Category Archives: Bid Management

Behind-the-Scenes Deal Clinchers!

Sales Empowerment, the New Way – Pursuit Excellence, Price, Performance, Risk Management and Brand Protection!

Marketing fuels brand building, thereby enabling sales. It is no surprise then that it is a well-entrenched function in today’s world of business. It touches every sector, with its sphere of influence extending from corporate battlegrounds to the glitzy ring of Oscars and Grammy.

The message is clear – a charm offensive sells, not quiet innovations or immaculate performances without the marketing muscle!

As I had argued in an earlier post titled Innovation, Marketing and Why Founders are Let Go, whether it is Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Nike, Uber or Airbnb, they owe their grip on the market to their products that meet the changing consumer demand and to the innovative marketing strategies they invested in.

Selling Perceptions

Through sustained campaigns, conclaves and roadshows, businesses can sell perceptions to support their forays into addressable markets. What is hidden may be part of their drive – conquering markets with accent on visibility, value and vision, not on factors that may invite scepticism or even scorn.

Now with the social media all pervasive, it has become easier for companies to get the marketing momentum going through their own staff.

Essentially, they are a big bunch of forwards involving thought leadership blogs or whitepapers relevant to the solutions they offer. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are some of the media that come in handy for this execution. Unlike the other marketing engagements, these involve no extra spending.

A Multi-Pronged, Multidimensional Approach

But, go-to-market strategies involve a multi-pronged, multidimensional approach and usually what happens behind the scenes turn out to be deal clinchers. We have known them as sales enablement and sales operations professionals helping with revenue generation and contributing to the corporate bottomline.

It is sales empowerment all the way – with a combination of everything from pursuit excellence to price, profitability, performance, risk mitigation and brand protection!

CROs and Sales Information Officers

Not surprisingly, Chief Revenue Officers are now common in big establishments which also have bid management centres of excellence.

Bid Managers or Pursuit Managers (or Proposal Managers) are a core part of Sales Empowerment, helping customer-facing teams in multiple ways – pursuit strategies, competitive intelligence, risk assessment, credible value selling, professional writing and focused content supported by verifiable evidence.

The growing importance of APMP (Association of Proposal Management Professionals) is testament to the critical nature of the role.

Anyone imagining that bid management is all about pursuing stakeholders relentlessly for their inputs and lending some finishing touches with a little bit of embellishment that is making a travesty of sales enablement. Worse, they are making themselves susceptible to being swept away by the incessant flow of automation.

On the other side of the spectrum, the leadership will find it meaningful to give win-loss analyses a scrutiny and draw mileage from bid managers in crafting and executing a pursuit strategy that transcends traditional functional clichés.

If gatekeeping helps with risk management and protection of the corporate brand, bid qualification will ensure optimal utilisation of scarce resources.

Big-picture visualisation, going beyond dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, is another crucial facet of bid management. This encompasses conceptualising win themes and enabling customer-focused submissions. Amid the new-generation challenges businesses face in winning new deals, this assumes a dimension that cannot be discounted.

No Templated Approach, a Custom Bid Strategy is Vital: As I had argued in one of my earlier posts, a template approach to bid management amid a dynamic environment of technological evolutions only smacks of smug recklessness.

It is incumbent on both sales enablement personnel and businesses to move away from the ivory tower they cocoon themselves in and tackle real-world challenges in a manner that capitalises on the opportunities that new frontiers in technology are unleashing.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Persuasive Proposals with Pursuit Precision

Solution Storyboards, a Bid Management Best Practice

A proposal does not have to be a lengthy technical discourse, unless the prospect has asked for whatever detail you can muster. If you can deliver it with a persuasive pitch, without forsaking brevity and clarity, then you may have set the pace for a compelling, potentially winning finish.

Technology can be difficult to grasp, so solution intricacies do need to be articulated well in your proposal. But any effort to overplay it may result in jargon-filled technical mumbo jumbo and be counter-productive.

Wow and Awe

Smooth Demos, Compelling Proposal and a Wow Outcome

Solution strength and superiority are best showcased through a demo or a proof-of-concept exercise. This assumes significance in an environment where feature parity is a challenge. Keeping the demos smooth and earning a wow outcome vests with the solution consultant (SC) or solution architect (SOLA). A well-done demo will be the deal clincher if pricing does not go out of whack.

To get there, though, you need to first deliver a professional proposal, capturing the reader’s attention with just the right level of information without going too deep and making it too complex to fathom. Presenting any unique values in the written document with substantiation will lend it weight that cannot be ignored.

This is where the pursuit manager (bid/proposal manager) can make a difference. This person must have a clear understanding of what it takes to win which, of course, will vary from opportunity to opportunity.

Storyboard final

Conceptualising Solution Strategy

He (or she) can work with the sales/presales leads to define a win strategy and then execute it with precision. The pursuit manager will collaborate with the sales lead, SC/SOLA and the Project Manager (PM) in delivering a high-impact proposal that goes beyond the ordinary.

If you can build a solution storyboard session into the list of activities to be adhered to during a pursuit process that will lend crucial value to bid planning.

Storyboards are a great way to get teams to invest time in conceptualising a solution strategy early in the game. They can help eliminate any solution ambiguities that can hold up hardware sizing, project planning / scheduling and pricing.

It is no exaggeration to state that storyboards are among best practices in proposal development. The bid manager will drive it but inputs from the SC/SOLA will determine the right solution strategy. Different solution options can be presented to the prospect but the team must not hesitate to highlight their preferred approach.

Bidding Smart

Problem Solving

A recent review of proposal trends with a group of independent consultants revealed that Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in North America and Europe have begun to focus on problem solving than on solution features.

This is a logical move forward as businesses will want to understand how a bidder can solve their problems and not just what your product does.

Under the circumstances, use cases and scenario-based responses gain credence and acceptability. Real-life examples that can be effectively demonstrated live make evaluation easy for prospective customers.

Asia is typically a laggard in any facet of development but businesses in the region can be expected to embrace the trend at some stage.

Technical wizardry is hardly necessary for developing win themes though it is not a handicap. What you need more is the ability to emphasise verifiable benefits of your solution for the customer and demonstrate, with proof, why it is better than that offered by competition.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Bid Management, Bids and Proposals, General

How Long Should Executive Summaries be?

A 900+-word post to explain why an Executive Summary must do more than just scratch the surface? That can be a possible measure – topped up by another 50%!

The last few months have seen me actively engaged in partner-enablement sessions in the region. My aim was to arm them with best practices in pursuit management and win strategies.

The interactions with them offered me a learning experience as well.

I found that throughout SE Asia, Executive Summaries are often confined to just one page. One of them, in fact, kept it within three paragraphs.

It appeared to me that they treated Executive Summaries like nothing more than a cover letter.

brainstorming-idea

Stereotypal, “No Time” Excuse

The stereotypal reasoning they advanced was that senior executives had no time to read anything beyond a few paras.

I hear this excuse all too often, so I was not amused. If I got the message right, customers in SEA are ready to spend big on infrastructure upgrading but they have no time or inclination to read, say, a five-page executive summary.

A “No, No” to Drab, Lengthy Exec. Summaries

I am not one advocating long management summaries. At the same time, I will not recommend a barebones approach where you only seek to sell on price.

If value selling is least on your mind you are missing the big picture.

Not every company in SEA likes a barely-there strategy, as most sales personnel in the region assume. Recently, while working on a contact center bid from a multinational industry leader I figured the RFP had stipulated

  • a 10-page Executive Summary (without pricing) and
  • a 60-page solution description.

brainstorming

That is not an isolated instance. I have seen similar messaging in many other tender documents from professionally run organisations.

Very few RFPs state the number of pages they expect to see in an Executive Summary. So you are often left with no clue about what the prospect looks to see in an Executive Summary and of what length.

Let us consider a prospect who is looking for a fairly compelling Executive Summary, with insights into how your solution can help them meet their project drivers. The decision-makers will want to see the benefits they can realise with your solution.

You CANNOT sell with Tall Claims

They do not expect any tall claims but an articulation of market-proven solution strengths. So only a solution substantiated with credible proof points will resonate well with them.

ExecSumm1But you are under the illusion that they do not have any time to read beyond one or two pages. So you give them a basic executive summary, imagining that it is convincing enough to make the prospect award the contract to you.

Where do you think you will stand with a one-pager when decision-makers are looking for a well-reasoned Executive Summary?

You do not run the risk of your offer being rejected just because it had a five-page Executive Summary, with diagrammatic and tabular descriptions capturing the essence of your proposal.

But a one-pager with just the basics is likely to get you poor scoring with a leader who wants details with proof points.

Shipley Methodologies

I have spent the last 20 years in bid management, working for technology giants such as Cisco Systems, BT and, currently, Genesys.

I have been through a formal, thorough Shipley training, too! I apply the win themes I picked up from the learning at work. Essentially, the Executive Summary must:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the prospect’s requirements – their compelling events and project objectives
  • Feature a solution that addresses their pain points
  • Relate their hot buttons to our solution
  • Succinctly capture the benefits of our solution to the prospect
  • Provide proof points for each of our claims that are mapped to their goals
  • Convince them about our ability to meet their milestones
  • Offer a Return-on-Investment (RoI) commitment to the prospect

Don’t Keep it Superficial

The Executive Summary, possibly the only section that decision-makers read, must also be visually appealing, flow smooth and make evaluation easy.

If each of the above can be met within three paragraphs or one or two pages, I am game for it.

To me, any Management Summary that is less than three pages is too superficial. It will give decision-makers the impression that you have nothing credible and meaningful to convey.

My recommendation will be for an Executive Summary that can run up to five pages, unless the prospect has spelt out in the RFP the length they expect.

Of course, the content with all of the above parameters addressed can be covered within three, or even two, pages. But that will be at the cost of aesthetic design considerations.

How we make Personal Purchases!

Let us for a moment consider how individuals make personal purchase decisions.

  • Even to buy a $500 television set we all spend time scouring the net, reading product comparisons and making a thorough analysis before buying one.
  • That is because it is our personal money.

But, when corporate decisions cover hundreds of thousands of dollars why do we assume senior executives run out of time?

Executive SummaryBecause it is not their personal money but that of the businesses they are tasked with running?

Such an approach may be working in a region where professionalism is often at a discount. That is, however, no justification for not following best practices.

You run the risk of losing a bid because your response just skims the surface and gives the prospect no confidence in the proposed solution.

I close this post by emphasising my earlier point – you will never lose a bid just because decision-makers thought you had a five-page Executive Summary, including some graphics. Give it the attention it deserves but avoid going overboard with it.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Bid Management, Bids and Proposals, Executive Summary

If you are Serious about Winning, Get out of the Comfort Zone!

1. Boilerplate Proposal 2

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.

us-dollar-notesCost 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.

Blind Copy-PasteCut-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.

Naked-Binder-Recycled-BindersThat 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 “

proposalReusing 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

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