Proposal Land

Term: Memorandum of Understanding

Agreement used at the bid stage to define how companies will work together on the bid as well as after contract award.

Covers things like responsibility for costs, work responsibilities, and intentions regarding future contractual relationships.

Often used in consortium arrangements.

Acronymized as MOU.

Keep ’em Smiling

Today Seth’s blog builds on a tippy canoe.

The 16-foot canvas Prospector canoe made by the Chestnut Canoe Company
is not the fastest or the lightest or the cheapest canoe
but it is an elegant canoe.

I’ll have to take his word for it. I’m an occasional kayaker, not a canoeist.

Practical elegance doesn’t mean that the canoe will never capsize.
It means that the thing we built was worth building,
and it left the user feeling better, not worse, about their choice.

“Practical elegance doesn’t mean that the canoe will never capsize” or, as the vernacular has it, “Shit happens.” How can we make our clients feel good about choosing us even then?

Too often, “customer service” has come to mean “answer the phone and give a refund.”

Having recently bought a laptop where they quite reasonably changed-out the graphics card (due to obsolescence) but also quietly added a touchscreen I didn’t order/want and omitted software I *had* paid for, it took me hours on the phone to get to someone who could give me a refund for said software. And you know what? By that time, that was the minimum acceptable response: Necessary but not sufficient to make me feel good about having chosen them.

Customer service begins long before something breaks.
It’s about a commitment to the experience.
Creating delight before it’s expected.
Building empathy and insight into the interactions that people will choose to have with you.

So what’s the lesson for Proposal Land where we usually have clients, not individual customers? It’s the same thing. We have to commit to the experience, whatever that means to the client’s representatives:

  • Weekly instead of quarterly reports?
  • Reports pushed to emails instead of having to be pulled off a portal?
  • Follow-up phone calls to see if there are any questions about those reports?
  • Quarterly briefings on the contract’s key performance indicators?
  • Phone calls to check in when things are humming along as well as when something goes wrong?
  • More contact with our senior executives, signalling that the whole company cares?

And when we do have individual customers (aka end users) in the client’s organization — say, deployed members of the Canadian Armed Forces on a camp-services contract, or client employees accessing relocation services for a job-driven move, or retirees trying to get the right dagnabbed tax withheld from their pensions — then we must figure out how to treat them as valued customers rather than nuisances.

And when we figure out what that takes — hiring people predisposed to this mindset, training people to enhance their skills, recording data about interactions, soliciting and using customer/client input, including measures of the desired behaviours in our quality inspection sheets — then we document that and talk about it in our proposals, along with the client kudos that will naturally come our way.

Of course this takes effort.
So do all the other things that go into a product or service.


Measure Twice . . .

 . .  cut once.

So goes the canonical advice to the woodworker. Also the linoleum/carpet installer. And retailer of fabric. And so on. Be sure before you do something you can’t undo.

In Proposal Land we don’t do much cutting in the sense of irrevocable changes, but we do a whack of unnecessary cutting if you count editing. And I do.

Outline twice, edit once.

Every hour we spend in outlining, in validating/vetting outlines, and in consistifying outlines across sections is rewarded by two hours less in high-pressure editing of wildly inconsistent sections and crazed re-writing of same in a vain late-to-need under-the-gun attempt to standardize the presentation where it makes sense. To make this dagnabbed proposal look like it came from a cohesive team.

Do I have stats to back up that claim? Um, no. Good point: Maybe it’s three hours of editing and re-writing time saved.


Term: Parking Lot

In a facilitated meeting, a mechanism for simultaneously acknowledging contentious or tangential issues while sidelining them for later resolution.

In the old days of in-person meetings and flipchart paper, a piece of paper was reserved for parking-lot issues. In the new days of distributed teams and online collaboration tools, it’s worth setting up an equivalent recording mechanism. In effective groups, people are heard and feel/know that they’re heard. Then they don’t keep trying to monopolize the conversation to deal with their problem.

There’s no reason why a permanent parking lot couldn’t be set up on proposals, so that people could record their concerns as they arise.

(If this were a personal blog, I’d comment here that this is similar to an individual acknowledging uncomfortable feelings or unhappy thoughts to themselves and making a plan to address them at the next session with the counselor/therapist/psychologist. Once the subconscious knows it’s heard, it stops beaking-off too.)