Mel Lester wades into advice on proposal presentation for public sector work in response to Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in a recent blog posting. In this space, you will often encounter abbreviations and acronyms such as SOQ.
After doing a double take — what the heck is an SOQ — I realized that both the clients and proposers in this space will certainly know what these words mean, though Lester points out that many professional service businesses seeking to win work fail to turn these words into client-focused meaningful language, instead relying on the usual company-centric boilerplate.
His advice in dealing with the wording here:
Connect with the client’s broader needs and goals. There is no difference between an RFQ and an RFP in this respect—they are both driven by the client’s needs. Differing needs motivate the client to package several projects under a single contract rather than individual contracts. Different expectations influence the client’s assessment of the A/E firm’s performance under an IDC compared to a single-project contract. Assuming you have uncovered these critical success factors, be sure to address them in your SOQ. In particular, consistently point out how your project experience, project team, and other qualifications are directly relevant to the client’s needs.
Always include a compelling executive summary. This enables you to distill the essence of your SOQ with a particular focus on the client. The basic message of your executive summary is this: “You said you had these needs and wanted these outcomes; here’s how our qualifications are a perfect fit for you.” Don’t hesitate to include an executive summary because the RFQ didn’t ask for one. In my experience, this section of your submittal will almost always be read, often be read first, and commonly will be a factor in your selection.
Describe how you will optimize the working relationship. While you can’t describe your approach to a specific project, you can describe your approach to your relationship with the client. This is a critical success factor that is commonly overlooked in A/E firm SOQs and proposals. To avoid the usual marketing hype, you’ll need to outline a formal process for defining and meeting the client’s service expectations. Besides the real advantages of having such a process, you’ll also benefit from likely being the only firm to address this in your SOQ.
Describe how you will deliver quality, on-time projects. Sometimes the RFQ will ask you to include a description of your QA/QC process, and possibly other routine activities such as budgeting and scheduling. If not, you should briefly outline your project delivery process. The emphasis should not be on internal procedures as much on how you ensure the client receives what they want. Of course, this advice is hard to follow if you’ve never really defined your project delivery process.
Use personal language. If you use third person exclusively, as is common in our business, your SOQ will come across as impersonal. If you only use first person (we, us, our), it helps reinforce the impression that it’s all about you. Adding a generous helping of second person (you,your) puts the spotlight on the client where it belongs. Don’t discount the power of pronouns. Several studies going back to the 1960s have concluded that you is the most persuasive word in the English language.
Make your SOQ skimmable and easy to navigate. I can’t think of a much more boring reading assignment than reviewing a stack of A/E firm SOQs—can you? Help the client reviewers out by making your submittal user-friendly. This is the differentiator that no one talks about. Any important messages in your SOQ should be provided at the skim level; don’t make the client read for it. That means making ample use of boldface headings, bullets, graphics, and captioned photos.
Yes, you can still talk the talk and walk the walk of the bureaucrats and bean-counters who may initially review the proposals, but if you put yourself into their place, considering their pressures and the volume of documentation they must review with limited time and resources, you can still turn the experience into something more client-centric and palatable.
This advice isn’t rocket science, but certainly can help your win-rate.