly an area that needs constant attention. In their article, "Three Ways You Can Demonstrate Your Value to Customers" by Christopher Faust and Tom Pisello, there are some useful starters for 10.
Not the most scintillating of subjects, but an important one for those of us in the world of public procurement and bidding. Supply Management, the purchasing and supply website, has come out with a useful glossary of the terminology of EU public procurement law. Different lawyers offer their definitions of the most common, and frequently misunderstood, words and phrases.
I love Yael Grauer's article, '7 Ways to Simplify Complex Content While Maintaining Sophistication and Nuance', published last month. As well as 7 good tips, there is an excellent example of how Yael engaged with a 'perfusionist' - a person who operates a heart-lung bypass machine during heart surgery. A complex subject. Yael explains how he questioned the perfusionist about his work before writing a short description of what a perfusionist is and does. The exercise proved that it is possible to explain a complex subject in straightfoward language.
To see red. Red is for danger. Get the red pen out. All these phrases conjure up negative emotions – anger, fear, criticism. Unfortunately, that is often how people perceive a Red Team review. Organised, briefed and managed effectively, a Red Team review can be the exact opposite – a constructive and positive experience. Read the new article from i4 exploring the myths and realities of Red Team reviews.
Although written as a generic article for entrepreneurs, many of the 7 points in this article by Brent Gleeson are relevant to bid managers and salespeople because, as Brent says, "we are all human and get distracted by the minutiae of our day-to-day responsibilities." The seven sayings are: the only easy day was yesterday; get comfortable being uncomfortable; don't run to your death; have a shared sense of purpose; move, shoot, communicate; no plan survives first contact with the enemy; and all in, all the time. Read the full article for more detail - you'll be amazed how relevant it is.
"Watertight Marketing" by Bryony Thomas has been nominated for the Small Business Book of the Year. Five years in the making and drawing on her extensive marketing experience in senior roles, Bryony's book offers a really sensible and holistic marketing approach that fits perfectly with a structured sales approach.
Solid marketing and sales theories are pulled together in the digestible analogy of finding and plugging 13 leaks in funnel. Unlike many marketing books, Bryony encourages fixing problems with existing customers and optimising the win probability of identified opportunities, as well as generating more leads and prospects.
Ideal for small businesses, the book is supported by a comprehensive web school to encourage self-sufficiency and informed decision making. Click here to vote.
The Rebid Centre, specialists in re-bidding, has published a comprehensive blog on the subject of implementing a re-capture plan.
Re-capture is about retaining a contract when you are the incumbent. They explain the differences between capture and recapture including topics such as making assumptions about how well you know the customer, the role of inertia and resistance to change and the importance of addressing delivery or performance issues.
It is a good piece. However, it implies that the organisation defending its position knows what a capture plan is in order to appreciate how it is different from a re-capture plan. I my experience, many companies don't create either. Capture is the stage after identifying a specific opportunity and qualifying into your pipeline. It covers all the actions you will take to understand, influence and exploit your customer's requirements, perceptions and preferences in relation to you and your competition. The end result is that you will have won the customer's emotional vote by the time the ITT is issued. Your bid then becomes the logical justification for the emotional choice.
The approach is the same for capture and re-capture. Some of the content will vary. I agree with the Rebid Centre folk that the sooner you start the process the better. Remember, the winning or losing government starts its next campaign the day they win or lose the general election. You should consider doing the same for strategic contracts.
I recently came up with the concept of "the pixies that write proposals in the cupboard under the stairs overnight". What is she talking about you may ask, but it's all to do with the lack of respect afforded to the role of proposal management and writing.
Winning business starts with generating interest - often the function of marketing - then moves on to understanding requirements and creating solutions, benefits, value and relationships - the function of sales. In many cases, all this good work has to be formalised in a proposal before closing the deal and delivering the goods. Marketing and sales have budgets and headcount, ditto delivery. Why do so many companies think developing a proposal - a critical step in the process - can be done in people's spare time?
Proposal development should be afforded time and resources to do a professional job that builds on the good work done by marketing and sales. It should also pre-empt the excellent job you will do of delivering. So, set up a decent proposal function (or outsource it) and don't spoil the ship for a ha'peth of tar by expecting the pixies to perform miracles.
In Seth Godin's pithy post on the subject of trust, he suggests that the most important question to ask about people you are selling to is "Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?"
This made me think about things that people do or don't do in proposals that might increase or decrease the creation of trust - which, of course, we hope has already been built in the pre-proposal phases of the business development lifecycle!
Three from the school of best practice are (1) talking about yourself more than your customer, (2) failing to provide proof of your claims and (3) failing to express the real, quantified value the customer will gain from working with you. Do the opposite of these and you will make good steps towards building trust.
Having said that, perhaps top of my list is don't make silly mistakes in spelling, grammar and presentation - sloppy work can be indicative of so many things to come! What do you think?
Interesting article from David DeSteno suggesting that integrity is not a stable trait, but is affected by circumstances. Using two real life examples, he illustrates that it is the situational motivation that affects a person's integrity choices. This makes it intensely difficult to judge whether to do business with someone as past performance and current relationship are not predictors of future behaviour. Who can you trust? Fascinating stuff.
A colleague of mine once described the arrival of an Invitation to Tender (ITT) as a “meatfest”, summoning up the image of a hoard of people desperate to get hold of a haunch of venison to satiate their hunger. The document would arrive, everyone would grab a copy, then a flurry of emails and conversations would start up between anyone and everyone about what should happen next.
I say: “Whoa, steady on. That’s not the way to do it.” Discipline and control should be what kick in when an ITT arrives so that sensible business decisions are encouraged and resources are used effectively and efficiently. In your proposal management process there should be a step called “kick-off”. Contrary to popular belief, this should not happen on the day the ITT arrives, but between 10% and 20% through the response timeline.
The latest article from i4 describes the importance of preparing and running proposal kick-off meetings. Read and enjoy.
"Paying attention to the details could give you a competitive advantage", says Bruna Martinuzzi in her article "9 Ways to Improve Your Attention to Detail". Whilst this is a generic article and I agree with it all the way, I particularly related it to producing a bid.
I get to see many bids deemed "complete and ready to go" by the bid manager, yet they are poorly structured, repetitive, full of grammar errors, inconsistent font types and sizes, and clearly the work of multiple authors - "one voice" is an alien concept. Yet it is this level of attention to detail that puts the professional polish on your bid.
Given that every bid should reflect the good company image that your salespeople have created - we hope - and it should herald the way to delivery excellence, it must be perfect. You may not notice or care that you have mixed the first and the third person inappropriately, or mixed up your fonts, but I would and so may your customer. In the old days folk would say: "Why spoil the ship for a hapeth of tar". More recently Steve Jobs said: "Details matter. It's worth waiting to get it right." There's a theme running here - don't ignore it!
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The UK government aspires to procure 33% of its goods and services from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
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