Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Free consultancy or a business proposal?

It's a trick used by some businesses that need a problem solving, but don't have real cash to solve the problem, or no real intention of starting a procurement.

What's the trick? To request business proposals from qualified organisations on how to solve their particular problem. They'll even have suppliers come in and talk about the problem, potential solutions and write those solutions in sales documents and proposals...all at the expense of the supplier, of course...and the buyer will never have any real intention of spending any money.

These organisations think they can take the advise of an expert and implement what they can do even though they obviously haven't got the capability. If they had they wouldn't find themselves with the problem in the first place.

Many organisations have found themselves dealing with non-buyers such as this. But what can you do about it, as a business responding to a request for information?

One key thing is not to give the family farm away in your bid. One way to do this when it seems that the organisation is after free consultancy is to make the consultancy subject to a proposal itself. This has two benefits. Firstly, you get paid for the consultancy work and secondly you find out if the buyer is serious about buying. The consultancy project helps define the specification for the major components of the project.

The other way round the problem is to ensure that your solution can demonstrate so much value that they can't afford not to do it...and make sure that there are components of the service that are proprietary - so they can't do it themselves.

Lastly, remember to qualify every opportunity throughout the sales process. Find out what the project budget is...if there isn't one, or it hasn't even been discussed, then that's a first sign that the organisation is fishing for ideas. Don't respond to a proposal at this stage - offer support in putting together a business case, but if they can't sign off 5 days consultancy to help define the project and put together a return on investment, they aren't going to spend big on a larger project either.

If you aren't sure how to qualify your opportunities, then get the Learn to Write Proposals Prospect Qualification Toolkit.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Contronyms, dangling modifiers and confusion. Keep them away from your business proposal.

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At Learn to Write Proposals we often make the same point - a proposal is designed to communicate and persuade. In order to do that you need to write clearly, so that the people reading your proposal, tender or sales document understand it.

OK - that much is simple and straightforward, isn't it? Though it's surprising how often the simple things get ignored!

It usually happens when we use overly technical language that is familiar to us, but not the client.

Sometimes though we can use perfectly innocent words, that might be taken out of context. Again, this is usually due to ambiguous writing and using such things as dangling modifiers where a word modifies the meaning of a sentence. These tend to be amusing:

"After being set alight for 10 minutes, John went to check on the barbecue"

But they cause a problem - they draw attention to the words and not the message.

Sometimes the words themselves are the problem, when they can mean completely different things:

"Jane decided it was time to trim the Christmas tree".

Is Jane adding to the tree or taking away. These words are contronyms - words that have different meaning. Usually the context for your writing in your proposal will make it clear, but don't make assumptions.

Remember that when you say these words your tone, inflection and context carry meaning that doesn't always make it onto the paper, so think carefully about your writing style and choice of words. Always write for your audience and their level of language and remember, you are trying to persuade - don't let the words get in the way of your communication.

Other contronyms:

Buckle - to secure or to collapse
Lease - to lend or to borrow
Out - to remove or to make public
Sanction - to permit or to restrict
Screen - to hide or to show
Weather - endure or decay

Lots more here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Are your proposals fit for purpose?

I hope not.

"Fit for purpose" is a dreadful phrase that screams mediocrity and belies a complete lack of aspiration.

It says "just get the job done, don't try and do more than you have to".

"Fit for purpose" is the war cry of those who don't want to do better.

It's OK to not want something over-engineered, but why not request and engineer the best possible within your constraints?

When you write a proposal, do you use "fit for purpose" as a winning strategy? Or indeed as one of your win themes?

When trying to win work we need to try our best, to excel, to rise far above "fit for purpose".

Everyone can produce a product "fit for purpose". What can you do to add something extra?

Yes, there is a financial cost to doing more than the bare minimum. But how many successful businesses are surviving because they aim to be fit for a King, not just fit for purpose.

If you compete only on price, remember that one day, someone will start doing the same "fit for purpose" thing you do for less.

Go beyond the minimum and demonstrate the value of being better.