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Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Improving your proposals

 April 24, 2018
by Paul Heron

Recent posts covered proposal win-loss reviews, using FOI requests, and a process for assessing competitors’ proposals. If you’ve taken these steps to evaluate your proposals, you likely have a list of improvement priorities.

So, let’s get started.

The big picture

Every formal proposal competition has a deadline. The goal of any improvement plan is to make better use of the available time. That’s the aim of all five ideas below. Based on your analysis and internal practices, decide which are priorities for your team.

1. Make faster bid/no-bid decisions

Speedy decisions are vital in maximizing the time you have to respond. If your company makes its bid/no-bid decision within a few days of the RFP release, you can skip this step. But if that decision typically drags on, see this post on making proposal bid/no-bid decisions.

2. Develop and document stronger strategies

If analysis shows your proposals need to do a better job of linking features and benefits to prospect issues, start by assembling the arguments you’ll need. See this post on proposal strategy making to get started.

3. Improve writer guidance

To obtain high quality content, it’s critical to communicate strategy to writers, along with their assignments and schedule. This is a weakness in most client processes. We recommend providing section planners and content prompts at kickoff to drive consistency across all sections. We’ll post on these tools in the coming months. Meanwhile, see this post on aligning proposal writers at kickoff.

4. Manage more closely

Allowing subject managers experts (SMEs) a week or more to deliver first drafts is risky. Given the competing priorities most face—plus the temptation to procrastinate—that deadline is likely to come and go with substandard deliverables, or none at all. Instead, schedule a bullet point review within three or four days of kickoff to assess each SME’s analysis and content plan. Then conduct further progress reviews every couple of days. This process may seem burdensome, but in fact it bite-sizes the writing job and reduces wasted effort. For further ideas, see this post on proposal management.

5. Line up the sponsorship you’ll need

You’re going to need executive support to enact your plan because:

  • Implementing 1 and 2 involves changing the way company leaders participate in the proposal process, and;
  • Implementing 4 and 5 changes how writers are managed. SMEs who are not your direct reports—especially if proposals lie outside their defined responsibilities—are likely to resist. In these cases, you’ll need executive backing.

Prepare for patient progress

Improving proposals—especially in larger companies—always involves organizational change. This inevitably means getting stakeholders on-board with a set of goals and roadmap. Success takes a solid plan with clear milestones and deliverables, strong communication skills, one or more executive sponsors—and patience.


Need help improving your proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Evaluating rivals’ proposals

 April 17, 2018
by Paul Heron

In last week’s post, we explained how to use Freedom of Information requests to obtain your competitors’ bid proposals. The next step is to compare those proposals against your own to find areas where you can improve.

Since you’ve invested effort in getting the proposal, it’s worth making a careful analysis. Don’t let hard feelings towards the competitor or the evaluators (or your desire to put the loss behind you) turn this opportunity into a superficial exercise. Instead, structure your review to maximize the available learning.

Address questions in four areas

Focus on areas where successful proposals typically shine.


Successful proposals typically comply with all requirements. Evaluate for:

  1. Compliance with key requirements
  2. Instances where the competitor shows it exceeds minimal requirements
  3. Devices used to draw evaluators’ attention to compliance, for example, a compliance matrix, icons or callouts


How well does the proponent—

  1. Demonstrate understanding of the prospect’s strategic drivers?
  2. Acknowledge and address hot button issues?
  3. Connect the proposed solution to the requirements and issues?


How well does the proponent find opportunities to express differentiation when—

  1. Presenting its team, by aligning specific qualifications and experience to the requirements?
  2. Describing its superior experience and past performance in similar projects?
  3. Using ghosting, trade-offs and other techniques to position itself against other offers?

Reader engagement:

Assess how well the proponent—

  1. Uses clear, plain language with a minimum of jargon?
  2. Supports its performance claims with facts?
  3. Demonstrates client focus by citing prospect-specific benefits when describing features and processes?
  4. Aligns proposal structure with the requirements and/or the scoring system?
  5. Uses layout, type and colour to create an attractive and easy to read proposal?
  6. Visualizes key features and benefits, using captioned photos, illustrations, charts and graphs?

Review compliance, responsiveness, differentiation and reader engagement separately, rather than trying to assess them in one pass. Also, have team members conduct reviews independently, making notes for each question. Then get together and compare notes.

Finally compare the competitor’s proposal against your own in each area and, if available, to the evaluator's notes by section.

Consider using a third party

Consider inviting a proposal consultant to help with your review and to facilitate a team session to assess what your team found and evaluate the differences.

An outside expert will see things your team will likely miss. He or she will also ensure a no-blame atmosphere, so the review stays positive.

Decide on next steps

Close the loop by agreeing on next steps. Prioritize your improvement ideas and set reasonable expectations. Build frequent reviews into your management process so you can monitor for improvement on the next proposal.


Need help developing better bid proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Making FOI Requests

 April 10, 2018
by Paul Heron

Government agencies are typically the largest bid issuers in North America—and nearly all are governed by Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. That means they are legally required to release responses to their RFPs and documentation on their award decisions.

Despite this, few bidders make use of FOI requests to evaluate their competitors’ offers—in most cases because they don’t know they can. 

Canadian jurisdictions share a similar disclosure process. This post contains the basics to help you get started.

NOTE: We’ve used the province of Ontario for purposes of this post.  The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) covers Ontario and its operating agencies. The Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) covers Ontario municipalities and their operating agencies. Each institution has a coordinator responsible for administering requests under the legislation. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) administers the acts and adjudicates appeals.

Steps in making an FOI request in Ontario

  1. Identify the document you want. In the case of a bid response, you’ll need the RFP number, title and issue date and the name of the company whose response you want to access.
  2. Identify the institution that has the information you want—typically this is the entity that issued the RFP. Use this link to get a list of Ontario institutions covered by FOI and the FIPPA/MFIPPA coordinator at each institution. The coordinator can help with your request.
  3. Complete an Access Request Form or provide the equivalent information in a letter. Requests we’ve reviewed typically use broad language  (e.g. For competitor proposals, “all proposals submitted in response to RFP ______.” For the issuer’s scoring records,“all minutes, correspondence, reports and other records relating to the contract award.”).
  4. Submit your request with the processing fee.

How much does it cost?

FOI request fees are typically low, since accessibility is the goal. In Ontario, the filing fee is currently $5 per request. Processing fees depend on the actual cost to reproduce the required documents. If the processing fee is over $25, the requester receives an estimate. If the estimate is over $100 a deposit may be required.

How long does it take?

In Ontario, the coordinator must comply with your request within 30 days or explain why more time is needed.

Part of the process is advising the other party or parties of the request and its pending decision and giving them 30 days to object and eventually to appeal to the IPC. Overcoming an objection may add to the turnaround time—but the IPC typically dismisses objections to the release of proposals.   

Exceptions: Although bid awards are public information, detailed costs and pricing schedules are usually considered private and not released. Also, proposals that contain details of proprietary technologies or other trade secrets may be redacted or not released.

Links to other jurisdictions

The following links will help you make requests outside Ontario:

Get started

If you’re serious about improving your win rate, reviewing successful proposals is a great place to start. FOI requests are neither difficult nor expensive, and there’s no evidence that FOI requests generate ill will or otherwise put future opportunities at risk.

Getting your competitors’ proposals is the first step. Next you’ll need to do a structured and unbiased comparison with the offers you submit.

Next week: Evaluating a competitor’s proposal


Need help with RFP strategy?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Proposal win-loss reviews

 April 3, 2018
by Paul Heron

Proposal evaluators can usually find ways to adjust the technical score in favour of a preferred candidate to offset small price disadvantages. That means bids lost by a few percentage points—say, less than five—were likely winnable.

This is why it’s essential to review every lost bid.

Get both internal and client perspectives

Some bidders take the opportunity to receive feedback from the RFP issuer, but do not meet as a team to decide whether and how to improve internal processes.

Both exercises are valuable and can benefit from external expertise.

What we recommend

Take advantage of both issuer feedback and internal post-mortems. Budget for, conduct and document a formal post-mortem when you’re unsuccessful on any large bid. Structure your reviews using these steps:

  • Recruit an independent third party to lead the evaluation
  • Consider using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to get copies of the winning bid and any close runners-up*
  • Interview individuals (directly, or using a third party) in the prospect organization
  • Get input from your bid team members, subject matter experts and relationship managers
  • Summarize findings in a lessons-learned document with specific improvement recommendations
  • Facilitate conversations with your team and other stakeholders to review the findings
  • Develop a plan and assign individuals to implement agreed-on improvements
  • Follow up to ensure completion

* FOI requests can take months to process, so don’t postpone your internal review waiting for FOI results. Also, some issuers will offer a debriefing in exchange for a waiver of the right to pursue an FOI request. Debriefs are faster and cheaper but, to avoid making a bad bargain, negotiate the information to be provided before agreeing to this deal. 

Dealing with resistance

Teams often resist win-loss reviews. Avoidance closes the door quickly on an embarrassing, even painful, experience. The counter argument is that doing the work to understand a loss is the only way to know what to do differently the next time.

Individual team members may claim they already know why the effort fell short. If so, a formal review is an opportunity to reach shared agreement on needed improvements. Documenting what happened and what needs to change also builds wider support for changes to processes and behaviours.

Conduct a post-mortem even when you win

Bid wins are usually greeted with high-fives—followed immediately by the realization there’s lots to do to mobilize the new opportunity. In many companies, bid team members are also on the front line in gearing up for the new work. A post mortem is not a high priority.

It’s also easy to assume you know what you did right. But even when you win it makes sense to compare the runner-up proposals, ask your customer what was most (and least) compelling about your bid, and then compare what you learn with your team’s assumptions.

Knowing the facts will help you do more of what you did well next time.

Next week: Using Freedom of Information requests



Need help improving your proposal success rate?

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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