Your Top Ten Business Proposal Challenges, Part I

Olessia Smotrova-TaylorWe at Quote Roller couldn’t wait to jump on Olessia Smotrova-Taylor‘s webinar last week, live from the Association of Proposal Management Professional’s Bid & Proposal Con this week in Atlanta. Olessia has an outstanding background in the grants and business proposal world. She is now the president and CEO of OST Global Solutions, where she not only acts as a consultant, helping companies looking to better develop their business, but she also researches common themes all business proposal writers share, whether for big business, government or us growing SMBs.

With all this experience, Olessia has been able to notice some themes of Common Challenges that proposal-writing teams of all different sizes are looking to overcome — and some of them might surprise you. So, let’s jump right in and she what she had to say about how to overcome the Top Ten Proposal Challenges!

Olessia, with her decades of experience, says that the challenges haven’t really changed — across government and commercial marketplaces, around the world, these challenges seems to be plaguing us all. However, the results surprised even the experienced Olessia for what it didn’t include…

Folks aren’t finding challenges in:

  • working in remote environments — it seems that technology and business proposal software has allowed the more frequently freelancing world to function as well as always
  • lay-offs and understaffing — especially in the federal and U.S. markets — haven’t seen a cut in staff hurting their proposal writing process

Before we get into counting down those challenges, let’s start with a Golden Tip that Olessia thinks can act as a cure for many proposal challenges: Create a checklist with specific deadlines. Now, for that list!

Challenge #10: Repeating Mistakes

“People observe lessons, but learning from them takes a concerted effort.” When you continue to repeat the same mistakes and continue to lose bids, the result — besides a loss in much-needed revenue — is demoralizing your team.

This doesn’t mean going around the room, asking people to point fingers at the culprits. Olessia says that the best way to avoid this bad type of recycling errors is to collect structured feedback:

  • ask detailed questions about the business proposal
  • ask everyone to be candid and honest
  • don’t play the blame game

Then, once you’ve looked back, start to look forward. Post the lessons learned in a common area that everyone can see. Make sure to review the lessons you learned right before starting a new business proposal.

Remember, while overcoming mistakes increases your winning rate, the main purpose of this exercise is actually team building — your proposal and your business as a whole is only as strong as your team.

Challenge #9: Copy, Paste, Don’t Consider the Client, Repeat

“Using boilerplate [text] is as OK as using someone else’s toothbrush.” Disgusting but eloquently put by Olessia. In services, there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter client, so you shouldn’t create cookie-cutter proposals because they certainly won’t be client-focused.

Of course, we all recycle at least some of our business proposal content. Olessia gives a few tricks of What to Do:

  • Read (and re-read) every section of the proposal to check if the content is “rotten” (doesn’t apply specifically to this customer.)
  • Make sure you are sure that it is exactly what this customer needs to hear at this time in this set of situations.
  • Try not to get stuck on writing quality — look for substance above all else.

And what Not to Avoid:

  • cutting and pasting
  • off-topic writing
  • bland fillers, lack of substance, double-talk, excessive jargon
  • missing how you are going to deliver (reuse old toothbrush)
  • not including benefits language

Olessia says you best adhere to these guidelines by planning ahead, creating a checklist of assumed client questions to answer, making sure it complies if your are responding to a request for proposal (RPF.)

Then, you need to organize the sections in an order that presents your company and its services in the most persuasive manner to respond to the client’s needs.

Challenge #8: Poorly staffing the proposal

This is simply about two things: First, making sure the best possible people are creating the proposal. Yes, your technical people are good at technical things, but the proposal needs to be written in a persuasive manner that sells the benefit of that technology or service. It’s important to assign writing the business proposal to someone who can focus on solving client needs.

Then, make sure you pick the right team to present within the proposal. You need to make sure your colleagues suit the criteria needed to do the job. Often, we know our colleagues have uni or masters degrees and maybe what they studied, but we don’t what specifically they studied or if they’ve completed any other professional training or certifications. Many of us use the same standard bios for each proposal. The problem in doing so is that you risk losing a client because they think your team doesn’t meet the requirements, while they just might. It’s important to consider the criteria when drafting this part of the proposal to best present not only your service but your staff as a solution for your client. (And, if you are using a business proposal software, it can’t hurt to include some smiling photos in there, too.)

Olessia recommends that even before deciding to write a business proposal and to throw a bid in, it’s a good idea to go ahead and make a matrix of the client’s requirements versus what your staff can do — it doesn’t make sense to put an effort into something you cannot win.

Challenge #7: Guessing price

“If you have no idea how to price it — do yourself and favor and don’t bid!” Olessia says that, surprisingly, it’s not uncommon for folks to spend time sending out business proposals that are blind even in pricing. We cannot agree enough that you shouldn’t waste your time on something you’re out of the running to get. Plus, no one thinks you should be negotiating your price below your value.

Olessia says that proposal managers tend to focus on technical, staffing and time needs, while thinking they don’t need to focus on cost management. “One cannot ignore the ultimate deciding factor between winning and losing,” she points out, calling operating in the dark where pricing is concerned irresponsible and naive. She says, when necessary, the business proposal manager must look at developing a “price-to-win strategy” and be involved in tweaking the solutions to lower the price.

She also says that knowing what the competition is offering can be a valid way to counter the price objection. The proposal manager needs to make sure that the cost and technical volume agree. If you are already at the “lowest price technically acceptable,” then you can counter your low-balling competition by pointing out that it’s impossible that their work will be up to standards. This is when quality should really stand out against an absurdly low price.

Look back on Monday for the second part of the top ten business proposal challenges you and your team are facing. Can you guess what are in the top six?





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