Hire Right, Plan Right, Write Right!
Preface: The ideas presented herein are aimed at encouraging professionalism in proposal writing and pursuit management. They are my very own individual perceptions based on my experience putting best practices in winning new business to work.
No Room for Juvenile Bid Writing
Two messages come to the fore in this post. Messages I think are key to understanding the dynamics behind winning new business.
- Mediocrity is contagious, so patronising it will send wrong signals to those who believe in proficiencies and professionalism. Can there be a worse way to plot a company’s downfall?
- Professional proposal writing is vital for effective pursuit management. No amount of ideating will succeed if you fumble with turning thoughts into well-structured content. Brainstorming does not equate to strategizing without an action plan and the right talent. In fact, it is day-dreaming..
These pitfalls still thrive in the corporate portals within Asia. However, the imperatives are garnering attention based on my interactions the last few months with teams across the region as part of the partner-enablement sessions I am driving.
Accent on high-quality work is emerging but not pervasive yet. The idea that price, relationships and compliance are key win factors continues to rule. Value selling remains a nascent concept in the region.
A Business Risk
Bid writing ties into what essentially constitutes the bread and butter of most businesses selling infrastructure products and services. Let us not forget that firms make 80% of their technology spending decisions through formal RFP processes.
Bids are thus inexorably tied to your corporate bottomline. Embracing mediocrity and amateurish writing is, therefore, a business risk. It may work occasionally but often your corporate brand gets bruised.
Workforce Management / Quality and Winning against Heavy Odds
There is no denying that workforce management and optimisation are vital requirements for businesses. Workforce quality is just as important.
Winning against heavy odds where, for instance, you are not in the game from day 1, requires many crucial attributes. They include:
- Creative strategies to overcome any prejudices a prospect nurtures towards a competitor
- Using the threat of a negative outcome to your advantage with a pressure-free focus on what is at stake
These may sound like ideas that are easier said than done. But pursuing an opportunity that is destined to lose points to a Qualification issue. Unless it is for a public sector project where no-bidding can get you blacklisted. Different yardsticks for different customer segments are quite in order.
Questions that can help determine if a bid merits a “bid/go” decision are:
- What’s in it for us – can we win?
- If the deal is winnable, will it be profitable and do we have the resources to deliver it?
Working on bids that should have been qualified out shows a lack of spadework and strategy.
- That is the first hint of business mediocrity.
That mediocrity begets mediocrity is a credo you cannot miss.
But then you start to see the pipeline growing and it is all that matters to those who consider the win rates secondary. Aiming at a 100 and being supremely content when you strike 10 overlooks the long-term damage to your business. The market will see you as a perennial loser revelling in letting competitors flourish.
Of course, you need a good pipeline. But not an anything-goes one. What is needed is a stream of winnable opportunities.
When you decide on an all-you-can-eat approach to bidding you will still not realise that your staff neither have the bandwidth nor the competencies required to deliver a compelling submission.
- Here mediocrity takes the next dimension – from leaders easily swayed by hype to the team without the wherewithal to withstand volumes or deliver quality work.
But then there are excuses aplenty for you to trot out when a prospect throws your proposal out. The easiest one to take shelter under is: “The economy is slumping, so a cheap solution from competition did us in.”
No lessons learnt
The lack of a strategy is brushed under the carpet and you move on to the so-called next big opportunity with no lessons learnt.
It is easy to imagine that vendors other than you are still stuck in the past, their finances are shrinking and they have no big installed base in the markets you compete in.
The chances of clinching a deal without a competitive strategy is almost nil. A major part of the win themes, however, must be on your differentiators that are of significance to a prospect, not on the business woes confronting other vendors.
Poor Hiring Practices
Amid a slumping economy and an intensely competitive environment, with new niche players challenging the status quo, complacence and reliance on weak teams can be fatal.
Precisely why businesses need gatekeepers who can guide teams through best practices and guard against weaknesses that can impair the business brand. A strategic role filled by bid manager! Tough battles can longer be won with a pedestrian, short-sighted approach but with strategies that inspire awe.
If that calls for changing hiring practices, so be it. Competence is gauged by the quality of work dispensed, not by how pompous and loud one is or the pay packet he or she commands.
A Weak Proposal May Have a Crippling Effect
Generally teams have believed that a close relationship with the customer, a compliant proposal and a competitive price can take them past the finish line first.
Without a shred of doubt these are vital factors that pave the way for a win. But a weak proposal can bring all that to nought.
The last two decades have seen me evangelise the value of professional proposal writing. Asian businesses, and MNCs with a presence in the region, are cognisant of best practices in proposal evaluation, a task that some of them outsource to professional consultancies. Still, they are almost always ignored. When I am steering a bid I seek to ensure that does not happen.
When a shabby proposal goes into the hands of an independent, top-notch multinational consultancy you can imagine the impact on your corporate brand. You will not want them to walk away with the impression that quality-consciousness in not in the DNA of your company.
All the ISO certifications you have will go for a toss. I have been involved in ISO audits in the past and I can attest to how stringent they are in awarding the QA certifications. Needless to say, these certificates form a part of the evaluation criteria with most prospects.
My sessions with the partners have generally covered the full gamut of pursuit management, including Bid Qualification, identification of a win strategy, competitive/SWOT analysis and price reviews. How many times have you won a bid without kicking it off with a carefully thought-out pursuit strategy?
Scientific Approach to Proposal Writing
There is no room for juvenile writing in proposals.
- No clichés, no jargon, no marketing fluff (expressions like best-of-breed and world-class can be found in every submission and make our claims questionable or, worse, rile reviewers)
- No boring captions and no mumbo-jumbo
- No lengthy sentences
- Minimal use of passive voice
A scientific, mature approach to proposal writing can lead to positive impressions and make your submission stand out.
- Write about what is of interest to the reviewer
- Make evaluation easy by following a structure aligned with a prospect’s requirements
- When you present a feature, highlight the benefit to the customer and back it up with proof
- Be clear, keep the flow smooth and logical while ensuring any pitch is persuasive
- Speak with one voice and keep the messaging consistent
Proposal writing is an art which when executed well can bring about positive results for businesses.
G Joslin Vethakumar