Interesting Stuff

1st December 2016: The Book with No Pictures

I utterly love this. American comedian, BJ Novak, has written a book called "The Book With No Pictures". Designed to get children to enjoy books again - a laudable cause - to the average adult, it just contains daft stories, silly words and fancy fonts. If read out loud, which it is meant to be, it sounds ridiculous too. But kids love it. Watch this video prove it. And the point is?


Well, think about the parallel between The Book With No Pictures and a proposal. It's all about knowing your audience. Then writing and presenting your document (or book) for them. Simples.


Image courtesy of photostock at

20th October 2016: APMP Conference - The DNA of Engagement

Yep, that's me in camouflage. My workshop this year was called "Engaging with Empathy."

Last year, I skirmished with Aristotle's three persuasive appeals (Ethos, Pathos and Logos) and got the audience to consider how we could implement them in our proposals.

In this session, I took a deeper dive into pathos. Inspired by Roman Krznaric's book "Empathy", I hurtled through the history the Six Habits of Empathic People getting the audience to think about examples for each one. Feedback was positive - not bad alongside other seasoned speakers and keynote guests, Nadine Hack and Sally Nugent.

5th September 2016: 7 attributes customers use most when making contract awards?

In a nutshell, it's experience, expertise, value, customer service, trustworthiness, innovation and employee care - according to the Government Business Council in America. We might all think that at least some, if not all, of these are obvious. After all, who would select an inexperienced, untrustworthy, old-fashioned amateur providing zero value and dishing out appalling service to customers and staff alike? But nothing's quite that black and white. It's not a question of being one or the other. It's about convincing your buyers you are superior on all fronts. Which is why we spend time encouraging sales people and proposal writers to base their dialogue and content on evidence and examples. Add balanced arguments supporting your ideas and creative illustrations of results and outcomes. Stir this up into a perfectly structured and elegantly articulated conversation, presentation or document to delight your customers and make their choice simple. If you need help, just ask...     

24th August 2016: The best word in the English Dictionary

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Few would consider including the words love, serendipity, discombobulate, onomatopoeia, peace, hope, mellifluous, antidisestablishmentarianism, kerfuffle and oxymoron in the same sentence. But I've just done it. The reason? Well, they have been voted the top ten (in that order) words in the English Dictionary in a survey by Raconteur. What a wonderful idea. 

I voted for "comfortable" and "appropriate". They are two words I find helpful when spoken rather than on the page. Comfortable came from the TV series "The Sopranos" - Tony Soprano's therapist used it often. I find it a calm way of saying I do or don't like or agree with something. It's soft and tactile. Similarly, appropriate, or not appropriate, can quietly express that something is right or wrong; quite different from inappropriate, which feels harsh and disapproving.

Words are intensely personal and my words may not resonate with everyone, but they have been good friends to me.

The full Raconteur article and infographic are worth a visit. And do let me know your favourite words to say or write.   

12th July 2016: Theme statement or headline?

We often draw a parallel between proposals and newspapers. People scan newspapers choosing their favourite section, browsing the headlines, looking at the photos and glancing the explanations beneath. If they are hooked, they may progress to the first paragraph. And for most of us, that's about as far as we get.

Proposals are treated the same. Buyers go to the section they care about or are responsible for scoring, take in the headings, tune into the graphics and captions, then read until they get bored or they have found what they wanted.

I may be over-generalising and public sector buyers will remonstrate that they have to be far more thorough than that, but I am just being realistic about human nature. Especially in today's busy, busy world.

So, the importance of getting people hooked is really key as it switches their brain to "interested". Just as newspapers use headlines, so proposals use what are often called theme statements. The component parts of a theme statement are: the buyer's name, a benefit they will achieve from the purchase, and a discriminating feature (something you have that your competitors don't). This principle guarantees a customer-focused opener that is business-oriented and confirms why they should buy from you. It's a formula to practice and vary - use it to start sections and sub-sections. And emphasise your theme statements with bold font or borders.

For a different slant on this idea see Lane Shefter Bishop's article on loglines - her principles of "single", "simple" and "specific" are excellent. 

24th June 2016: BREXIT - the impact on public procurement regulations

Image courtesy of nirots at

Oh what a flurry of speculation about the fate of public procurement regulations in the light of BREXIT. Here's what I am thinking, based on reading numerous articles and speaking to people here, there and everywhere. One, nothing is going to change in the short term - not until we officially withdraw from the EU, which could take a couple of years. Two, public procurement regulations in the UK may be based on the EU directive, but we are likely to (and I hope we do) continue to support the priniciples of fairness, transparency and proportionality. Three, whether we continue to have access to EU opportunities and allow EU countries access to our opportunities will depend on the trade deal we strike. So, in conclusion, for now we Keep Calm and Carry on Bidding.  

14th June 2016: Meet the Value Fairy and the Feature Witch at the APMP Symposium

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Fast-paced and professional was my verdict on the APMP's first one-day annual Symposium. Held in the beautiful city of York, we rattled our way through two streams of workshops about capture and how to exploit capture work in proposals. Geoff Burch entertained us with inspiring and excruciating sales tales. For my sins, I got to run a session on "value", so using last year's article on Value is in the Eye of the Beholder, I built an interactive hour with exercises on the who, why, what, when, where and how of creating value. For added fun, I wheeled out a couple of my magical bidding characters - the pixies stayed at home under the stairs, but the Value Fairy sprinkled value dust around the audience whilst dressed as a Feature Witch. Dressing as a Feature Witch for more than one hour is bad luck, so a quick costume change at the end rounded things off nicely. All a bit mad, but folk seemed to enjoy.

18th April 2016: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Aristotle created his seminal work, “On Rhetoric”, over 2,300 years ago. It included his theory of the three persuasive appeals – ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic). This work is still regarded as the bible of public speaking, but the three appeals can be applied to any form of communication. Whilst we often talk about emotion being the keystone of the early stages of the business development lifecycle, and logic being the keystone of the proposal phase, all three appeals apply equally to proposals – they play to the emotional and logical aspects of buying and the need to provide proof to be convincing. In this new article, I explore each of the three appeals and how we can bring them to life on the page.

15th February 2016: Do men from Scotland or Ascot make better pilots and surgeons?

Image courtesy of 89studio at

Pilots and surgeons wouldn’t dream of starting the most critical stages of their work – taking off and landing a plane, or cutting open and sewing up a patient - without a checklist. Why oh why aren’t salespeople programmed to work the same way? Research confirms that the most successful companies tackle this problem; they implement structured sales processes and develop a culture of discipline to ensure their salespeople follow them.

One of the critical components of any sales approach is good qualification. I am still a great believer in the trusty SCOTSMAN - used the world over to test that an opportunity is robust and appropriate. For me, it stands for Solution, Competition, Originality, Time, Size, Money, Authority and Need. Only I think it's missing the important emotional element of selling, so I use my own variation, ASCOTMEN - Authority, Solution, Competition, Originality, Time, Money, Emotion and Need. Where's Size gone, you may protest. Well, in my book you should always Size your Solution.

For those asserting we must be more modern, and focus on Insight selling or Challenger selling, I couldn't agree more in terms of approaching the customer. You also need to profile your ideal prospect. If you have got these things right, you still need to qualify each opportunity to justify pursuing it, and that's where qualification checklists come in.   

As proposal professionals, you can do the same. By understanding the sales process and having your own checklists, you can help build a better picture of the story you are destined to tell in your documents. When starting your proposal development process, check at least: the customer's evaluation criteria and the members of the buying committee you are writing for; the solution you are proposing; what critical business and personal needs you are addressing; how your solution is better than and different to the competition; when and how you will deliver; what's the price to win. There are several techniques for driving this information out - let me know if I can help. In the meantime, here's a lovely post by George Brontén that supports my thinking. 

1st January 2016: Getting Organised for 2016


If this is your photo, please let me know so I can credit you.

I love this photo of a colour-coded library. Given that my last post of 2015 referred to Lance Ulanoff's article on life skills that will disappear in 2016, one of which is library skills, this is a lateral way of getting round not even knowing what the Dewey Decimal System is, let alone how to use it. Want to find the Complete Works of Shakespeare? It's the big red one!

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The Government Commitment to SMEs

The UK government aspires to procure 33% of its goods and services from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

Sounds good, but it can be daunting for those new to public sector bidding, who do not understand procurement rules and fear the red tape. 

If you need help, contact

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