Proposal libraries

Planning a Compliant Tender Response

Every question that’s asked in a tender document will contain more than one layer, that is, several questions within the question. Look for the layers and you will produce more compliant answers and also get better results. In a session with my Master Class group this morning, we were talking about content planning for tender responses. This is a very important topic, but often one that people struggle to get their heads around.

When we're on a deadline and there's a lot of work to do, it is very tempting to jump straight into writing, but in fact, this is never going to give you the best result.

Planning is the essential step between creating your bid strategy and executing it through what you write in your proposal.  But even the word “planning” sounds as much fun as getting a root canal. It feels like it will slow us down and stop the momentum and the flow of ideas.

However, I look at planning somewhat differently. When I plan proposal content with teams, I find that it actually gives a really laser sharp focus to what we’re about to do.

It’s a bit like flying a plane. If bid strategy work is the preparation for take-off, and writing is cruising at altitude, then planning what happens just after take-off when the flight is still ahead of us. Many things are possible, but many things could still go wrong.  Planning gives us an opportunity to see them, and work out the bumps before they throw us off course.

Often in our haste to get a bid done by the deadline, we compile proposals rather than write them. We think: “okay, here's a question about quality assurance. I'm just going to copy paste my standard answer about quality assurance in here.” But questions are rarely asked exactly the same way each time. So take the time to identify the layers in the question that your answer needs to cover. And think of your standard content from past proposals as a reference library, not the finished answer.

Proposal Reviews — Can We Make Them Better, Faster, and Less Prone to Going Off the Rails?

Proposal reviews are the bane of most bid managers’ lives. The stress factor ratchets up exponentially when you have multiple people involved, spread across multiple sites in multiple time zones. And that assumes you are just making one submission! Combine dozens of version changes with deadline pressure and you have a recipe for mistakes, frustration and a process that gets harder to manage by the minute.

I recently came across a terrific article on the topic of proposal reviews by American proposal specialist Joe Latta, who has clearly given this issue a great deal of thought.

Joe shows how we can leverage technology to make the process better, faster and less prone to going off the rails. His article centres around the capabilities of Adobe Acrobat products, including how to annotate comments in PDF; export comments to Word; keep track of everything in SharePoint; and use new features of Acrobat such as EchoSign to get electronic signatures on PDF documents.

There are some great tools and techniques in Joe's article for anyone who manages complex bids.


Proposal writing tip: how to use case studies effectively

Case studies are an important source of evidence when substantiating claims of past performance in similar contracts. However, they will always have more impact if you can include them in the body of your proposal, and not just attached as a sheaf of project data sheets.

For example, look for opportunities to introduce case studies as an illustration of how you have successfully delivered a particular aspect of your methodology.

Proposal writing tip: beware the cut-and-paste answer

As useful as proposal content libraries are for knowledge management, cutting and pasting from them can be problematic. For example, if your library content has been built to answer a standard question that has been asked in a certain way - like "describe your quality process" - it will go only part-way to addressing a more specific question that asks you to "describe how your quality process will achieve zero defects and manage risks in achieving budget and schedule".

That's where your specialist knowledge is needed to turn the description (of the quality process) into persuasion (how this will deliver something that's meaningful to the project and the customer).

Does the proposal you submitted last week sound like the one you pitched six months ago?

Join me for a free 30-minute webinar on Thursday 2 May 1.00pm AEST to find out to how build a great proposal library by harnessing the knowledge - and building the skills - of your subject matter experts. Pretty much every organisation has a ‘library’ of past proposals that they draw from when writing new ones. In theory, content libraries should help you answer the questions that come up - in one form or another - in all RFTs. These are core issues that every prospect wants to know about, including your past experience in similar contracts; customer references; capacity and resources; approaches to quality; approaches to Health, Safety and Environment; innovation; and risk management.

Proposal content libraries are important for knowledge management and to make the production process faster. However, the way that they are built and used tends to hinder – rather than help – the proposal effort.

Firstly, just the fact that the library exists tends to make people lazy. I see far too much cutting and pasting and not nearly enough thinking about what the RFT is asking and what the proposal really needs to say.

Secondly - let's face it - writing proposals isn't most people's favourite job to begin with, coming as it does on top of a mountain of other work. Because of this, I've seen many organisations employ writers to produce content for proposal libraries. But this is a bit like asking the cabin crew to fly the plane.

Good proposal content comes from experts who know what they are talking about. Passing the content development task off to ‘writers’ means that material is often superficial, because experts are busy and it’s difficult to get their time for interviews and reviews. The process gets drawn out and expensive, and leads to a one-shot outcome that is quickly out of date. Content is written descriptively, rather than persuasively, meaning that it lacks any expression of customer value. All of this leads to lacklustre proposals that lack insight and depth.

Writing persuasively is about taking what you know and putting it into context that the customer will understand, and that convinces them to see things your way. This is a skill that anyone can learn, and the process for doing so is actually very simple. If you missed the webinar, contact me to find out more.