Two truths and no lies, the proposals edition

(Updated 4/18/2022 with additional customer focus information.)

You’re probably familiar with “two truths and a lie,” where a person makes three statements and you have to guess which of the three is a falsehood.

As part of my ongoing efforts to update the Bredemarket website, I just updated my “Bredemarket and proposal services” page. Among other things, it now contains two BOLD CAPITALIZED truths…and no lies.

I’ll be the first to admit that these truths, picked up during my time in the proposals industry, are in no way unique to me. Many other people have shared them frequently, and I’ve heard both of these truths shared in the last month alone on a recent proposal engagement.

But I suspect that some people are not aware of these truths, so I thought I’d share them.

Truth Number One

Here’s the first of the two truths from my “Bredemarket and proposal services” page.

THE CUSTOMER DOESN’T CARE ABOUT HOW WONDERFUL YOUR FIRM IS.

From https://bredemarket.com/bredemarket-and-proposal-services/

Allow me to use an example that won’t impact any of my work with my clients.

Mark owns a meat company that provides meat to restaurants and other food services. Carlos owns a taco truck and needs meat for his tacos. The meat has to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration and California state standards, needs to meet Carlos’ own standards, and needs to be delivered every day at 7:00 am so that Carlos can get his taco truck on the road.

So when Mark approaches Carlos, this is what he says:

Guasti Meat was established on February 23, 1947 in Guasti, California by Michael Smith, a butcher who was originally born in Nowata, Oklahoma. The company was headquartered in Guasti for 17 years before moving to its current facility in Colton, California. Our main building occupies 97,526 feet of floor space and incorporates Guasti Meat’s color scheme, which was established by Morton Smith Jr., an artist and nephew of the founder who has also produced designs for Enron, Kodak, Montgomery Ward, and other well-known firms. We employ 250 personnel, all of whom are entitled to post-secondary educational benefits. We sell meat to over 1,000 customers in 17 U.S. states.

Did Mark ask Carlos about what Carlos likes to see in the meat he purchases?

Did Mark ask Carlos where the meat should be delivered?

No.

Mark’s attitude was that if he shared these important facts about Guasti Meat, Carlos would be so impressed that he would immediately start to do business with such a respectable company.

This is obviously ridiculous, but many companies act in the same fashion when writing proposals. When they write their executive summaries, the first thing that they talk about is themselves.

Who cares?

(4/18/2022: For additional information on customer focus, click here.)

The customer has their OWN problems that they need to solve. Tell the customer how you will solve them.

Truth Number Two

Here’s the second truth from the page.

PROPOSAL EVALUATORS DO NOT READ PROPOSALS.

From https://bredemarket.com/bredemarket-and-proposal-services/

Before I ever wrote a single proposal for Printrak, I actually helped write a Request for Proposal (RFP) for another company. Now frankly it was a pretty simple RFP, in which the respondents merely had to check items in a checklist to indicate whether the respondents’ software packages could do what we wanted. Even with the short responses that we as evaluators had to read, we didn’t spend much time on them.

  1. Did the respondent check every single box? Well, obviously they didn’t read the requirements carefully, because no one does everything. Let’s not look at them.
  2. Did the respondent ignore all of the boxes and write a separate description? Well, if they don’t have time to answer our questions, let’s not look at them either.
  3. How many companies are left? Two? OK, we’ll talk to them.

And that was the evaluation time that was spent on simple proposal responses. How much time do you think evaluators will spend evaluating one of Bredemarket’s recent projects, in which I contributed to a 1,000-page proposal that had hundreds upon hundreds of requirements? Remember that evaluators have to read these responses for ALL of the proposals that are submitted.

The proposal team for this project wrote our responses as follows:

  • In the first part of every requirement response, make sure that we explicitly say that we comply. That way, even if the evaluator only spends ten seconds reading our response, the evaluator will at least know that we claim compliance.

“If the evaluator only spends ten seconds reading our response”?

Yes.

After all, the evaluators have to read ALL of the material in OUR proposal, plus ALL of the material in all the OTHER proposals. They’re not going to have the luxury to spend an inordinate amount of time, such as five minutes, reading each single response. The evaluators are going to plow through the responses as quickly as possible.

Because of this, our writing team also did the following:

  • Use the RFP language in your response.

I gave an example on my page:

Oh, and if the customer refers to a “product demonstration,” then your proposal had better use the exact words “product demonstration.” If you say that you will provide a “capabilities presentation,” the customer will not see the words THEY were looking for and may conclude that you refuse to provide the product demonstration that they want.

From https://bredemarket.com/bredemarket-and-proposal-services/

Let’s face it; if an evaluator is only spending ten seconds on your response, the evaluator is going to look at the RFP requirement that says “product demonstration,” and then skim your response for the words “product demonstration.”

If the evaluator immediately finds those specific words in your response, then the evaluator is happy, marks compliance, and moves on to the next requirement to see how you complied with that one.

If the evaluator doesn’t find those specific words in your response, then the evaluator has to stop, think, and read the words that you used in your response.

  • If you’re lucky, the evaluator will see your words “capabilities presentation,” conclude that you meant to say “product demonstration,” and grudingly give you credit while cussing you out for making the evaluation harder.
  • If you’re NOT lucky, the evaluator will miss your words “capabilities presentation,” conclude that you have NOT committed to a product demonstration, give you no points, regret the ten seconds of life that were lost, and then move on to the next response and wonder if you aren’t compliant with that one either.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but you want your proposal evaluator to LIKE you, not HATE you. Make the evaluator’s job easier.

The rest of the story

These two truths are only part of the new content on my Bredemarket and proposal services page. I also incorporated updated proposal statistics in the brochure at the top of the page, expressed a few other opinions about proposal work (while restraining myself from writing much, much, more). and borrowing some text from this post to beef up the examples of proposal deliverables at the bottom of the page.

So viewers of the Bredemarket and proposal services page will now have updated information about the number of projects I have completed, the services I have offered, and the truths to which I hold.

Now I just have to remember to update my project list on this and other pages on a regular basis.

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