Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Demonstrating performance

 January 29, 2019
by Paul Heron

Last week's post focused on describing relevant experience in proposals. This week, we'll look at how to document your past performance.

Just to be clear: Experience refers to your past involvement on projects similar to the one on which you’re bidding. Performance refers to evidence of success.

Support versus proof

Some bidders have world-class records. They can demonstrate 100 percent on-time, on-budget delivery, six-sigma quality and high reliability. They have multi-year no-lost time accident metrics across all sites and zero regulatory compliance issues over many years.

Stats like this are proof of performance. If your company is in this happy position, simply cite your proofs of performance and move on to the next section.

But if you’re just building your track record or have past performance issues, you’ll need to substitute support for proof. Just one successful project can be used to support your performance claims.

Track your performance

You'll find it much easier to cite past performance in a proposal if you’ve been tracking it in real time.

Start by deciding which measures fit the kind of work you do. Common examples include on-time, on-budget completion, safety record, regulatory compliance, challenges overcome, cost or time-saving innovations, performance bonuses won, industry awards, client letter or quotes, etc. 

Next, set up a spreadsheet in Excel or another format. Use a row for each project and columns for basic items, such as location and client, contract value and final cost, and start and finish date, and then for the performance measures you've selected. 

Last—and perhaps most important—make updating the spreadsheet part of someone's job description.

Dealing with performance issues

Companies that have suffered performance lapses are sometimes tempted to ignore these and hope the prospect doesn't notice. Nearly always, this is a bad strategy. All industries have active grapevines. Even if the lapse isn't covered in the general press, word will still get around.

Avoid the temptation to sweep such issues under the carpet. Instead, acknowledge them, along with the steps taken (root cause analysis, organizational and/or process changes, etc.) and investments your company has made to prevent recurrence. If appropriate, explain how you addressed any harm the lapse caused your client. Cite any evidence your actions have produced positive results.

It’s worth the effort

It takes work to assemble this evidence. But having decided to bid, your goal is to get the most possible points for each section. Do not short change performance. It’s too important to your final score.



Need help writing convincing RFP responses?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Defining relevant experience

 January 22, 2019
by Paul Heron

Last week’s post described the fundamentals of including relevant experience and past performance in proposals. This week, we’ll look at how to describe your relevant experience.

Three levels of experience

Relevant experience can include overall experience, experience with similar projects and the experience of individuals on your proposed team.

As part of your bid strategy, brainstorm how each level of experience can build your case and find specific examples to support every claim you make. Work through each level separately to avoid overlooking any examples.

Dealing with weak experience

Ideally, you’re the perfect candidate for this just-issued RFP. You have a track record of nearly identical projects supported by client testimonials.

But that’s not always the case. At some point most bidders face the challenge of convincing prospects they can handle projects with larger or different scopes than they’ve managed before. Here are ways to handle these situations.

NOTE: Some RFPs ask for details of some number of completed projects that match the project on offer in key respects. This may be a compliance requirement—which means you are unlikely to get shortlisted or win if other proponents can provide this evidence. Consider this as part of your bid/no-bid decision described below.

Start by deciding whether to bid

Since proposal writing consumes scarce resources, use a bid/no-bid decision process to decide if you have a realistic chance of winning, given your lack of direct experience. Even if your chances are slim, a good process may identify other strategic reasons to bid.

Address experience gaps

Winning RFPs outside your usual area may involve stretching your experience. Here are three approaches to improving your score.

  • Build your team around related experience. Consider choosing a project and/or transition team that includes individuals who have worked in the prospect’s industry, or on similar projects with previous employers. The opportunity to highlight their experience may justify bypassing your standard selection process.
  • Identify sub-processes in which you have experience. Even if you haven’t completed similar projects, you must have experience in the processes involved, or you wouldn’t be bidding. Describe your experience for as much of the scope as possible and explain how you will fill the gaps. Consider using a graphic to show the areas of work by value or difficulty in which you have experience.
  • Partner with another company. Teaming to cover off parts of a solution is common in most industries. Many of our clients have standing relationships that let them quickly integrate partners or subcontractors into bids. When teaming, be sure to create a unified voice and messaging, and common formats for resumes and project sheets, so the prospect sees a seamless solution. An upcoming post will explain how to do this.

Can you make a reasonable case?

Whatever tactics you use, test them for plausibility. Schedule a blue team review to assess your strategy. If internal reviewers argue your experience claims are wobbly, revisit your strategy and/or your decision to bid.

Next week: Expressing past performance


Need help writing convincing proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Experience and performance

 January 15, 2019
by Paul Heron

Not surprisingly, bid issuers look to relevant experience and past performance as indictors of a proponent’s ability to perform successfully. These factors are heavily weighted in every RFP scoring system we see.

Experience and performance are not the same. Experience refers to past involvement on projects similar to the one on offer. Performance refers to evidence of success doing similar work.

We’ll look at expressing experience and performance in this and the next two posts.

Respond as if they don’t know you

Describe your company’s experience and performance as if you have no history with the prospect. Do this even if you believe you have a strong relationship, even if you’re a current vendor.

Why? Because most evaluators—especially those reviewing proposals for large contracts—follow scoring guides in awarding points. Bid teams that provide fact-based evidence of experience and performance will naturally do better in these situations.

There are two additional factors at play. First, proposal evaluators are apt to scan your proposal quickly, and facts are easier to score than fact-free claims, Secondly, large project sponsors, especially government agencies, are likely to use fairness commissioners whose job is to ensure proposal evaluations are “by the book.” 

Include reference projects

Requests for qualifications (RFQs) for large projects ask for details of reference projects to demonstrate experience and performance. We recommend including an appendix of reference projects in your response, even if this is not a formal requirement.

Prepare by developing a standard format that captures all relevant information for your industry. Include a section of four-to-six bullet points explaining why the reference is relevant that can be customized for each response. Don’t leave it to evaluators to make the connection.

When you make experience and performance claims, cite only reference projects as examples. If the reference projects are in a non-required appendix always provide enough information in the narrative to prove any claim, as not all evaluators will go to the appendix to find the supporting facts.

Decide on reference projects during strategy making

Reduce downstream confusion and rewrites by selecting reference projects before content development begins.This is especially helpful for consortiums and joint ventures. To support the selection process, create a matrix of candidate projects’ desirable characteristics. We’ll include more on project selection matrices in an upcoming post.  

Distributing a list of reference projects at kick-off will help to ensure narrative drafts cite only reference projects. The alternative is often a last-minute scrub and hasty rewrite to substitute reference for non-reference projects.

Armed with your list of reference projects, you’re ready to express your relevant experience and past performance.

Next week: Expressing relevant experience


Need help writing compelling proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Favourite posts of 2018

 January 8, 2019
by Paul Heron

Welcome to 2019—let’s make it a year of better proposals.

Our January 2019 newsletter noted the economic uncertainty we face and the likelihood that the pace of infrastructure and other capital spending may slow, beginning this year. In a climate of fewer projects, it only makes sense to work smarter on winning the attractive opportunities we see. This post is a good place to start.

Bid strategy faves

It’s always a good idea to focus your strategy on value. This post explains how to use value propositions in bids, and how to tailor them for different evaluator types, including the economic buyer, technical buyers and user buyers.

Since 2019 may be a year to pull out all stops, let’s jettison some old taboos, including on talking about service issues, pricing, risk and competitors.

If there are rebids in your 2019 plans, take time to read these posts on starting rebid efforts early, focusing on the future and playing up transition advantages.

Strategy making benefits from insight into how your competition thinks and bids. Consider making a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out. 

Proposal management faves

Managing critical points in the proposal process, including pre-RFP discovery, making sound bid/no-bid decisions, developing win strategies, planning and running a successful kick-off and managing productive reviews, will help set the table for success.

Close management of narratives is another must for avoiding the all-too-common last minute rewrites. Start by providing content prompts to guide proposal writers, and then reviewing early drafts within a week of assigning them.

Narrative writing fave

Beyond a solid strategy, simple content prompts and clear expectations, the single most important gift you can give content developers and editors is an understanding of proposal evaluators. Learn why reality may not fit your ideal image—and how to adjust.

Want more?

See our blog index to explore the rest of our 2018 (and earlier) posts. And subscribe to our monthly blog summary (see the form at right) for a steady stream of winning ideas.


Need more help making 2019 a year of winning proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





Get our blog summary delivered to your inbox every month

How Added?:

Get future updates?:*
Privacy Policy: Complex2Clear will not use your name and contact information for any purpose other than to respond to your request and to advise you of important updates. We will not sell or give your information to any third party.

Top of page