Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to survive a large business proposal, part 1

The best term I learned early in my career was "frontload". A very basic concept, the term means do as much as you can, early in the process. This is obviously the opposite of cramming. Cramming in the workplace is not fun, creates a poor quality product, results in error prone work, and creates unnecessary stress that often times requires you to burn your limited number of favors.

Cramming on the job means that there was deficient planning somewhere in the chain. Even if the cramming is a result of new unplanned for demands from superiors (which my wife can attest to), we can still frontload the new task. Frontloading can be done on almost any proposal, and I would question the merit of any proposal where you can't frontload.

The only instance where this would occur is if you were bidding on a totally new "thing" (service or product to provide) and had a very short timeline. And the only time you'd want to bid in a situation like this if your company were facing a profitability issue (maybe it's because you are bidding on the wrong RFPs?) or you had the inside track to the opportunity (in which case you have to wonder why they couldn't sole source this).

If you are lucky/cursed enough to have a Request for Proposal (RFP), make sure you read it over. Understand what they are asking for. Observe how they have provided you with a natural outline. Outline? Yeah, they order and way in which they ask questions. Make it easy for them. they'll likely have a checklist of things to find in your proposal, it'll be based on the RFP. So use their own words and order.

Plan plan plan.

Create a "compliance checklist" now. This is a list of all the little nitnoid items you need to include. They often list out a few phrases you are required to include in your proposal (or else you are noncomplient and tossed out). These are almost always obvious things like "We don't discriminate", but they are required. But also make sure you notice all the attachments they want, the font size they require, the handful of items they want you to include in an answer.

Now, take that checklist, and add to it. Add? It's already 4 pages long! Well, it needs more stuff, and these things are what will help you win.

You need to figure out what "win themes" you'll include in each section, and you'll need to include what "over achiever" answers you'll provide as well. "Win themes" are your high-level selling points. Examples might be "We've done this exact work with other clients" or "We have the most experience people in the industry" or ideally "We have the exact technology you need".

Make sure each section of your proposal has at least one win theme (the longer the section, the more Win Themes it needs). This checklist will be key when you get to the end of the process. Your brain will be fried, and you won't really be able to read the RFP again and understand it.

Your compliance checklist will be your sane self's way of helping you out.
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