Proposal Land

Better RFP Responses & Management
Proposal Land

Seth & Me: Again

What Seth said . . .

The problem lies in what people think “marketing” is.

Marketing isn’t paying for ads, changing the logo or building a social media presence.

Marketing is product design, customer service, pricing, customer delight and creating and living a remarkable story.

Marketing is creating the conditions for the network effect.

What I said . . .

Marketing is not about putting a layer of icing on a layer of shit.

Management Reserve: Redux

Don’t believe me; believe Seth.

The last minute is not a buffer zone,
nor is it the moment to double-check your work.

Before that last minute, set aside a few hours or a few days at the end (the amount depending on the length of your response period) and hold it free of any planned work. Having this explicit management reserve is an essential tool in meeting schedule, which is the most-important thing in Proposal Land.

Good proposal teams schedule time to check their work, more than once and yes, at the end. They also allow time for things to go off the rails. Because they often do. And if they don’t consume all your management reserve? You can have a little more time to add to Seth’s last minute to admire your handiwork and your project planning.


Buddy & Me: Marketing is not about . . .

A day aligned with Seth Godin is like a day with sunshine, no?

I’m not sure the word “marketing” means what you think it means.
Later, we will get to the promotion and advertising part.
But right now, this is marketing. All of it.
“When do we get to the marketing part?”

Long ago in Proposal Land, I had the same thought but expressed it a little more rudely.

Getting to Good Contracts

Today, Seth is on about what makes a good spec. The basic message is this: Even good providers will interpret a spec differently and deliver different products. If you can live with the differences, then it’s a good spec.

In Proposal Land, the same observation applies in two ways, one of which is way easier to test and fix.

Way #1

A poor specification of the work wanted (the product, or service, or both) will generate bids based on different understandings of that work: This is Seth’s situation. Some of these bids might stray so far from the (poorly/ambiguously explained/articulated) intention as to be non-compliant. Any bids that survive will still be tough to compare fairly.  Not. Good.

Also, Not Easy to test in advance. What, will we ask a bunch of bidders to respond to a draft RFP and SOW to give it a good road test? Good luck with that: Time is money and proposals take a lot of time.

However, it is possible to do these things:

  • Build the spec on proven sub-specs – Don’t get creative. If you have a spec that has worked before, use it again.
  • Ask an expert to review the spec, specifically for areas where bidders might go in different ways – This takes a special kind of expert (competent in the work, conversant with procurement, and able to see different interpretations). Plus, you need expertise in every (major) aspect of the work.
  • Ask potential bidders to review the draft SOW – They will at least flag things that aren’t clear to them, although you’re unlikely to uncover serious differences in understanding because the whole issue is that they think their reading of the requirement is the only one.
  • Learn from failures by debriefing bidders on how/where things went off the rails – The challenge is to teach the lesson to the people who need to learn it, but it’s not impossible. In theory.

Way #2

A poor specification of the response instructions will generate bids that are organized differently. Sometimes wildly differently, as on one defense/defence contract where one bidder submitted the plans that were requested and one bidder did what they’d always done before (and what they knew the actual evaluators wanted) and submitted a para-by-para response to the SOW. (Strictly speaking this was not misinterpretation of the instructions, but you get the point: Bids structured completely differently are damnably tough to evaluate fairly.)

Way #2 is easier (faster, cheaper) to test in advance than Way #1. Just ask two (or three) procurement professionals to review your draft instructions:

  • To identify any places where they have questions
  • To then go ahead and make a detailed Table of Contents

If the results differ, figure out why and fix it.

Oh, and consider my solution. Don’t give bidders instructions: Give them the Table of Contents you want them to follow, with numbers and everything. If someone can’t follow that, you really don’t want to do business with them anyway.



Detached and Yet Committed

Oh yes. What Seth said, about detachment and commitment. This, and more:

Emotional detachment helps us remember that we are not our work,
and that feedback is useful, not an attack.
Commitment permits us to keep going
(especially when we’re asked to provide more effort than we planned).

For every proposal team member who has ever held back their section because it “wasn’t ready” for review . . .

You are not your work.
Feedback is useful, not an attack.

For every proposal team member who has ever resented the seemingly endless “asks” but carried on regardless . . .

Some see your professionalism
and those few sometimes remember to honour it.
(But mostly not.)

And with those two categories I expect I’ve covered every proposal team member ever.

Twice over.