When wildebeests propose

(No, this is NOT a post about wildebeest mating rituals. If that is your interest, go here. This is a post about how businesses develop sales proposals that they send to other businesses. This process has its own rituals, but they are not studied by biologists.)

Bredemarket isn’t my first time working as a contractor.

I still remember a night in October 1994. I had been contracting for several firms, and had just started a new contracting assignment in Anaheim, in an oddly shaped triangular building. I was contracting with a company’s Proposals Department, despite the fact that I had never written a proposal before. I had once helped to write a Request for Proposal, but that RFP was pretty much just a checklist.

As a contractor, I was paid by the hour, so I didn’t mind the fact that I was asked to work extra hours that October evening. While the actual employees were feverishly working on a response to a state-issued RFP, I was tasked with writing sole source proposal letters for things I had never heard of before that day. So there I was, writing letters that explained the “Input Station 2000” and the “Latent Station 2000” and things like that.

I continued contracting after that night, and eventually became an employee of the company as a proposal writer. I spent over five years writing about Input Stations and Latent Stations and Search Processors and amazingly small Fingerprint Processor boards, and after a while I even knew what I was writing about. I still remember my joy when I mentally had an understanding of RAID.

After my five years in Proposals, I stayed with the company in another role (product manager) through two corporate acquisitions, and after the second corporate acquisition I rejoined the Proposals organization, spending another five years there. And even after I left Proposals for the second time, I continued to contribute to proposals afterwards. My flying pig did a lot of flying.

I have continued to do proposals work for Bredemarket, helping a firm develop standard proposal templates that its salespeople can use.

But Bredemarket also writes its OWN proposals, which is how Bredemarket gets some of its business.

You’ve heard the saying about eating your own dog food. That statement bored me, so I started talking about eating your own iguana food. Eventually I tired of iguanas and pivoted to wildebeests.

Black wildebeest. By derekkeats – Flickr: IMG_4955_facebook, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14620744

Whether dog, iguana, or wildebeest, you get a slightly different perspective on proposals when you’re writing them for yourself.

But only a SLIGHTLY different perspective. After all, you’re still promoting a product or service, and still communicating benefits to a potential customer. That remains true whether the proposal was written on behalf of Printrak, MorphoTrak, Bredemarket, or one of Bredemarket’s clients.

But things are still a little different when you’re proposing for yourself and your service.

For one, the approval cycle is streamlined. As part of a multinational corporation, the MorphoTrak proposal approval cycle was relatively complex, even after my boss took extreme steps to simplify it. If MorphoTrak was going to release a $20 million dollar proposal, there was a good chance that someone at MorphoTrak’s corporate parent in France was going to have a seat at the approval table.

Now I’ll admit that Bredemarket has never issued a $20 million dollar proposal. Because of this, all of the proposals that Bredemarket has issued have only required a single approver.

Even then, however, you may have to wait a day to get that proposal approved. After all, the proposal approver is a strong practitioner of the “let’s sleep on it” school, and usually comes back with revised proposal ideas a day later after sleeping on it.

For example, let’s take a recent proposal that Bredemarket submitted to a potential client. The proposal was pretty much done, but the “sleep on it” interval had to take place before it was re-examined the next morning. I incorporated my new ideas (my dreams?) into the text, and then I printed a copy of the proposal for one last review.

A few minutes later, the printed copy was filled with changes.

So I made the changes, printed the new final version, and reviewed it one more time.

And added more markups, resulting in changes.

In the end, the proposal exceeded the three review cycles common in some of my offerings. And I probably could have reviewed it one or two more times, but I wanted to get the proposal out the door.

And even as I emailed the proposal to the potential client, I realized that proposals are often iterative, and that my potential client may have some requests for changes, resulting in a proposal modification.

Or maybe more than one proposal modification.

Back when I was at MorphoTrak, I regarded a proposal modification as a sign of failure. It meant that we didn’t get it right the first time, and therefore MorphoTrak would have to spend money to issue a revised proposal, and perhaps a re-revised proposal, and perhaps more. At the time MorphoTrak appended a letter to its revised proposals – “a” for the first revision, “b” for the second revision, etc. To my knowledge MorphoTrak never issued a “z” proposal revision, but we did go fairly deep in the alphabet.

By Serg!o – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83494916

From my present perspective, I’m a little more welcoming of proposal revisions. It’s an admission that I don’t know everything about the client, although I can hazard a guess as to what the client needs.

Remember Bredemarket’s client who needed standard proposal templates? Well, my own proposal to that client went through a few revisions, even after the original contract was finally approved. There weren’t any huge overhauls in the original proposal content, but there were a few things here and there that needed to be tweaked so that both parties were satisfied.

While I’ve had some successful proposals, some of Bredemarket’s proposals to potential clients did not result in business. (Yet.) These potential clients, for various reasons, decided not to pursue business with me.

Of course, this is true of any proposals organization. No proposal team that I know of has sustained 100% success over an extended period, although I know of one team that won the majority of its competitive bids over a 2 to 3 year period.

But the wildebeest continues to hone his own proposal skills, while using what he learns to benefit future clients.