Proposal Land

The Last Minute

Date certain

That was the title on Seth’s blog today. Even nose deep (and sinking) as I am in my last last proposal — or maybe exactly because of that — the title catches my eye. Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about?

This is very different from “someday.”
Choose any date you like, as far in the future as you like.
But a date, circled on the calendar.

Yup, it sure ’nuff looks like it. A hard, drop-dead, date-certain deadline.

By that date, what will you have implemented?
What will be in place?
Where will you be, what will you be doing?

Well, in Proposal Land, by that pesky date we will have implemented a proposal.

A small miracle (*Can* miracles be small?) of creativity, teamwork, sticktoitiveness, and plain willingness to work too hard will be in place.

And we’ll be at the finish line, doing exhausted, giddy, relieved, too tired to be proud, really, and justalittlesaditwasn’tasgoodonpaperasitwasinourheads (pretty sure that should be a word) (and pretty sure it is, in German).

Date certain.
Way more powerful than someday.

Well, he’s right, comme d’habitude. And it’s true: assigning a date to an activity is *way* more powerful than not. That’s why no customer ever released an RFP that said this: “I tell you what. You know what we want. You know what you have done and what you can do. Put together a little something on how those fit together in your minds, send it over, and we’ll take a look.”

If it weren’t for the last minute,
nothing would ever get done.
– Another citizen of Proposal Land

It continues to amaze me what proposal teams can get done, given those dagnabbed deadlines. So feel free to sing along with Seth, and grab a little piece of that magic for yourself in another application. Give yourself the gift of a last minute.


And if you’d like to read Seth on deadlines, check this out: How not to miss a deadline.

And this interesting companion piece on how to handle it you do: How to miss a deadline.

The applications to Proposal Land are obvious.

First, Identify the Problem

Dear Dizzy Izzy:
I’m reviewing a proposal and it is nowhere near
what it needs to be for submission. Nowhere. Near.
Is the team stupid, do you think, or just lazy?
Red Teamer

Oh my.

Dear Too-Typical:
What I think is that the proposal team needs your help.
Izzy Dizzy

In the human resources world there are training and motivation problems, and it’s important to know which one it is when performance is sub-par.

In Proposal Land, teams don’t usually lack either training or motivation: What they usually lack is time. Shortcomings in the document are almost always an indication of too little time, too few resources assigned, or both.

What that means for Red Teamers is this: The proposal team needs your help. What that looks like is this:

  • Make super-specific suggestions for improvement (maybe even offer to do the work, if you’re capable)
  • Flag any sub-sections that work well, so they can be used as a model for similar sub-sections in other parts of the proposal
  • Set priorities for the work (see “lack of time” above: time doesn’t get any more abundant after Red Team)
  • Find them more hands if and only if the people attached to those hands know the company, the project, and proposals


Term: Themes

Things we want the client to conclude about us and our solution; marketing messages threaded through our proposal.

Ideally, used to differentiate us from those pesky competitors.

When they’re done well, they’re fabulous: articulating the value of what you’re offering in terms that resonate for your client.

When done badly, they feel like hustle.

Proposal Land Hustle

hus•tle (verb)
1. force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction
2. obtain by forceful action or persuasion (informal North American)
to try to persuade someone, especially to buy something, often illegally

That definition is itself a bit of a hus•tle (noun; a fraud or swindle) because it combines entries from two online dictionaries: this one and this one.  The pressure is the general pejorative meaning that Seth had in mind today.

No one wants to be hustled.
To be pitched and pushed and, most of all,
pressured into buying something.

The fraud is more what I had in mind when I read his post. It brought back a memory of someone I did not strangle.

Can we lie about our experience?

The hapless team member was now blanching under The Look: the “Is-it-a-joke-or-do-I-need-to-slap-him-one?” one. He seemed to be in genuine-enquiry mode so I played it straight.

Lying is wrong.
And besides, they’ll find out.

I eschewed the slap. Hitting is wrong, too.

It’s wrong to hustle a customer. And besides, they’ll find out. Winning the contract and then failing to deliver on what you yourself told them to expect, dagnab it, is not smart business. Not honest business. Not a lasting business. And not a business you can feel good about at the end of the day, not to mention a career.

So save your hustle for the other kind.

hus•tle (noun) (mainly US)
energetic action: “The team showed a lot of determination and hustle.”

That kind is always welcome in Proposal Land.


What’s It All About, Alfie?

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning
pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?

WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
Disorder in the American Courts


Use small words: Do not utilize humongous designations.

Use regular words: Do not ply your arcane craft pursuant to the injunctions of your worser heavenly messengers.

Small words. Regular words. In both questions and answers. Try it.