It hit me on a walk. Goddamned Good Proposals. Finally, a title for the book I'd been thinking about writing for years...
I began work in proposals back in 2006. Fresh off a stint as a curriculum designer for an academy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I was back in Maryland and needed a job. A friend from high school called and asked if I knew anything about proposals. I said no. He said, what about telecommunications? No. Government work? No. Finance or pricing? Yes - if you count working as a buyer for a subsidiary of Home Depot. After college I spent a year buying power tools for 16 warehouses in North America.
My friend knew a woman who was looking for a mid-level pricing analyst. The person needed experience working in government proposals. He had recommended me and wanted my resume. So I put a little polish on one I had and sent it over to him.
[Note: Companies who do business with the federal government have to compete for the work. They do this by submitting proposals for certain jobs at the government's request. For example, if the government needs software to track payments, they go to the IT industry for help. The government draws up a list of requirements and many companies bid on the work. The company with the winning proposal gets the job. Proposals usually require a staffing plan, a written technical proposal, evidence of past performance, and a price. Different people help put the proposals together. These include proposal managers and writers, pricing analysts, subject matter experts, and recruiters.]
A few days after I submitted my resume I was sitting across the table from a hiring manager. She asked me the same questions as my friend. Did I have experience in proposals? Government work? Telecommunications? Finance? "Look," I said, "I don't have this experience, but if you give me a chance, I'll learn the job." She was wary, but offered me the job as a pricing analyst. She must have had great faith in my friend!
A year later, an opportunity came up to write proposals, rather than price them. I had helped win about $30M as a pricing analyst, but we were losing opportunities we shouldn't have lost. My boss handed me one of the written proposals and I marked it up for him. I majored in English in college and taught at the university level for a while, so had a background in writing. He liked my suggestions and offered me a job as a proposal writer. It wasn't a promotion, but the lateral move gave me even more insight into the proposal process.
Imagine walking the streets of London with three teenage boys. You pass Scotland Yard. You think about Sherlock Holmes. You talk about crime in the old city. Now envision a 2 year-old walking around in an orange construction vest. He's got a bushel of red hair and he’s wearing sunglasses. A bug detective, serious about finding and cluing into the insect world. A child who looks for bugs at night, wearing shades.
For a child, storytelling begins simply. Curiosity turns into adventure. Adventure leads to conflict. Conflict demands resolution. Resolution falls into respite. And then it starts all over again. Through time though, complexity creeps in and things change. The young investigator is learning. Besides sunglasses, the bug detective now needs binoculars, a hard hat, and a whistle. Every new thing gets added to the outfit. The more the better. Until being a bug detective loses its luster, and he turns into a dump truck driver or a street sweeper instead.
Back on the streets of London, recall the stories of Sherlock Holmes. He often used a phrase indicative of simplicity: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Elementary. Holmes tended to the details, trained and circumspect. He understood what others missed. He observed. Options decreased during his investigations through deductive reasoning.
Both the bug detective and Holmes are curious. Both investigate. Both find clues and draw conclusions. Both solve problems. Both gain knowledge and experience. The basic difference is how they manage complexity. A child rifles through learning, acquiring more and more. Over time, he or she determines what to keep, what to file away, and what to disregard. Experienced detectives know things. They understand what's important. And they use this to their advantage. They don't have to learn, add gear, explore options. They know.
In the world of business, there are myriad bug detectives. People with a few ideas here and there, searching the dark with sunglasses on, eager to find a prize. They tend to add tools, capabilities, and new ideas to work, without much thought, making it more complex and harder to navigate. At the same time, they lack the elementary skills to do their tasks. There may be a lot of enthusiasm. They may find some bugs. The whole process teems with dedication and concentration. Then, something else comes up, requiring a new set of toys and outfits and stories.
The trained detectives were bug hunters at one time. They maintained their curiosity and energy, but refined their approach. They learned about insects and became experts. They can identify bugs and categorize them. They can talk about features. They can articulate the advantages on one species over another. This has all become second nature. Now they use knowledge to deduce and analyze and talk about and highlight. Their curiosity benefits from years of experience, a sense of purpose, knowledge, direction. Discovery and infatuation, through rigorous inspection, have become knowledge and admiration.
So, what's the difference? Famous detective from London versus bug detective from toddler land? One is astute, while the other is amusing. One deduces while the other discovers. One resolves questions while the other reacts to their surroundings.
I love children. I recently took my older nephews to London. And I adore my younger nephew, who has taken to being a bug detective in the last couple of months. But knowledgeable Londoners and real-life exterminators enhance their understanding.
We need some of this wonder and humor and experimentation in business. Further, we need the rigor, resilience, and intelligence of Sherlock Holmes. Be curious, but be smart. Do your homework. Study. Know your work. Know your clients. Know the best ways to produce the most useful content, and then use it.
Get real. Get smart. And stay young.
If you need help getting on top of your game in the world of proposals and marketing, give Qocreate a call. We'd love to introduce you to the wonder of smart and successful business development.
We’ve seen buzz online recently about how much CEOs and successful business people read. According to this article in Inc., executives looking to be successful in business should read about 50 books a year – or approximately one book every week.
That statistic goes against the current conventional wisdom that print is dead, and might sound daunting to those of you trying to balance the needs of your business with those of your family and yourself. But a quick survey of Qocreate employees shows that we are all readers, and we think you can be too. Read on for our bookish advice about how and what you should be reading this fall.
1.Try alternate methods of delivery. If you commute by car, check out audiobooks from your library, or get yourself hooked up with a subscription like Amazon’s Audible service. If you take the train or fly a lot, load up your e-reader with books and devote a portion of your travel time to reading. Pro tip: most libraries have electronic editions of popular titles available for checkout 24/7.
2.Commit to reading every day. Lots of us make half an hour or an hour available for exercise each day. You can set the same goals to exercise your brain. Keep a time diary for a week and jot down how much time you spend watching TV and/or scrolling through your social media accounts. Average it out over the week and then pledge to spend half that amount of time reading instead. Or combine physical and mental exercise, and listen to books while you work out.
3.Find a community of readers. It’s usually easier to accomplish something if someone else is holding you accountable, and discussing the books you read leads to keener insights and, almost always, more books to read. If you have time for a traditional in-person book club, that’s great, but if not, there are plenty of ways to interact with others about the books you choose. Use your social media accounts to share thoughts about books you read; create an account at a book-focused site like goodreads to post reviews and enjoy online discussion; find someone at work who wants to chat about books once a month at lunch.
4.Treat yourself. If it’s not enjoyable you won’t stick with it, so make sure your reading stays fun and interesting. If you like surprises, Cratejoy’s Business Book Monthly – which includes a business-focused title plus a bunch of little treats each month – might be a good way to supplement your reading. If the thrill of cracking spines for the first time appeals to you, give yourself a budget to buy books instead of checking them out from a library. Don’t read just for business – keep literary fiction, hard-boiled detective novels, beach reads, cookbooks, or whatever appeals to you in the rotation as well.
5.Start with the classics. There are new business titles out every day and plenty of lists telling you what the “best” business books are, but we like this bunch, which includes practical advice, philosophy and a bit of passion.
Do you have tips about what to read, how to make time to read it, or how what you’ve read has changed your work? Please share in the comments below.
Simplicity rules in the world of business proposal development.
Making the process easy and repeatable, when possible, greatly eases the time and resource burden to produce compelling and winning solutions. Like many things in life, we can confuse volume with complexity. Because we are doing so much, we think it must all be different, and so we repeat work unnecessarily. The common use of the phrase “reinventing the wheel” demonstrates this concept. And it particularly applies to the proposal world.
How many times in the last month have you gone looking for content to respond to a Request for Information or a Request for Proposal? How many times have you searched for something to provide to partners or potential clients that describes your company’s capabilities? How many hours a year do you spend mining the shared drive or SharePoint system looking for information that will help you sell a certain capability or technology into a certain market?
If you answered “too many times” to any of these questions, you are not alone. In fact, after eight years of working with more than 20 companies in different industries, we at Qocreate can confirm that you are actually in the majority. This post is about how to change your approach, save time, and increase productivity.
Using a single source approach to content within your organization offers a number of benefits. For one, it increases productivity while using fewer resources. It also improves the quality and consistency of your responses to Requests for Information, Proposals, and Quotes. Ultimately, being able to deliver more and better proposals increases profit and drives growth.
So, what is a single source approach?
Single source content means that information lives in one place and one person or team is responsible for it. The single source is authoritative, and everyone knows how to access it and where it lives. Whoever owns the responsibility of keeping the information up to date becomes accountable for the quality and accuracy of information. Providing a single source of essential information dramatically reduces, and in some cases even eliminates, having to look for this crucial material .
For proposals there are primarily two types of information that come into play over and over again – what you say about your capabilities (i.e., your solutions), and what you say about your experience (e.g., past performance qualifications and references). Solutions and experience become the driving factors in putting proposals together. They are the most critical elements of information to single source.
Qocreate helps clients develop two types of key documents in this regard – solution profiles and client profiles. Each solution has its own profile. Each customer has their own profile. Within these documents you incorporate all of the information you might conceivably use in a proposal or marketing piece. Then, any time you need to access that solution or client information, you know exactly where to go to get it.
Solution Profiles. Every company has a set of capabilities. Whether you’re an IT company, a medical device manufacturer, or an aerospace company, you are solving problems. In doing this, you provide solutions to clients and to the general public. These solutions all have elements and processes. Elements are the building blocks of the solution. Processes are the means by which the building blocks work to produce an end result.
The goal of creating a solution profile is to articulate your solution in a way that is easy to understand. In the profile you include an overview of the solution, the elements that comprise it, the process by which it is enacted, and the anticipated results and benefits. Within the profile you also include examples of where your company successfully employs this solution.
Solution profiles serve multiple purposes. They provide a foundation for answering proposal requests. They can be used as marketing pieces to help clients understand the capabilities your company offers. And they serve as a resource for your staff who works with clients day to day, teaching them about the company’s solutions.
These individuals in the field provide a rich resource for business development – in fact, they are your most important marketing tool. Equipping them with accurate, up-to-date, easy-to-access information about your company allows them to quickly capitalize on opportunities where a client may need help.
Client Profiles. Each company also has a base of clients they serve. Most companies desire to gain a greater presence and influence with their client base, and also to increase the number of clients with which they do business.
In order to track performance and be able to quickly identify proof of a solution’s efficacy, Qocreate recommends creating a client profile for each of your clients. Past performance and client references serve as a critical part of the proposal process for government and commercial proposals – so being able to access this performance information quickly is key.
With client profiles, you incorporate key data (e.g., contract name and number, agency or client, number and type of employees, dollar value, period of performance) with details on what work the team is doing. Most clients also want to know how your previous or current performance is relevant to their own problems.
The key to writing a good client profile is getting your subject matter experts in the field involved. They are closest to the clients and know the solutions best. Program and project managers take responsibility for keeping the information up to date, mirroring monthly reports often provided to clients. When it comes time to write a proposal, you know exactly where to look for the past performance information.
Although it may seem like different clients ask for different information, articulating past performance is like writing a resume. The information remains the same, even if the presentation varies from time to time. Therefore recording this information in one place is relatively easy, and definitely smart. Keeping it up to date eliminates the many hours people spend looking for the document they used the last time they had to write a past performance qualification.
Creating solution and client profiles dramatically reduces the effort and time required to write a proposal response. In most situations, your management and technical volumes can be 75% complete once you create your outlines. That efficiency allows you the time to better tailor your response for any particular customer. This means your overall solution speaks directly to your client’s needs, rather than being something ambiguous that any other company can easily write.
To realize the benefits of creating solution and client profiles, please contact us for more information on how to engage Qocreate. We can help you put this content together and prepare you for a future of greater returns with fewer resources.