Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Pre-building content

 December 19, 2017
by Paul Heron

Nearly every RFP seeks details of the bidders’ relevant project experience and proposed team resumes.

Both project experience and resumes should be customized for each prospect. Despite this, there’s a lot you can do to get project sheets and team resumes ready for the next RFP.

NOTE: This post is intended mainly for internal bid teams. Consortiums responding to RFQs for large infrastructure projects typically create custom project sheets and resumes for maximum alignment, responsiveness and positioning. If you participate in RFQs as part of a consortium or joint venture, please see an earlier set of posts beginning with RFQ Basics

Challenges in presenting project sheets and resumes

Inserting several project description pages or team resumes into the narrative can bog down evaluators. These pages also eat up precious space in page-limited responses.

There’s another issue with inserting project pages and resumes. Often, they contain more detail than the evaluator needs for scoring, detracting from message clarity.   

So how do you avoid having to create fresh project pages and resumes for each opportunity? We recommend a two-step approach.

1. Pre-build pages to include in an appendix

Using standard templates, develop project descriptions and key person resumes outside the pressure of an impending deadline. Store these in a content library.

A two-column format works well in both cases. Use the left column for labels and right for details. Figure 1. shows a project sheet example.

Figure 1 Develop a Standard Project Description Format: Use two columns and create a placeholder for an optional opportunity-specific message
  • For project pages, include a photo and a short overview paragraph, and then identify key features and capabilities. Include optional placeholder text for a one-sentence statement that delivers the experience/capability selling points for this project.
  • For resumes, follow the guidelines in this earlier post.

These can be included with minimal editing in a proposal appendix (which are generally not included in the page limitation).   

2. Include summaries in your narrative

Always respond to all RFP requirements in the proposal narrative. Don’t simply refer evaluators to an appendix, because some won’t make the effort to find it. Instead include highlights of each resume and project. There are two common ways to do this:

In every case, be sure to also reference the supporting appendix detail.


Looking for ways to work smart and win more?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Re-using proposals

 December 12, 2017
by Paul Heron

Last week we explained why it’s unlikely you’ll win bids simply by searching and replacing prospect names in an old proposal. But there are cases where minor tweaks to a standard proposal can produce contract wins.

Let’s look these situations.

What drives customization?

Any combination of contract size, tough competition, and offering complexity points to a more customized bid response (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Need for Customization: Analyze the characteristics of your market to decide how much you need to customize your proposals.














We combined size and competitiveness on the same axis because large bids tend to attract competition. However, they drive customization in different ways.

  • Large RFPs typically reflect a strategic need, and your prospect will want to know you recognize that need and have crafted a solution that responds. Customization also shows you respect the issuer’s planned commitment.
  • Competition forces you to differentiate—and differentiators by definition must be features this specific prospect cares about.

Complex offerings demand customization to explain and relate features and promised performance to the prospect’s specific need. Complexity also requires proof of your ability to implement and support your solution in this prospect’s business.

When can you use a standard proposal?

The flip side of Figure 1 suggests that standard proposals are suitable for small projects and/or easily defined offerings for which you have few if any competitors. So standard (or semi-standard) proposals can work in any of the following situations:

  • Goods offerings: Standard proposals are ideal for offering goods—and especially commodities—that can be narrowly specified. Most companies we work with sell services or products that bundle in one or more services (installation, maintenance and/or warranty). As the service component of an offering increases, typically so does the need to customize. Exceptions are industries that specify services tightly enough to suit standard proposals.
  • Protected markets: A few companies have offerings so compelling they can submit standard proposals even for large opportunities. These situations rarely last more than a few years.
  • Informal proposals: Effective sales conversations often result in an informal request for proposal. These can run to several pages, but are not responses to formal RFPs and therefore allow the seller to follow a standard format. If you have opportunities to submit unsolicited offers, invest in developing a strong standard proposal that requires only minor tweaks. NOTE: Even in an unsolicited offer, it’s well worth building a custom value proposition that shows you understand the prospect’s situation. Pure boilerplate offers tend to read like sales brochures.

Degrees of customization

There’s a big range between zero customization and a fully customized bid response. We’ve helped many clients leverage past proposal efforts for future opportunities. The secret is in understanding where and how to spend energy on customization.

Next week we’ll look at two typical bid sections—relevant experience (project sheets), and proposed team resumes—and show you how you can get maximum future value out of current proposal work.


Want to develop bids more efficiently?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Chasing search-and-replace

 December 5, 2017
by Paul Heron

Nearly every bidder dreams of the perfect proposal, one so well written it works for every future opportunity. All that’s needed is to search on the last prospect’s name and replace it with the current one. OK, maybe there’s a bit more to do—but not much.

Unfortunately, that perfect proposal doesn’t exist—at least not in the world we’ve been living in.

The problem with telling

The search-and-replace idea is based on a false belief that our job is to tell the prospect how wonderful its solution is. If we can do that clearly and convincingly enough (and our price is competitive) we should win—right?

Wrong—and here’s why. When we interview procurement specialists, their number one complaint is that bidders fail to understand their needs. In one simple example, the issuer wanted to replace several thousand point-of-sale machines. In addition to functionality, the new unit needed to fit a very specific countertop footprint. Despite clear instructions, more than half the bidders offered machines that exceeded the specified footprint by 50% or more.

So dusting off an existing proposal for a similar need wasn’t going to work. If that’s what those bidders did, it was a waste of their time—and it frustrated the prospect.

Watch a good sales professional

Successful business developers ask lots of questions. They avoid what a sales coach we know calls “premature explanation.” Asking those questions—and showing they understand the buyer's responses—earns them the right to propose a solution. And, because their solution is likely to fit the buyer’s needs, it will get careful consideration.

We don’t get the opportunity to ask questions in an RFP situation, but we can—and must—still show we understand. We do this by tying our response to the prospect’s stated requirements and, beyond that, showing insight into the prospect’s hot button issues and appealing to specific buyer types.

RFPs suggest (or dictate) response structure

Standard proposals fail for another reason. Most RFPs request responses in a specific format, often as responses to a set of questions. That makes it easier to compare offers using an evaluation matrix.

A search-and-replace proposal—even if it addresses the prospect’s needs—won’t line up with the requested format. That means evaluators will have to sift through your submission to complete their matrix. More likely, they will set it aside in favour of one that conforms.

Streamlining your bid proposal process

While search-and-replace is an impossible dream, there are ways to leverage past proposal efforts in future opportunities.

We’ll explore these in coming posts.

Need help with proposal process?

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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