Clichés, whether alliterative or boring expressions, are something I confront regularly in proposals. When I seek to scrupulously avoid them at work using it as a headline here may seem to defy reason.
That is possibly the result of living in a region that thrives on, even deifies, boilerplate. Without it businesses in Asia will collapse under the weight of the RFPs they grab. Not for them any qualification rigour around opportunities they pursue. All they want is a pipeline they can prance with.
Cost of Bidding: A quality pipeline is an alien concept, particularly when the cost of bidding is the least of their worries – a factor that P&L-based companies always weigh, rightly so. Poorly qualified bids too involve travel and resource costs. They suck in resources who could have been meaningfully utilised on winnable bids.
Costs aside, indiscriminate bidding holds the threat of leaving critical resources burnt out. But qualification is another story – I will reserve that for another post. I don’t like the idea of cramming too many ideas into a piece and leave those who read it confused.
For this post, I will try not to stray from the theme of the merits and demerits of using boilerplate.
Cut-and-paste syndrome: Boilerplate is best defined as canned content that can be plucked from prior proposals or manuals for replication in RFP responses. This is the cut-and-paste syndrome predominant in the region (and possibly the developing world).
That is a comfort zone they are reluctant to walk away from. Hidden within it is the reality of an unwillingness to learn, leading to a perpetuation of mediocrity.
Resource-strapped companies may find cheer from boilerplate. The logic is that it allows presales teams to write less and be productive without having to reinvent the wheel each time they are saddled with one RFP too many.
Their aim is to win without much effort. Unwittingly, though, they are doing harm to their corporate brand besides jeopardising their win probability.
Can Negate Your Solution Superiority: With a proposal replete with boilerplate you risk losing to a competitor who may have submitted a response fully specific to the requirements of a prospect. The technical superiority of your solution will stand completely negated by excessive boilerplate.
That brings me to the question of how much boilerplate is acceptable. I am a user and advocate of Shipley methodologies. They discourage unfettered use of boilerplate. Where it is inevitable we will need to tailor it accordingly.
I have also found the book, Powerful Proposals (by David G Pugh and Terry R Bacon) very helpful. They argue that a powerful proposal with 0% boilerplate is likely to get the highest scoring. Of course, you need to have a solution that is compliant with a prospect’s core requirements.
In my view, any proposal containing more than 25% boilerplate is not factoring in win themes aligned with the hot buttons of a prospect.
Reuse of standard content can be too obvious to spot.
- Little Understanding of Customer Needs: It will hardly present any evidence of the grip you have on the customer or their project drivers.
- Erratic Style: Inconsistencies in language will show up easily. Templated responses may be better written than the rest of the proposal. So it will hop from one style and tone to another, resulting in a submission verging on unprofessionalism.
- Speaking with One Voice: Worse, there could be contradictions in messaging as well, so speaking with One Voice becomes a casualty.
Let us consider the following usage:
- “Online chat allows your company to reach out to a customer and resolve issues before they abandon a shopping cart “
Reusing it without a proper edit will make it clear to the reviewer that you have pulled it out straight from a response template. It will do little to inspire confidence in what you propose. It betrays a lack of attempt to even change “your company” to either “you” or “your agents”.
If the language of an RFP is formal then you could use the name of the prospect (instead of “your company”). This is another proposal imperative – follow the customer’s language / style to the extent possible.
Too much reliance on boilerplate can also make you ignore a prospect’s evaluation criteria as your focus is on simplifying your task, not touching their heart.
G Joslin Vethakumar