Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Standardizing visuals

 February 26, 2019
by Paul Heron

Recently we’ve focused on the benefits of standardizing proposal content. Standardized content can improve both quality and efficiency.

Standardization is not an invitation to simply cut-and-paste content. Every proposal still needs to show you understand the prospect and the project; that you have a solution that addresses the requirements—and that your team can execute. 

The three posts on this topic covered:

This week’s post looks at standardizing graphic elements. Many proposals employ graphics (mainly photos) as decoration or to fill otherwise empty space. In fact, because evaluators are drawn to strong visuals and read captions, it makes sense to visualize your most important messages.

Here are some examples.

Show responsiveness

Use a table to show you understand and will respond to the prospect’s strategic drivers and hot button issues. Populate the requirements column from the RFP and your knowledge of the prospect’s hot button issues, and the proof column from how your response will satisfy each item. Consider using this format as part of your executive summary.

Show your process

Visualize your process with a high-level illustration. Use the caption to stress advantages (e.g. time to market, reliability, risk reduction, etc.). A graphic artist can develop a diagram like the one below for about $200, and you can use it many times. When commissioning the graphic, plan to put project-specific detail in the caption, not in the graphic itself to make reuse easier.

Make your solution easy to understand

Use a structure (see below) to walk evaluators through your proposed solution. Keep the description high-level, using one or two sentences or bullet points for each cell, to help non-technical evaluators can understand it. If the RFP requires a detailed solution description, expand the cell contents—or put the detailed version in an appendix so you don’t lose the attention of senior-level reviewers.

Make comparisons

Use a table to ghost other vendors’ weaknesses. This demonstrates an understanding of key success factors while positioning your team against competitors. You can use a similar format to compare technologies, approaches or other aspects of your response and to differentiate your team and solution from your competitors.

Caption your graphics

Be sure to include captions with graphics—don’t leave it to the evaluators to figure out your intended message. Use the caption to connect a standardized graphic to the specifics of the prospect and RFP project.

Develop standards and build a library

Graphic standards make it easier to re-purpose graphics. Select a small colour palette compatible with your company’s logo or word mark and decide on other style components (e.g. line weights and a label font) for use in all graphics.

Build a graphics library on your shared server to enable proposal teams to easily find artwork from previous proposals.

Work smart. Win more.

Standardization—whether in written content or graphics—offers high returns for the thinking and designer costs involved. Professional-looking graphics and structured formats will reduce proposal development effort while increasing evaluator engagement and success rates.

Need help developing standardized graphics?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Plans and approach sections

 February 19, 2019
by Paul Heron

Earlier this month we covered the benefits of standardized proposal content and how to apply standardization to proposal resumes and project sheets. The idea is not simply to cut-and-paste sections from previous proposals—but to take advantage of inherent similarities in requirements from one response to the next.

This week we’ll look at plans and approach sections.

Standardizing plans

Every RFP calls for one or more plans. Examples include implementation plans, solution plans, staffing plans, stakeholder communication plans, environmental plans, quality plans, safety plans—the list is long. Potential ways to standardize include:

Templates: Quality, safety, environmental, communications, transition and similar plans lend themselves to templates you can reuse and tailor to each prospect and project. As an example, for implementation, one IT company uses a templated plan with a custom section showing understanding of the project-specific challenges, followed by a Gantt chart and sections on governance, training, stakeholder management, etc. Each of these sections requires some customization—but contains mainly company approved content.

Structure: Solution plans in most cases need to be highly customized to the project and prospect. In this case use a standard client-friendly structure to guide your efforts. For example:

Paint a picture of your plan in action, addressing known hot button issues

Present the plan in a structured format, such as a three-column table

  • Column 1: WHAT—Name of the step (stage or phase)
  • Column 2: HOW—What will be done, and by whom
  • Column 3: OUTCOME—Resulting milestone or client benefit

Provide proof your company and team have successfully executed a similar plan

Information architecture: For large, complex responses, proposal teams typically write all content from scratch. This is especially true where multiple companies are responding as a joint venture team. In these cases, you can still benefit from taking a standard approach to organizing sections.

This content-agnostic approach uses prompts to structure responses as follows:

  • Concepts or principles behind the plan
  • Actions the team will take (what you will do)
  • Related experience—proof you have been successful with this approach
  • Links to the issuer’s requirements and hot button issues

Provide this or a similar structure at kickoff to help content drafters organize their content. Following a consistent structure ensures drafts include required information and creates logical consistency across the proposal, signalling the presence of unified thinking.

Balance efficiency with quality

Whatever techniques you use to make proposal drafting more efficient, never put proposal development on autopilot.

Instead, take every opportunity to demonstrate understanding, respond to the issuer’s key issues and to position your company and solution against competitors.

Next week: Standardizing graphics


Need help improving proposal team efficiency?

Contact Complex2Clear




Photo credit

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




Resumes and project sheets

 February 12, 2019
by Paul Heron

Standardizing content allows proposal teams more time to build out their strategies, improving both efficiency and quality. This post looks at two ideal standardization candidates—resumes and project descriptions.

Like all proposal content, resumes and project sheets descriptions need to:

  • Comply with requirements
  • Show understanding of the project and the prospect
  • Position the proponent as best qualified to deliver excellent results
  • Enable proposal evaluators to award maximum points based on a quick read

Approach to standardization

Decide on the items you intend to include, and identify those you’ll want to customize for each project. Set up a two-column table, with the names of items in the (narrow) left-hand column rows and the corresponding content on the right. 

The sections below show typical categories of information for resumes and project sheets. We've underlined the items you'll likely need to customize.


Use resumes to show evaluators you understand the key roles required for the project, the knowledge and experience needed for those roles, and and that you’ve staffed each role with a fully-qualified individual. See below for typical content categories:

  • Photo (only if you have similar, high quality photos for all individuals)
  • Name and professional designation(s)
  • Current employer, position/title and years of experience
  • Proposed role in the project—three to four sentences describing responsibilities
  • Qualifications—four-to-six points supporting your choice of this individual for this project
  • Profile: A two- or three-sentence summary of the individual's strengths and experience 
  • Reverse order chronology of recent roles (or projects), including responsibilities and positive impact made. Use a separate row for each role or project and structure the information for each consistently.
  • Education, certifications, awards and recognition

Some RFPs ask for additional information, such as the percentage of time each key individual will be committed to the project. Include this as part of the proposed role description or as a separate row in the template.

Project descriptions

Like resumes, project sheets need to show understanding of the RFP project. The template below is generic; you may need to add categories relevant to your business. Construction project sheets, for example, typically require original and final contract value and completion dates with explanations of any variances.

  • Photograph
  • Project name
  • Name of client 
  • Measures of size (for example contract value) and completion date
  • Relevance to RFP project—four-to-six points 
  • Description—what problem was the project resolving?
  • Innovations, challenges overcome
  • Individuals involved who overlap with the current project
  • Evidence of success and excellence 
  • Reference—name, title, organization, email address, telephone number

Always align content with RFX requirements

Some RFPs (RFQs, RFIs) detail  the contents of resumes and project sheets. In this case, use the same language and order as specified in the RFP document. If you've put careful thought into developing standard resumes and project sheets, you’ll be able to adapt them with minimum effort.

RFPs in many industries specify maximum lengths for resumes and/or project sheets.—usually two pages for resumes and three for project sheets. If typical RFPs you see contain these limitations, make your standard versions the same lengths. 

Next week: Standardizing plans and approach sections


Need help deciding what and how to standardize?

Contact Complex2Clear




Photo credit


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




Standardizing content

 February 5, 2019
by Paul Heron

Every proposal team looks for ways to reuse proposal content.

We never recommend copying and pasting entire sections, and then searching and replacing the prospect’s name. But between that extreme and writing all content from scratch, there’s plenty of room to use recycled content and still build strong proposals.

In fact, if you use the time saved by standardizing to focus on a prospect’s strategic drivers and hot button issues, you’ll get a stronger proposal than by starting from scratch.

In this post and the next three, we’ll show you how.

RFPs tend to have a lot in common

Consider categories of information required in RFPs (and RFQs etc.) for your business. For example, if you manage infrastructure RFPs, you will typically need plans for mobilization, staffing, operations and maintenance, business continuity, communications reporting, etc.

If your teams bid to design, build, finance, operate and maintain (DBFOM) infrastructure, you’ll need the above plus (at a minimum) design, construction, financing, and governance plans.

Finally, nearly every RFP calls for a corporate profile, details of previous experience and performance and resumes for proposed key individuals.

Some content is better suited to standardization

Successful standardization begins with identifying categories that offer the best possibilities.

Of the sections above, some obviously need to be more RFP-specific than others. At one extreme, your proposed design (or solution) section will need to be highly opportunity-specific. At the other, the corporate profile, project sheets and key individuals’ resumes offer greater room for standardization.

Use structure to standardize project-specific content

Most teams use variations on standard formats for organization charts, resumes and project descriptions.

For plans and proposed approach sections, where content needs to be highly customized, use frameworks and prompts to guide content development. See this post on storyboarding sections for more.

In addition to improving efficiency, pre-built frameworks support consistency and quality. We’ll include more on this in an upcoming post.

Balancing reuse and relevance

Using standard content involves an ongoing balancing act between greater efficiency on the one hand and responsiveness on the other.

In coming posts we’ll help you strike that balance for specific content types.



Need help making your proposal process more efficient?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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





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