Digging into the proposal process: A writer’s lesson

matt handal

Earlier this week, I received an email from someone I know through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). A project management company needed a RFP response draft to be edited — quickly. Would I be available, or could I recommend someone who could handle the task on short notice?

Underestimating the task at hand, I accepted the project, somewhat fearful that I had bitten off more than I could chew (and taken on a distracting “extra” when we are busy with our overall publishing enterprise). But I also saw it as an opportunity to participate in the proposal response process from an insider’s perspective. After all, while I’ve lived and worked in the construction marketing world for almost three decades, I’ve been a publisher, not a proposal writer.

Obviously, I won’t name our client or describe the project. However, I learned a few things during my intense day of work in fulfilling the order yesterday.

You can tell quite quickly in most cases if you have a real “go” for a proposal.

There were detailed evaluation criteria and requirements in the RFP document. Top the credit of my urgent-need client, the project checked all the critical “go” boxes. It certainly matched the responding business’s expertise and history. But most importantly, the company had completed successful projects with the RFP organization, staff with the responding organization and potential client had worked together before, and the project management company had the right specialized experience suited for the specific project.

In this situation, assuming that the RFP came forward with short notice turn-around requirements, it looked like a no-brainer to me to invest the time and effort in responding. While a “win” isn’t certain, it certainly is a reasonable possibility.

Architects, engineers, contractors and project managers can often do their technical work quite well, but many can’t write well.

Yuck. I couldn’t say much positive about the English language material I needed to edit. There were especially serious problems in the vital introductory paragraphs, but the whole 35 pages needed much editing. Here, I count my blessings in marrying a woman who also is an experienced writer/editor.? When she learned about the job, she offered to help out, and we divided the pages and collaborated for some of the more challenging sections, to complete the 24-hour-turnaround. (We’re also asking for more money because the scope of work turned out to be much larger than originally proposed. The client agrees.)

Hopefully, anyone preparing proposal documentation either has the in-house skills to convert the bad writing into clear, well-written text, or they have the foresight (as did our client) to contract out the work to qualified writers. I would dread having to read the words as they were originally prepared.

RFP responses are hard work. Be deliberate in handling them.

We only had a small part of the process in getting this RFP ready for release. Obviously, in-house staff had to gather the pieces to put together the writing task we were assigned. Others had to prepare the number-crunching and data, and then there is a long-list (best handled through a check-list system) of compliance requirements; all which must be completed within a tight deadline. This work is costly.

You will want to study, understand and truly streamline your proposal response systems and certainly only respond when you have a reasonable chance of succeeding, so a solid go/no go rule set must be in place. It’s expensive to fail — and if your think resources are diverted, you won’t be able to build the relationships and connections to succeed when you really need to go for it.

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