Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.

 

Editing for evaluators

 May 29, 2018
by Paul Heron

Our recent posts covered understanding proposal evaluators, and how to use structure, content planning tools and close management to make proposals easy to scan and score.

Editing is the next step in making content as evaluator-friendly as possible.

Structural editing

Structural editors use their understanding of the project and the team’s win strategy to improve selling power and ease of scoring. This work can include:

  • Triage: Confirming the draft meets agreed minimum standards of completeness and compliance for editing and returning or escalating substandard drafts.
  • Rearranging, merging and/or breaking up paragraphs for greater easy of reading
  • Restructuring the logic flow to align with the team’s agreed information architecture, or with good practice (e.g. problem statement, solution, reasoning, proof of past success).
  • Cutting low value or repetitive content to meet page limit requirements
  • Identifying content gaps and opportunities to connect content with win themes.
  • Converting plain text to graphics (illustrations, tables, graphs) and evaluating submitted graphics. (One test: A graphic should convey the desired message in less than 5 seconds.)
  • Turning embedded project examples into mini case studies.
  • Using subheads or bullet points to break up large text blocks for easier reading.
  • Adding callouts to emphasize differentiators.

Structural editing, also called strategic editing, takes a high-level approach to content and makes macro improvements. Depending on the downstream copy editors’ abilities, the structural editor will either make the needed changes or insert comments asking copy editors to make them.

Copy editing

Copy editors work to ensure proposal evaluators to scan and score content without confusion or distractions, for example:

  • Increase clarity with edits to use plain language, including short paragraphs, active voice, simple sentence structure, verb forms and words. Use the readability tool built into MS Word and aim for grade 11 reading level or lower.
  • Consistency starts aligning heads, bullet styles etc. with the template and using consistent abbreviations and short forms for weights and measures, projects, company names, committee, etc. throughout. Other aspects include single voice (consistent sentence structure and avoiding emotional or idiosyncratic language) and using bullets and lists consistently. On large projects with multiple copy editors, a proposal style guide is an essential aid to consistency.
  • Callouts use snippets text boxed or set off in bold type to highlight key benefits and differentiators. Use the same callout style throughout the proposal and—again, for the evaluators’ benefit—place them in the same position on each page.
  • Graphics captions should include a clear benefit or “so what” for the evaluator.
  • Trigger phrases make it easier for evaluators to identify scorable features by connecting them with their related benefits in a consistent way. To draw attention to strengths and differentiators, lead each with: “A key strength of our solution is . . .” or “A clear benefit of this approach is . . .” or “Only this approach provides . . .”
  • Echoing the prospect’s preferred words is another approach to helping evaluators spot scorable items. Begin by analysing the RFP document for most frequently used adjectives and verbs used describing preferred actions and outcomes. For example, if the word “enhanced” appears frequently in the RFP, consider using it instead of synonyms, such as “improved,” “superior,” or “increased.” Compile a list of the top 20 such candidates and (within reason) substitute them for synonyms throughout the response.

Keep your eye on the ball

In making edits, remember that the goal is to help evaluators scan and score your proposal. Clarity of logic and language trumps elegance when it comes to proposals. Unlike your grade 10 English teacher, evaluators are not grading for originality.

Need help making your proposals clearer and more powerful?

Contact Complex2Clear

 

 

Photo credit


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

 

 

  

Managing proposal drafting

 May 22, 2018
by Paul Heron

Recent posts explained how to create evaluator-friendly proposals by adopting a consistent information structure and using proposal writer frameworks and prompts to assist writers in drafting logically sound, persuasive content.

Even if you do all of the above, you’re still not guaranteed high quality output. You also need to transfer this information to writers and then provide ongoing direction and support.

Start with a well-run kickoff

Schedule kickoffs to occur after the leadership team has built a win strategy, including how various elements apply to each section. See this four-part series on successful proposal kickoffs.

Provide each content developer with a section content planner and take time to explain how to use it when drafting content. Ask narratives writers to begin by analysing the requirements, known client issues and the win strategy for their sections and develop bullet point outlines of their responses.

Ongoing management

  • Schedule a bullet-point review soon after kick-off to evaluate and approve each section analysis. Look for compliance, structure, use of win themes, claims that need more specifics and opportunities to replace text with graphics. Ask writers to revise and resubmit any substandard analyses for approval before beginning to write.
  • Follow up on progress every day or two, to ensure the drafting is ongoing, and that it aligns with the approved section analysis. Use judgment in deciding how closely you monitor each writer, but avoid setting a two-week deadline with no follow up. We’ve seen too many long deadlines arrive with little or no content produced.
  • Vary your follow-up focus. For efficiency, and to promote consistency, focus on one or two aspects of draft content during each review. For example, devote one review to structure, another to win themes, another to compliance, another to graphics and captions, etc.
  • Review project sheets and resumes as received to ensure they include the required information and have focussed on experience and past successes that relate to the RFP project.

Dealing with pushback

If the proposal management and content leads are onside, pushback will be minimal.

Strong pushback may occur, especially if writers are used to simply lifting sections from previous proposals. To reduce this risk, select an important RFP—one for which warmed-over content won’t do.

Above all, avoid making exceptions. Insist everyone follow the plan.

The payoff

Section planners and prompts and close management make proposal development more consistent and predicable, improve quality and reduce the potential for last minute marathon drafting and editing sessions.

For most writers this planning and analysis process actually makes drafting easier by breaking the content into manageable chunks and reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and major rewrites.

Next week: Editing for evaluators

 

Need help making proposals clearer and more powerful?

Contact Complex2Clear

 

 

Photo credit


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

 

 

  

Planning for consistency

 May 15, 2018
by Paul Heron

Last week’s post showed how taking an information architecture approach makes proposals easier to read and score.

This month’s remaining posts explain how to operationalize this approach to achieve internal consistency in RFQs and RFPs.

Identify and group required content

As part of your pre-kick-off planning, identify RFP sections that lend themselves to a common structure. Obvious candidates include:

  • Approaches and plans (e.g. design, construction, implementation (transition), operations and maintenance, customer service)
  • Company profiles in joint ventures
  • Project descriptions
  • Key individual resumes

Build and populate frameworks

Analyse each section type and decide what information to present and in what order. Ensure your analysis accommodates the information and structure specified by the RFP. Obtain proposal leadership team agreement on the structure and content.

Create framework documents to capture draft content. Frameworks align in structure to the final proposal template but are much simpler. Use MS Word tables and populate with guidance and prompts as follows:

Approaches and plans: Create and customize a section content planner (SCP) for each section. Include the RFP question(s), win themes and links or contact information the writer may require. Provide an area and instructions for a bullet point analysis of the response. Provide an area for the response to each question and prompts (questions) that will produce the desired structure and information (see last week’s post on information architecture). Include prompts and space for suggestions on graphics, call outs and case studies.

Project sheets, resumes and JV partner profiles: Set up similar MS Word frameworks for these items that align with the RFP required information. Include a prompt in resume frameworks for the writer’s contact email and mobile number, so your editor can follow up directly with questions. For more, see this post on standardizing resumes and project sheets.

Document multi-use content

Avoid the common issue of gaps and inconsistencies in late drafts by identifying and collecting information likely to be used across multiple sections. Examples include facts supporting win theme, reference project facts, client reference information, organizational charts and performance measures (e.g. safety record, on-time and on-budget history, number of similar projects completed, number of staff with professional designations, etc.). Create, publish and update a database everyone can access.

Does this sound like a lot of work?

Setting up content frameworks and prompts takes upfront time and effort. But, in our experience, the downstream benefit of getting first draft content that is complete, compliant and responsive more than outweighs the cost.

Next week: Managing for consistency

 

 

Need help making clearer and more evaluator-friendly?

Contact Complex2Clear

 

Photo credit


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

 

 

  

Information architecture

 May 8, 2018
by Paul Heron

A common-sense way to help evaluators understand and appreciate your proposal is to make reading and scoring it easier. And a good way to do that is by structuring information consistently. 

The challenge

Proposal content, especially for large bids, is usually developed by several specialist teams, and then edited for voice and style. Content submitted by different specialists—especially if working for different companies—is unlikely to be organized consistently. In fact, submitted sections may not even contain the same set of information categories.

This month’s posts show how to build consistency into proposals drafted by teams. 

Start with information architecture

The term information architecture is usually associated with websites. But presenting information logically and consistently makes equal sense for proposal sections and subsections.

An RFP to refurbish, operate and maintain an existing infrastructure asset might ask for your business plan, operations plan and maintenance plan and transition plan. A new infrastructure RFP would also require design and construction plans. An RFP for new IT or other equipment would ask for technical details of your solution.

Depending on the asset and issuer, safety, quality, stakeholder management and environmental plans may also be required.

Proposal sections responding to each of these requirements will contain different content. But, by applying an information architecture, each section will contain the same categories of content in the same order. Consistent structure will not only eliminate potential gaps and make the proposal easier to score, it will also demonstrate team alignment.

Instead of trying to shoehorn draft content into a common structure, create the structure first. 

Tailor the structure to the opportunity 

The categories you include will depend on the RFP and your win strategy. Here’s a possible set of categories for the sections named above:

  • Approach: Your understanding of the requirements and strategy for meeting key challenges and success factors  
  • What you will do: A vivid and complete picture of your solution, including your team structure and key individual qualifications
  • Experience and performance: Proof you’ve done this before with evidence of your success in similar projects
  • Alignment: How your solution addresses the issuer's requirements and hot button issues, and why your offer is superior to others

Always align your proposal sections and subsections with the RFP structure and questions. Within that structure, apply your architecture to section introductions and to each subsection.

In these situations. Next week, we’ll learn how to help content drafters align with the architecture.

Next week: Organizing for consistency.

 

 

Need help making your proposals clearer and more powerful?

Contact Complex2Clear

 

Photo credit


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

 

 

  

Understanding evaluators

 May 1, 2018
by Paul Heron

Since winning bid competitions is important to your company’s success, you and your team likely put a lot of effort into developing strong proposals. Given the stakes involved, you may assume that proposal evaluators are equally serious about their jobs. In fact, that is often not the case.

The truth about evaluators

We’ve run across very few professional, full-time evaluators. Instead, most evaluators are assigned to proposals on top of their core responsibilities. As a result, they typically aren’t heavily invested in the evaluation process; they just want to get through it as painlessly as possible. Since evaluators often score several proposals, they tend to devote minimal effort to each response.

In addition, not all evaluators will be experts in the technical aspects of your solution. In fact, we have seen low-level employees assigned to evaluating proposals for large and strategically important purchases—perhaps because more senior people were unavailable, or because the process is templated to be easy to follow (see below).

Evaluators don’t read—they scan and score

In part to promote a level playing field, and also for efficiency, evaluators of large proposals usually follow a scoresheet and a criteria checklist in awarding points. Armed with these tools, evaluators don’t read proposals closely—instead they scan and score them.

A handful of evaluators typically score each section, and their scores are then averaged or consolidated during a consensus meeting.

Implications for proposal teams

Given these facts, smart proposal teams strive to make evaluation as easy as possible. In coming posts, we’ll show you how to do that, including:

  • Planning an information architecture
  • Creating prompts for consistent content
  • Presenting information consistently
  • Using style guides

Next week: Information architecture

 

Need help navigating the world of proposals?

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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