Sunday, November 30, 2008

So do salespeople make good bid writers

This is a follow up to my last post here and some thoughts on whether salespeople don't like writing proposals and why.

I think that this comes down partly to personality types and skillsets. Many salespeople are great at face-to-face relationship selling. They are great at following their structured SPIN or Solution Selling process and getting the client to where they want them to be.

Then the client asks for a proposal. Not unreasonable as they have to sell the solution to their bosses and the holders of the purse strings. That's when some salespeople say "great" and mean it - they know they can write a killer proposal. Other salespeople say something else, because they know they struggle to convey their sales message in the written word.

This may be a hangup from school - that although they are a "people person" they weren't strong academically and can't spell well (yes it happens); it may be the way that some salespeople have climbed up the greasy pole that is a career in sales - they've always been in front of people, thinking on their feet, sensational at overcoming objections but seriously uncomfortable when the close results in being required to be back in the office writing words that aren't part of a dialogue.

So are different skills required to be a salesperson and/or a bid writer. Yes, undoubtedly. But that doesn't mean that some people can't be great at both, but great salespeople want to be with the clients.

In smaller organisations everyone on the management team can be responsible for sales - they simply have to get on the phone, meet clients, write the proposals etc to stay in business...and at some level this is true in every organisation. But as the organisation gets larger a salesperson is hired to do the leg-work of finding leads, prospects and clients - and fulfilling the entire sales cycle. 

It's only later that as the organisation grows that thoughts start leaning towards having a designated bid writer. Yet the Capability Maturity Model for Business Development shows us that the better processes and structure that we have, the better our proposals and results will be.

But as more and more clients require written proposals, shouldn't we think about ensuring that our salespeople have this structure and support early on? OK I'm not saying that for an organisation with 6 people 3 of them should be a bid team, but there's no reason why a structured approach to sales and proposal development can't be in place.

In fact, as most small companies need those sales and a structured process would help get more work isn't it important that they do? That would help the salesperson spend their time doing what they need to do - be seeing clients. It would help them get proposals prepared quicker. And those proposals would be better proposals and win more work.

Sounds too good to be true? No. That's what Learn to Write Proposals is about.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interesting question...and answers

Thanks to proposal expert Chris Whyatt of Practical Bid Solutions who asked a question to the combined minds of LinkedIn - it was this:

Producing a proposal for a prospective customer is the stage of the sales process that most sales people dislike/avoid the most? True (If so, why?) or False?

My experience (based on nearly 10 years of running Practical Bid Solutions and 20 more is sales) is that sales people hate proposals, either proactive (no ITT / RFP etc) or reactive (with ITT / RFP etc) because a/ they get little support from their employers b/ they are not trained to do it, and finally c/ their writing skills are probably rusty.

It's a good question, as many people who are great persuaders in a face-to-face setting can't do the same when they have to put pen to paper. That's why people like Chris exist and why Learn to Write Proposals exists - to try and help people and businesses improve their proposals and win more work.

(Oh, and by the way - I have no affiliation with Chris or Practical Bid Solutions but plenty of respect).

I hope no-one minds me revealing some of the highlights to the wider world. Here are my favorite two answers to the question - If you want to know more then go to LinkedIn and search for Chris and view his questions. 

I think this is true but only in part. Proposals and ITT / RFP's are often significant endeavours involving many man days of effort not just from the sales person, but also from many people from other parts of an organisation, for example pre-sales, delivery, legal, support, etc., etc. To put a high quality response together involves coordinating, leading and bringing together the efforts of a virtual team, many of whom are focused on other things. 

The talents that lead a person in to sales, and which help them excel there, are different from the talents required to project manage and respond to a proposal, diligently follow a bid process, assess/balance resource effort and commercial risk against the reward the endeavour may bring - if it proves ultimately successful. 

On top of that Sales Management usually expect a sales person to maximise their customer contact time. Sales people are expected to be out in front of customers, not back in the office, coordinating and writing. If they spend too much time at it it can, ultimately, be to their career peril.

And another...

Sales people put their priority where they have more probability to win. This means, working with customers they already have a developed and good business relation and selling company solutions that are habitual. 
Your question is absolutely the opposite from these two previous factors, which means increasing the risk from loosing a lot of time and at the end, not closing the business. Why? The prospective sale cycle is not known by the sales person, the customer needs and decisions makers, either. The Sales person has to teach everything about its company, the product and create connection with the customer, all this involves a lot of effort. Additionally, a sales person knows that is easier to sell and have a happy recurrent customer if the solution is a usual one from the company’s portfolio. 

At the end is it all “Time x winning probability x Amount of business” and a good sales person knows how to make these calculations. 

Getting away from this opportunity is probably the best decision a Sales Person can do, because at the end the opportunity cost will be huge from not working in other businesses where the sales person has better position

I'll be giving my thoughts to this question in my next blog because there are a lot of important issue that this question (and the answers) raises. 

Once we've analysed this a little more maybe we can find a way of making writing proposal slightly less painful for our salespeople.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buy later

So we had our mini-budget (if it could be called such a thing) and it seemed to me to be a buy now, pay later scheme...though admittedly slightly more sophisticated than that.

And many businesses will have thought "how does this help me get through the next 12 months?" to which I thought - well we want to make our situation better, but is our model of working much more sophisticated than buy now, pay later. I'm thinking about how we write proposals.

There is a tendency sometimes to throw mud at a wall when it comes to proposal writing. Write proposals and hope that a few of them stick. It's heavy investment in a sales or bid team that writes proposals when you know that you won't win all of them. But you need to win some to stay in business and pay for that time and investment in the sales process.

So what can we do to make things better for ourselves?
  • It would be nice if we could produce better proposals for starters - that's got to help a little more of that mud stick. 
  • Produce our proposals quicker (but not if it's going to hurt quality) so that we can send more proposals to potential new clients or spend more time giving better service existing accounts (and trying to help them stay in business). 
  • Qualify leads better and quicker. Don't keep wasting time on that lead that doesn't have a prospective  piece of business at the end of it.
There are other things of couse, but if we could do that we mght have a chance to look after our existing clients better, spend time only on opportunities that might benefit us and respond better to those opportunities.

It's not only the budget that made me think about this - it's why I started Learn to Write Proposals and developed tools and methodologies that enable you to do just that. 

Isn't that what you want to be able to do?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Template and e-book available for free download

As promised, there's a free e-book and template available for download from Learn to Write Proposals. We've created a simple, contemporary looking template and the accompanying e-book shows you how we did it and let's you create your own.

Feel free to use it, edit it, distribute it - just don't try and make money out of it. If you want more comprehensive templates and guidance text to help you complete your proposal, then visit our online shop or become a lifetime member of Learn to Write Proposals.

You can download the template and e-book here:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Creating a business proposal template

One of the common questions I get asked and some of the commonest proposal related search queries are about proposal templates. Everyone wants a proposal template...preferably free! Well, I have some news there...soon I will be making a free simple proposal template available via the Learn to Write Proposals website. My other news is that I'm going to give you  the steps you need to make your own proposal template and use it effectively.

A good proposal template is useful because, even if it changes later, it gives you the initial structure that you need to insert your content. It's also useful because if your template really is good, then it will save you an awful lot of time and problems with formatting at a later date.

So here's what you need to do to create your proposal template. These are pretty much the same steps whether or not you use MS Word or OpenOffice Writer:

Open up a new document and name it straight away (as a template file, not a document file)
Set up the styles for each proposal element. How to do this? Simple go to the menu, select styles and formatting and edit the properties of the element that you need to change.

Here's an example. How do you want each section heading to look? Write some text (for example ("Executive Summary") in your word document, then adjust the Font, shading, border, indent - anything that you want to make the heading look like you would want it in your proposal. 

Then in the Styles and Formatting bar, click on the style (Use Heading 1) and click on "update to match selection". The style is then just like you have created it. 

Do this for again for heading 2, heading 3, normal, bulleted and numbered. I fact any other proposal element that you night need. Remember to set the numbering for the heading styles-  X for heading 1, X.X for heading 2 and X.X.X for heading 3.

Next think about front page look - and create an attractive layout.  Remember to use the headers and footer to use graphical and text elements that you want throughout the document.

Always save this file as a template, not a document.

Check back here soon and I'll have a link to an e-book showing the step by step process of creating a proposal template - including the basic sections you need in your proposal.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More on open source software - keeping costs down

We all need to keep costs down at the moment, so let's look at some tools that you can use to write proposals that keep the costs down - In fact, they don't cost anything.

Let's look at what you really need to do when writing a proposal. It's usually a mixture of text and graphics, with maybe some numerical tables in there too. So first and foremost we need a good word processor. MS Word is still the best (and I still use it), but we all know that MS Office is anything but free. But there are good alternatives, that whilst not doing everything Word does, can sometimes do the things that Word can't do - and these days the document formats are completely transportable.

Graphics applications. Let's be honest - free graphics applications used to be crap. In fact most free software did. If you wanted to do graphics stuff you needed Corel Draw and Photoshop (OK, so I'm going back a bit). Not anymore. There are free graphics packages out there that give you all the functionality you need to create your proposal graphics, if not to satisfy the whims of the out and out graphic designer. Here's a big tip - use proper diagram creation software for your diagrams and stop fiddling around with the terrible drawing features in Word. You'll have more easily re-usable diagrams, more control over them in your documents and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble when it comes to consistent formatting and making them look good.

Sometimes we may need to have an online meeting with bid teams or clients. Want a free alternative to WebEx? OK, it may miss out some of the top features unless you are  in the paid version, but DimDim is good enough for the Learn to Write Proposals free consultations, which means it's pretty good.

The free and open source market is mature and is full of good products that don't fall over every time you click on something. Take the leap of faith and start using some of them - you may take convincing to buy the commercial equivalent again.

Office applications - online office applications. Google Docs is another that will allow you to share and collaborate with others on a single document at the same time. I prefer the greater functionality and product set of Zoho - it's very feature rich for an online application and allows to to also use it offline.  - office suite. OK - I admit that I still use MS Word, but that is the only Microsoft Office application that I use as there are some functions that Word provides (especially Proposal Accelerator - maybe I should create a version for Open Office?)  that still makes it the best word processor around. As for the rest of it, Open Office is more than powerful enough for me. - pdf maker. Need to create a .pdf file - this is the best tool to do it free, with no adware. Works as a Windows printer driver (so you can use it from virtually any application) and has lots of features including quality settings, watermarks and more.

Graphics applications  - photo image editing. I used to be a Photoshop user, now I just use this - it has more than enough features for what I need and I find it very easy to use. Only downside is that you need to install Microsoft's .net framework on your computer first. - diagramming software. An alternative to Visio if you need to create  flowcharts and basic diagrams. I always recommend creating these graphics separately and then inserting them as a graphic in MS Word - it gives you far greater control and will save you time in the long run. There is also a very usable drawing/diagramming programme in the full install of Open Office.

FastStone Capture  - screen capture. (Last free version here) Don't underestimate the usefulness of a screen capture tool to instantly make new images from your desktop - this programme is just great! I use the last free version (5.3). It has all the features I need.

Web conferencing This is a great free service that allows you to hold online meetings, web conferences, product demonstrations etc.  I use it for the Learn to Write Proposal free 1 hour consultations. 

Want something else? Then check here: 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tribes in proposal production

Seth Godin (and if you don't know him you should, though I admit sometimes he can try too hard inventing the cliches for the next marketing generation) has just released his free e-book which is a series of Q&As about how effective "tribes" are. Tribes are one of Godin's concepts - communities with leaders and followers - and rules - that can drive ideas. 

So can tribes help proposal development? There are the tools available now to potentially create tribes - you don't need to look further that Facebook , Myspace or perhaps more appropriate to bid writers, LinkedIn (if you aren't a member, why not?).

Is the Association of Proposal Management Profesionals a tribe - sure - and it helps through the dissemination of best practice throughout the industry. But what about in your organisation? Can we make a tribe out of the bid team.

Part of the problem with bid teams is that some of the peripheral members, who have a minor contribution to the finished work don't have the buy in - they see themselves as part of another team, who unfortunately has to squeeze in 30 minutes extra work to "give the sales guy some text".  OK - so it's no always like that, but why can't we get enthusiasm when asking for help on our proposals.

The proposal kick-off meeting can help - the tone of it being upbeat about the potential project. It needs to be prepared - it's not a 'let's brainstorm' (read "fantasize" - I'll cover more on brainstorming later).  It should be an allocation of ownership - people who feel ownership of their part are more likely to feel part of the tribe. Maybe have the meeting off site. I know it's only a short meeting, but try a coffee shop. The person who site at their desk all day might start welcoming the opportunities to work on the bid team as it gets them out of the office every now and then...who knows they might want to start writing content for you. 

Buy in, ownership, leading, tribes. It's all about getting the desire of those your are working with and leading to be as committed to the same goals your are.

And remember, as in any tribe...all the members share in the success. So do your proposal writing well (remember that you can find out how to do it better at and plan on taking another trip (maybe somewhere better than the coffee shop) when the work is won. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

What wins work?

It's the obvious question...what do I really have to do in order to win the work.

You may think that you are doing everything right. You've done your homework, worked up a relationship with the client, done your bid/no bid analysis and qualified the opportunity. Everything seems good...but sometimes we get caught up in things and forget the basics.

Basics such as answering the questions. Maybe this blog entry should be entitled what doesn't win work because this is about something that can sometimes get overlooked. There is more than one large organisation out there who spent a lot of time, effort and money preparing the groundwork for a large piece of work that they thought that they would have a good chance of winning, yet not only did they not get the work, they were dismissed by the commissioning organisation at the pre-qualification stage.

Why? That's easy - they didn't answer the questions properly. It's unusual to be writing a proposal an not refer to the RFP to make sure that the proposal is answering the questions - not so unusual that the questions aren't answered fully or in a persuasive manner - but a PQQ is often left to a junior member of the team who just cuts and pastes from other documents. It can be a costly error to not even get invited to tender for an opportunity that suits your business strategy.

The moral of this story. Take care and take time to check that what you are doing is in fact what you were supposed to be doing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is showing value that hard?

Maybe demonstrating value is hard - there's lots of proposals out there that never demonstrate good value.

What is value? Value is showing the customer that what you are selling is worth more to them than what it costs to buy it.

So why do so many proposals stop at just showing the client what it costs to buy it? Go that one step further and show them how much money you can save them or how much time you can save them. Put a value on it (get the information from the client, if you know them well enough) and work out the return on investment.

Showing a client how they can make or save money could be the key to keeping you in business. Use it.