Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Power words

I like power words - really good descriptors or triggers.  

I'm going to include some of my proposal power words soon and talk about how to use them. In the meantime, Learn to Write Proposals Members can check out the Power Words Section in the www.learntowriteproposals.com Member's Section.

Here though are some of the most important power wrods in sales history. What else would you add to the list?


Friday, September 12, 2008

How to improve your win rate

Writing proposals can be expensive. In large corporations a dedicated team with a dedicated budget will work on putting together each discrete complex solution. In medium sized organisations there may be a dedicated bid team to work alongside account managers to produce proposals. And in the small organisation maybe the owner/manager works late each night putting together the proposals.

However proposals are produced they take time and resources...and that means money.

How often has your organisation done a precise calculation of the cost of producing one proposal? Do you have any idea? or is it just included in the overall sales/cost-of-doing-business overhead?

In the Learn to Write Proposal Survey the average time to produce a proposal is around one week. Assuming one member of staff working on the proposal for that length of time the cost is in the thousands of dollars...and for small business that's a lot of cash.

Then think about your win rate..and multiply that by the cost of each bid to produce. Chances are, it's becoming a lot of money for no reward. Let's hope that the work you win is delivering good margins.

Now analyse which proposals you won. What was the differentiating factor? Customer knowledge? Better solution? Was it just a better proposal?

So what if you could win all the work you went for? OK...that might be unrealistic, but you should at least be able to cut down the number of the proposals you lose - and that is going to benefit you in two ways - firstly it will save you the money it costs to produce the proposal but secondly it will allow to utilise you time finding better opportunities and working on winning the opportunities that you do decide to bid on.

So how do you decide which bids to go for? Better qualification. At regular points from when the opportunity has been identified to when the proposal is submitted you should qualify the opportunity.

The Learn to Write Proposals "Prospect Qualification Toolkit" is an interactive tool that helps you identify where your prospective opportunity is weak based on some typical criteria (explicit or not) that buying decisions are made on. This helps you identify early on non-starters or opportunities that were initially pursued that should be shelved.

Using this tool also helps you prioritise your opportunities 

When you've reached the point of no return (when you are always going to submit the bid) it helps you identify weak points that require work in order to maximise your chances of success.

The easiest way to improve your win rate, improve the ROI of your bid team investment and lower your costs isn't just to throw extra resources against every opportunity, but to analyze opportunities to decide which ones you can realistically  win.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

3 things that annoy clients

Here are three things that annoy clients. Maybe they're obvious, even outrageous...but they do happen.

Not answering the specification. How many times has a client received a proposal that doesn't really provide a solution to what was proposed?

Not including all the required information. How does the client make an informed decision?

The wrong name in the proposal. Who is the proposal for? Did the proposal just use a load of cut and paste from an earlier proposal?

Elementary and stupid mistakes maybe. But now ask yourself...have you ever done any of them? I bet you didn't win the work.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Do RFPs lead to bad proposals?

Some organisations are incredibly concerned with the appearance of impartiality and fairness in the RFP process. Yet, I believe that this is potentially damaging for them.

Don't misunderstand me...I'm not against fairness. I don't want my competitor holding an advantage over me that I don't know about. Although I do want to try and mine my relationship with the client as far as I can for valuable information and to ensure I'm not at a disadvantage.

It's the approach that some organisations go through. We all know the potential gains of working with people you know and trust. So why create a procurement system that denies any contact with the client other than online forums? Why have a response template sent out that counts exactly the number of characters in each response section? Why use an expensive e-procurement system that is frustrating and seems irrelevant for for many suppliers?

Why? Several reasons. Firstly - transparency and audit trail. If there's a complaint about the process or preferential treatment, it's easy for the buyer to say that it isn't so...look at the Chinese wall we surrounded ourselves with.

Secondly - evaluation. If every response is the same style and format, it should be easier to objectively evaluate and score that response.

Thirdly - management of suppliers and procurement opportunities. It's easy to control and manage external relationships and supplies, especially when the e-procurement function is within a larger corporate ERP system.

Fourthly - Cost. If all proposals are equal, then surely it makes it easier to procure the supplier with the lowest price...especially when using a reverse auctioning system.

But at what cost to the client. Surely some flexibility to allow one of your suppliers to demonstrate some out-of-the-box thinking, to come up with a creative solution for your need. To show that just because it's big business purchasing it doesn't mean that small supplier entrepreneurship needs to be quashed. 

Creative proposals are better for creative and bespoke solutions. OK - if you need 1,000,000 widgets then a system like this might work for you (though I know that the widget suppliers find them overkill). But when you have an opportunity to get new, fresh ideas from new, fresh business and individuals, don't stop the lateral thinking before it's even begun by only allowing proposals that don't have graphics. Treat yourself to new thinking by opening to the possibilities that a completely open response format would allow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Free (and open source) software that you can use

There's a lot of good stuff out there. Good stuff that can potentially make our life easier.

The vast majority of use use MS Word to write our proposals, our letters - pretty much everything, but with the development of some great web services there are some tools that can help make your life easier. 

One of the biggest problems with MS Word is, and always has been, the difficulty of effective collaboration on a document. When everything is created with an application on your machine (often with you storing the files on your machine) it's hard to work on a document with someone else. There are ways round it - splitting up the document, version control etc, but wouldn't it be fantastic to have two people working on the same document at once?

Well, there is a pretty impressive suite of business apps at www.zoho.com, one of them is an online word processor. Just starting the application makes you realise that this isn't a cut-down web-based alternative to MS Word, this is a serious application in it's own right. 

But the feature I love about this application is the ability to invite users to share the document with you and allow them to work on it simultaneously in real time. 

Have you ever been working on a proposal and due to resource limitations had to email a copy of a document to several contributors and then spend another half day (or night) inserting it into the final proposal template and re-formatting it?

Or when you are in a hurry to get the document complete and you need to make changes to a section whilst someone else works on another section...whilst someone else is proofreading...

The opportunity for a genuine collaborative tool such as this to cut down time on proposal writing is massive.  There are other toosl - document history and the ability to go offline with documents (and the application) for work away from the web and synchronisation when you return online.

Combine this with online chat or Skype; use the new Google Chrome web browser and save Zoho Writer as an application on your desktop and this is what the web is about. This is what collaboration is all about.  

This can only make your proposal writing easier and your proposals better.

This is where we are now and for sure there are some features that we need from MS Word that are missing (mail merge for example). At the moment I'll be writing proposals in MS Word using the Learn to Write Proposals "Proposal Accelerator" and using Zoho for the collaborative elements but how much longer before we don't need to buy that expensive word processing application any more.

I'll be discussing how you can get some of my favorite and free time-saving, proposal-helping applications soon here in my blog. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Where to start with a proposal?

Proposal writing can be a scary thing. I remember the first time that I was asked to write a proposal...I hadn't got a clue where to start. I didn't know what content should be put it there, how it should be formatted let alone how to develop some win themes and a customer benefits-driven message.

Fortunately I got better at it over the years and wanted to be able to help those new sales people, bid team members and project managers...eveyone who gets asked to write or contribute to a proposal who doesn't know where to start.

I would have loved to have the opportunity to have good tools to help prepare that first proposal, indeed many later proposals. That's what I've done. I've made available tools and resources to help get new people started and established proposal writers improve.

Using the right tools is important. How much time have we all wasted, not managing the proposal development well (we are salespeople...how often do salespeople manage projects where you work?) not having the right content on hand (have you emailed colleagues asking for some text on that something-or-other project we did a couple of years ago?) and ending up a few days before the proposal has to be submitted eating cold pizza and drinking warm Coke at 12:30 am trying to get it finished.

I always thought there was a better way, that wouldn't cost $1,000's to get access to. Something for the micro, small or medium sized business.

There is now...Learn to Write Proposals. And plently of the content, including this blog on writing proposals better proposals and learning how to write better proposals is free for everyone.

It's not going to cover only the content and resources at www.learntowriteproposals.com (though it will sometimes) and if there are topics you'd like me to discuss let me know.

Otherwise, I hope that you get something useful from my posts.