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Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


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 




Presentation stage tips

 December 18, 2018
by Paul Heron

Large bid processes usually include a presentation phase. Since public speaking ranks alongside death as a major fear, it’s no wonder many team members dread this part of competitions.

No one likes speech making—so start by resolving not to give a speech. Instead, plan to have a conversation, one in which you’ll do most of the talking. Most people enjoy a good conversation.

With that in mind, here are five tips for a great presentation/conversation.

1. Don’t be boring

Who hasn’t sat through a boring presentation? Remember your last one and ask yourself: Why was it boring? I don’t know about you, but here’s my short list:

  • Way too many (ugly) slides
  • Way too much stuff on each slide
  • Lots of numbers I’ll never remember
  • No unifying theme or message—why should I care?
  • A presenter who obviously wants to be anywhere else

So do the opposite. Take in a well-designed deck of no more than one slide per two minutes of presentation time and no more than 20 words per slide. Lose those mind-numbing tables of data. Most important—focus the presentation on the prospect instead of yourself. Build it around one to three clear benefits you want the audience to remember.

Look (and be) glad to present. The remaining tips will help.

2. Tell stories

Everyone loves and remembers a good story. Telling stories is what old friends do when they get together. A story has three parts: what it was like, what happened, and how it turned out.

Stories are a natural way to showcase your strong team and ability to perform. Chose stories that focus on features and benefits your prospect cares about and that your competitors can’t match. Start each story by linking it to a hot button issue for your prospect.

3. Show emotion

Showing is always more powerful than telling. You’ve told the evaluators in your proposal how passionate you are about what you do and about winning their business. This is your chance to show them.

Smile. Get excited. Walk around. Gesture. Show the audience your team members really like each other and love working together. Don’t be that presenter who obviously wants to be anywhere else.

Telling stories (see item 2) instead of reciting facts makes it a lot easier to get excited.

4. Rehearse so it doesn’t sound canned

This is counterintuitive to new presenters, who often say, “I’ll just wing it, so it won’t sound rehearsed.”

That’s a recipe for disaster. Especially when—as we recommend—you’re using a small deck with too few words to simply read off the slides.

Rehearsing—out loud and together—is essential to a winning presentation. When you’re absolutely sure of what you want to say, you’ll come across as more natural. When you’ve practiced expressing ideas with your colleagues and integrated their feedback, you’ll be more convincing. When you’ve rehearsed handing off to your team members, you’ll look like a team.

Make sure everyone who will present (yes, including the boss) attends the rehearsals.

5. Don’t try to be perfect

Some great presenters purposely fumble a bit. It gives them a chance to laugh and makes them more human. The audience laughs along and thinks, “She’s all right. Not too full of herself. I can see working with this team.”

So don’t try to be perfect. If you follow the first 4 tips, you’ll come close enough that your audience will forgive any slip you make. Just be sure to keep smiling.

Good luck—and above all, don’t be boring!


Need help developing and delivering great presentations?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Capture planning

 December 11, 2018
by Paul Heron

Recent posts focused on business development, including understanding the prospect and developing value propositions. This post recommends you go a step further and develop a capture plan—especially for highly attractive opportunities.

The aim of pursuit is to position your company favourably with the prospect and to ensure your proposed solution addresses the prospect’s needs and hot button issues. The question is: How do you organize and manage the pursuit process?

Develop a capture plan

Capture plans are opportunity-specific strategy/action documents.  They use information from the account plan to create a roadmap for pursuing an opportunity. They also provide half or more of the content for the proposal plan (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: A capture plan guides and documents the pursuit process and provides input to the proposal plan.


Typical capture plans include information about the:

  • Opportunity: What it is, strategic importance, requirements and implementation schedule
  • Prospect: Economic buyer, technical buyers, user buyers, other influencers, evaluation team members, broader power structure, hot button issues, satisfaction with current provider, attitude towards our company
  • Competitive position: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, likely competitors’ offerings, our relative strength on key requirements/issues, prospect relationships with key competitors
  • Solution and pricing: Probable offer, pricing strategy, performance relative to requirements, value engineering opportunities, risk pricing
  • Pursuit strategy: Win strategy summary, pursuit team alignment with the prospect team, call plan, intelligence requirements, solution development, communications

These categories are flexible. Decide on components that suit your industry and business category.

As you execute the capture plan, develop a matrix of how you and your competitors score on the key requirements and issues. Be realistic about your chances, so you can make needed adjustments and make a clear-eyed bid/no-bid decision.

The payoff

A detailed, regularly updated capture plan will improve your ability to target and benefit from pre-RFP pursuit efforts. In our client work, we see a wide range of preparedness when RFPs are issued. Clients with disciplined pursuit practices, supported by robust capture plans, routinely beat those without.


Do you need help managing a capture planning effort?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Writing strategy statements

 December 4, 2018
by Paul Heron

In the past several weeks, we've been discussing how to use the capture team’s knowledge of the prospect (including likely evaluators) and your competitors to analyse the issues for each section. See this post on how to use a competitive solutions matrix.

For each issue, strive to express solutions and gaps using quantitative values (issue resolution in hours, housekeeping using ISO standards), rather than less certain qualitative measures.

Once you’ve done this, identify actions you will take to highlight your strengths, downplay your weaknesses, exploit competitors’ weaknesses and offset competitors’ strengths.

Strategy statement examples

Create strategy statements that express your intent and include specific actions you will take. The table below contains examples:

We will show our ability to control costs by . . .  

. . . Presenting a table of our 5 most recent public projects showing budgeted and actual costs

We will create confidence that we can complete the project on time by . . .

. . . Citing tour perfect record of on-time completion over the past five years

We will defend against our higher initial cost by . . .

. . . Presenting a table showing MTBF for each critical component compared to cheaper competitor products
. . . Citing the cost of downtime associated with cheaper solutions
. . . Citing 2017 independent review comparing lifetime costs of our system versus competitors’

We will call attention to our high housekeeping standards by. . . 

. . . Citing our ISO compliance
. . . Including photo of Calgary maintenance shed

We will show our ability to offer innovation solutions by—

. . . Listing innovation awards and citations over the past three years
. . . Show images/logos of awards sponsors
. . . Including a client testimonial (CEO of XYZCo.) attesting to a cost-saving innovation

Notice that the actions do not include “claim to be the best.” These empty boasts have no scorable value for evaluators. Instead cite and show factual evidence of your differentiators.

Take time to do it right

Don’t skimp on strategy making. Unless you have very weak competitors and the lowest price you need to make every effort to help evaluators understand why they should select your company for this project.

For any complex proposal, schedule at least a full day to build and test your strategy.



Need help implementing bid strategies?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Using value props in bids

 November 27, 2018
by Paul Heron

We’ve devoted this month’s posts to value propositions. Now that we understand how to build value propositions for economic buyers, technical buyers and user buyers, let’s translate that knowledge into bid wins. Take the following actions to put value at the centre of your bid effort.

Build value propositions as part of your strategy

Create value propositions during strategy making, right after making the decision to bid and before kicking off the detailed solution design and writing. Too many teams jump right into proposal writing without a solid strategy—and their results are poorer for it.

The act of creating value propositions forces you to clarify your offer and address various evaluator perspectives. Value props give subject matter experts and writers clearer direction.

Build the executive summary around your value propositions

Draft your executive summary as part of the strategy phase.  Organize it around your prospect’s key strategic drivers, and then use your value propositions to make the case for how your proposal aligns with and satisfies those strategic imperatives.

Give your writers the draft executive summary as part of their kick-off meeting package.

Test value props as part of your reviews

Disciplined bidders constantly test the “win-ability” of their bids. The initial bid/no-bid decision, while critical, should be revisited after the strategy stage and before committing resources to fully develop a competitive proposal. (See Bid Life Cycle schematic.)

Bidders involved in large-scale efforts typically schedule a Blue Team Review and sometimes a Black Hat Review at this stage. The Blue Team tests the strength of the bid team’s strategy, including its value propositions. Black Hat reviewers assume the role of competitors and probe for ways to sell against your bid strategy. This feedback helps the team see where they need to improve their offer—including value propositions—before committing resources to preparing a bid.

Use value propositions to maintain client focus

Train your writers to build section summaries around value propositions, so the summaries have selling power, instead of being a features list. The requirements for each section will indicate the most relevant value proposition(s).

Draw on value propositions when writing graphics captions. To have selling power, captions must always include benefits for the prospect. What is the value created by the information conveyed by the graphic?

Constantly revisit value propositions when writing narrative. Writers should always ask, “What is the value to the prospect of this information?” Value propositions can help them better understand and express value.


Need help translating strategy into a winning proposal?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




User Buyer value props

 November 20, 2018
by Paul Heron

Our last two posts looked at value propositions for economic buyers and for technical buyers. This week we’ll focus on value props for user buyers.

Evaluation teams for large RFPs always include user buyers. As the name implies, these individuals will use the solution in their daily jobs. They won’t catch the blame for a bad decision (the economic buyer will), but their job performance will suffer if the solution under performs. Implementation issues will also hit them directly. Think of a CSR evaluating a new customer relations management platform.

Let’s look at user buyer value propositions for the ShipPro productivity software we used as an example in the past two posts.

User buyer value propositions

In the case of ShipPro, you can naturally expect an evaluator from the shipping department. Expect a customer service evaluator too, since CSRs will need information generated by ShipPro to respond to customer inquiries. The accounting department may provide a user focussed on how data is stored and transferred.

Here’s a potential value prop for shipping:

  • BuyerCo’s shipping department will have access current rates from all shippers with any negotiated discounts automatically applied . ShipPro will also be configured to compare costs and delivery times across a range of SKU-defined shipping options. Users needing assistance can choose from online tutorials or chat or toll-free telephone support 24/7 from a North America-based call centre.

And here’s one for customer service:

  • BuyerCo CSRs can easily view pending and shipped orders using ShipPro’s advanced search capabilities. Orders can be accessed by invoice/order number, client name, street address, postal (zip) code, or phone number. CSRs using our systems report that ShipPro retrieves shipped orders two to three times as fast as the systems it replaces.

Be specific

Any user invited onto evaluation teams has almost certainly experienced labour saving innovations that didn’t deliver. Assume a sceptical reviewer and write very specific, fact-based user buyer value propositions. Vague claims and promises will provoke a negative reaction.

Added value in creating value propositions

In addition to sharpening client focus, developing value propositions provides at least two other benefits, especially when developed collaboratively with your client:

  • They inject discipline into your sales process, since value props must accurately reflect what your solution will do and how and when—and the business value it delivers.
  • Value propositions also clarify your competitive position. By identifying gaps in your feature list, you can develop priorities for building stronger solutions.

Next week: How to use value propositions in a bid proposal


Need help achieving client focus in your bid proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Technical buyer value props

 November 13, 2018
by Paul Heron

Last week’s post explained the importance of focusing client relationships on value creation. We included a value proposition for a company selling shipping productivity software. That value proposition was aimed at the economic buyer, the decision maker we naturally associate with the buying decision.

But, just as we need to get beyond the single-client mindset, we also need to segment buyer types when we develop value propositions. An argument that appeals to an economic buyer won’t resonate with technical buyers and user buyers, who will also influence the decision in a large procurement.

Technical buyer value propositions

From an earlier post we know that technical buyers are gatekeepers. A technical buyer focuses on whether the offer satisfies the RFP specifications related to his or her area of expertise. In the shipping software example we’ve chosen, the evaluation team will naturally include an IT person.

Here’s a value prop aimed at that individual:

  • ShipPro will integrate with all BuyerCo legacy systems as part of our implementation guarantee. In addition, since ShipPro is a SAAS solution, continual updates are included in BuyerCo’s license. BuyerCo will stay current with all shipping related tax and regulatory changes, as well as browser updates. Current BuyerCo clients report average IT support cost reductions of 10 hours a month after adopting ShipPro.

Value props for other technical buyers

Technical buyers extend well beyond techies. A tax or regulatory specialist, for example, would find the continual updates mentioned above appealing. A purchasing specialist focused on contracting issues would want to know how the implementation and performance guarantees are worded, how you calculate cost savings and what risks your proposal expects the buyer to assume. A risk manager would want to understand protections in the event a seller became insolvent.

Brainstorm who else may be involved (or better still, ask the business developer) and anticipate and address their key issues with value props.

Value propositions improve client focus

A future post will explain how to integrate value propositions into proposals. But the act of creating them itself has great value. It forces your team to think from the prospect’s perspective, instead of simply trumpeting your solution. And that's the key to winning proposals.

Next week: Value propositions for User Buyers

Need help achieving client focus in your bid proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Economic buyer value props

 November 6, 2018
by Paul Heron

Last month we used buyer types to explore the ways evaluators’ roles and experience shape the way they review proposals. This month’s posts show how to use that knowledge to develop value propositions for each buyer type.

Anatomy of a value proposition

Every durable business relationship is based on value. The seller offers the buyer an economic benefit (e.g. reduced costs and/or increased revenue) at a specified price. The value is the difference between the benefit and the price.

The offer forms a value proposition.  A compelling value proposition is similar to a SMART goal. It’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.

Economic buyer user proposition

Here’s a value proposition for an economic buyer that meets SMART criteria:

  • BuyerCo will save 20% in order fulfillment costs using OurCo’s ShipPro software solution. Following a no-cost implementation (6 weeks), direct labour per package shipped will decrease by 5 minutes, based on tests using BuyerCo costing metrics. At a monthly cost of $1,800, ShipPro will save BuyerCo $3,750, based on 3,000 average monthly shipments and $15/hour labour rate.

Collaborate with clients on value propositions

Accurate and complete value propositions can only be developed with information from both parties. For this reason, business developers need to develop close relationships that include value propositions as part of client conversations.

In competitive bid situations, pre-RFP collaboration enables more targeted and complete offers. In the case of informal proposals, well-developed value propositions can become the basis for a sole-source contract. (Even we know winning without bidding is better!)

Despite these advantages, too many sales conversations never address the underlying value proposition. This ignores the fact that both buyer and seller are responsible for hammering out a deal that’s good for their respective employers.

What if you can't mention price?

In two-envelope systems, where you can’t include price in the narrative, you can still express economic value. Here’s an example using the value proposition above:

  • BuyerCo will save 20% in order fulfillment using OurCo’s ShipPro software solution. Following a 6-week implementation, direct labour per package shipped will decrease by 5 minutes as measured by BuyerCo metrics, resulting in a return on monthly investment of more than 200%.

Be sure to also include the full value proposition, with all pricing and costs, as part of the cost volume executive summary, if permitted.

Value propositions for other buyer types

The example above shows a value proposition aimed at the economic buyer. But value propositions are equally appropriate for technical buyers and user buyers. We’ll post on these in the coming weeks.



Need help expressing your value in a bid?

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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