I just re-rejoined the Association of Proposal Management Professionals. So what?

Remember my Tuesday post about the controversy regarding the possible name change of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals to the Association of Winning Business Professionals? And how the upcoming Denver conference of the organization (whatever its name is by October) might be…interesting?

By Billy Hathorn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11357434

Anyway, it turns out that I will have an inside view of all the brouhaha.

Why?

Because I have rejoined (actually RE-rejoined) the Association of Proposal Management Professionals. (Or at least that’s what the organization is called right now. The name may change, of course.)

Why does my renewed membership in the Association of Proposal Management Professionals matter to Bredemarket clients? And how can it benefit those who DON’T use Bredemarket for proposal services?

I’ll tell you why/how in this post.

So I re-rejoined the APMP

As I previously noted, this will be my third term as a member of the APMP (or, membership Version 3.0).

Covers from early APMP conference booklets, including the cover for the conference that I attended in San Diego in 1999. From https://www.apmp.org/page/ConferenceArchive
  • I initially joined the APMP while I was a proposal writer at Printrak, but I let my membership lapse when I became a product manager. I couldn’t justify having my employer pay for a proposal organization membership when I was a product manager who only occasionally contributed to proposals. (Although some of those proposals, such as West Virginia’s first state AFIS, were critical to the company.)
  • I subsequently rejoined the APMP when the initial MorphoTrak corporate reorganization resulted in my move from product management to proposal management. After joining in 2012, I (again) let my membership lapse in 2015 after I became a strategic marketing manager, because (again) I couldn’t justify having my employer pay for a proposal organization membership when I was a marketing manager who only occasionally contributed to proposals. (Although some of those proposals, such as Michigan’s first cloud AFIS, were critical to the company.)

Obviously, back in those days corporate reimbursement for professional memberships depended upon the policies of the corporation in question. Well, now I’m not an employee of a large corporation, so I don’t have to justify my memberships to a corporate supervisor or accountant. Instead, as a sole proprietor I have to justify my memberships to myself (and the Internal Revenue Service, and the California Franchise Tax Board).

And since much of Bredemarket’s consulting revolves around proposal services, it makes sense for me to re-rejoin the APMP.

But it turned out that I couldn’t just send money to the APMP and be done with it. As an ex-member, there was an additional step involved.

If you are a former member but cannot access your account, PLEASE: Do not register as a new member….If you cannot access your past email address, contact our Member Services team (or call +1 866/466-2767, then dial 0). Within one business day (or sooner), you will receive a link with which you can pay for a new membership using your existing account.

So I contacted APMP’s Member Services team, who associated my lapsed membership with my NEW email address.

And I paid my dues, time after time, I’ve done my sentence but committed no crime…whoops, I seem to have digressed from the discussion of my new APMP membership. But in my defense, I’m not the first to associate the old Queen song with the APMP.

Anyway, I’m now an APMP member…again.

Just call me 3143. (Want to fire up a copy of Microsoft Word 97 while you do that?)

The one big difference between APMP Membership Version 3.0 and Versions 1.0 and 2.0 is that these days I am not EXCLUSIVELY dedicated to proposals. After all, I am not only the (self-styled) biometric proposal writing expert, but also the biometric content marketing expert. (With similar expertise in marketing and writing for technology firms and general business firms.)

In fact, I guess you could say that I am a general expert in…winning business.

So what?

Since I spend so much of my time talking about benefits, I’m sure that some Bredemarket clients are asking about the benefits to THEM of my APMP/AWBP/whatever membership. Yes, this internal dialogue is taking place with some of you right now.

ME: “I am a member of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals again!”

YOU: “So what?”

Yours truly in a small group (I’m on the right) at the 2014 APMP Bid & Proposal Con in Chicago. Photo source: the gallery at https://www.apmp.org/events/event_photos.asp?eid=379324&id=130518 Fair use.

To answer this, I’ll state that my APMP membership will benefit my clients because I can provide them with superior services—superior proposal services, AND superior non-proposal services—that will help my clients to, um, win business. (As you’ve probably already noticed, I’ve found myself using those words a lot over the last few weeks.) My renewed affiliation with APMP will reintroduce me to beneficial outside education, general knowledge, and contacts.

  • For my Bredemarket clients who depend upon me for proposal support, the benefits are obvious. The things that I learn (and relearn) from APMP will help me provide better contributions to my clients’ proposals, hopefully helping the clients secure more proposal awards and business.
  • But there are benefits for my Bredemarket clients who DON’T depend upon me for proposal support, but instead depend upon me for content marketing or other marketing and writing services. The same strategies and tactics that contribute to a more effective proposal can be extrapolated to apply to other areas, thus contributing to better white papers, better case studies, better blog posts, better social media posts, better marketing plans, etc., etc., etc. Again, this can help my clients win business.

We’ll have to see exactly HOW my APMP membership directly benefits my Bredemarket clients.

Stay tuned.

My minority opinion on the APMP-AWBP brouhaha

About a month ago, the Association of Proposal Management Professionals posted this video on its YouTube channel.

It did not go over well.

Before discussing what the video said and why it’s controversial, I’ll explain my perspective on proposals, which helps to explain why I am happier about the move than some other people.

My five year itch, times two

Back in the summer of 1994 I had left my previous job and was consulting when I learned about an opportunity to write proposals for a company called Printrak. I had never written a proposal before, and the one Request for Proposal (RFP) that I had written basically consisted of a long checklist for which prospective vendors indicated what they could and couldn’t do. (Some vendors checked every box without reading them. None of them won the bid.)

I didn’t get that consulting opportunity, but Printrak had a second opportunity later in the year and I got that one. (Yes, proposal manager Laurel Jew was so outstanding that it took two people to replace her when she went on maternity leave.)

As it turned out, both myself and the other consultant ended up becoming employees at Printrak, and (if I may say so myself) valuable members of Printrak’s Proposals Department. The company was winning bids, and after a few years I joined the Association for Proposal Management Professionals, eventually going to the San Diego conference.

But after five years, I got an itch. (Five years, not seven years.)

By Published by Corpus Christi Caller-Times-photo from Associated Press – Corpus Christi Caller-Times page 20 via en:Newspapers.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37860629

I began to feel that there were limitations in proposals. The process that LEADS to a proposal is a long process; those familiar with the 96-step Shipley Business Development Process know that the Request for Proposal isn’t even released until around step 64. Yet in most cases, the proposals team didn’t even get involved until step 64, when the salesperson announced, “Hey, here’s an RFP. Win it.”

I wanted to move to the left of the timeline.

So I became a product manager.

I was a product manager for about a decade, but due to a corporate reorganization, I landed back in Proposals again. I enjoyed the work, and got to manage proposals for some new products, including my company’s first cloud solutions. My APMP membership had long since lapsed, but I rejoined the organization, ending up at the Chicago conference. I also participated in local chapter events, first via ESRI headquarters in Redlands, and later at my own company’s headquarters in Anaheim.

But after five years…I got the itch again.

This time I ended up in strategic marketing, and also performed significant work in product marketing, event marketing, and later competitive analysis and corporate strategy.

After leaving IDEMIA, I’ve found myself doing a variety of things, some of which involves proposal work. In some cases I’ve been confined to responding to RFPs or writing sole source letters, but at other times I’ve been able to perform more strategic duties that affect in the long term how companies…um, win business.

So from my perspective, the name change of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals to the Association of Winning Business Professionals appealed to me. There are a variety of ways to win business, and proposals is just one of them. From my perspective, it even tied in to past APMP efforts, including the 2013 creation of the Center for Business Development Excellence.

So I was delighted with the news.

But others weren’t.

The majority opinion on the APMP-ABWP brouhaha (but is it truly the majority?)

In this section of my post, I will be quoting liberally from a petition entitled “Call to stop rebranding and to commission an external audit.”

Note that this isn’t just a call to stop the rebranding. It’s one thing to object to an organization’s decision. It’s another thing when there’s a demand for “an external audit.” Money talks.

This is the expressed opinion of a number of APMP members. As you’ll see below, it’s not necessarily the opinion of ALL of the APMP members. Nevertheless, the petition writers are not happy.

To set the stage, the video at the beginning of my blog post appeared with great fanfare on June 21….and appears to be a surprise to the petition writers and the APMP members in general.

The APMP Board of Directors (BoD) led by the CEO (‘the Leadership Team’) has attempted to change APMP’s long-established name, brand, and positioning – the name change undermines the very purpose of the organization and the voluntary work that many of us have done over more than 20 years to promote the profession of proposal management….They announced this fundamental ‘rebrand’ through a faceless, poorly crafted 2-minute-video on social media. When members began airing their concerns on the very same platforms, the Leadership Team largely refused to openly address these concerns.

For what it’s worth, that original 2-minute video currently has 6 likes and 23 dislikes. Not a huge sample, but clearly those 29 people who chose to express an opinion expressed a negative one.

Incidentally, as of today, the most recently posted minutes for the Board of Directors dates from March 2021. The rebrand was NOT mentioned in those minutes.

By June 24 (three days after the original 2-minute video announcement) another video was posted to the APMP account, announcing a “pause” in the rebranding and the establishment of a “brand transition council.”

That video currently has 36 likes and 4 dislikes. Of course, it’s impossible to tell whether people liked it because of the promise of more deliberation, or that the people liked it because they hoped that the APMP would stay the APMP.

But wait, there’s a more!

A new video was posted on June 28, with twice the number of speakers (Rick Harris joined Krystn Macomber). Macomber repeated her comments from June 24, and Harris emphasized this, while using the words “moving forward” to describe where the APMP (or whatever it will be called) is going.

That video currently has 16 likes and 2 dislikes. The one thing that you can conclude from this is that there is now YouTube fatigue from all of these videos being posted.

But the positive reactions (albeit in limited numbers) to the most recent videos didn’t stop the petitioners from developing their petition.

Even after the members voted “no” to the proposed name change, the Leadership Team wants the Brand Transition Council to come up with suggestions on next steps to find a ‘compromise middle ground solution’. The survey results and the reaction of a large number of members on social media channels should be enough to illustrate to the leadership that this proposed change is ill-considered and ill-judged to say the least.

The petition goes on to request “an immediate and complete stop of the entire rebranding initiative for at least 1 year,” and also requests that the Brand Transition Council appoint an independent auditor. (It’s not exactly clear how the Brand Transition Council can do anything if all rebranding activities are being stopped, but that’s a semantic quibble. And why should proposal/winning business professionals care about semantics?)

As of now, the petition has 185 signatures.

As of 2019. the APMP had 9,487 members. Even if all the YouTube likes, LinkedIn votes. and petition signatures are all added up, the vast majority of the thousands of APMP members has not expressed ANY opinion on the issue.

It’s a safe bet that a large number of the members aren’t aware of either the proposed name change or the controversy surrounding it, since they’re busy…writing proposals and winning business (in one order, or in the opposite order).

But as more and more members hear about the controversy, I expect that there will be renewed interest in this October’s Bid & Proposal Con in Denver.

By Billy Hathorn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11357434

This year’s conference will be…interesting.

(Bredemarket Premium) The multiple self interests of AFIS customers and vendors

In a prior post, I spent some time identifying the multiple stakeholders at a city police department (in my example, my hometown of Ontario, California) that is procuring an automated fingerprint identification system.

By Coolcaesar at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15739992

If I may recycle what I previously said, here are those stakeholders:

  • The field investigators who run across biometric evidence at the scene of a crime, such as a knife with a fingerprint on it or a video feed showing someone breaking into a liquor store.
  • The examiners who look at crime scene evidence and use it to identify individuals.
  • The people who capture biometrics from arrested individuals at livescan stations.
  • The information technologies (IT) people who are responsible for ensuring that Ontario, California’s biometric data is sent to San Bernardino County, the state of California, perhaps other systems such as the Western Identification Network, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • The purchasing agent who has to make sure that all of Ontario’s purchases comply with purchasing laws and regulations.
  • The privacy advocate who needs to ensure that the biometric data complies with state and national privacy laws.
  • The mayor (Paul Leon as I write this), who has to deal with angry citizens asking why their catalytic converters are being stolen from their vehicles, and demanding to know what the mayor is doing about it.
  • Probably a dozen other stakeholders that I haven’t talked about yet, but who are influenced by the city’s purchasing decision.

Why is this important? And who are the multiple stakeholders OUTSIDE of the city police department?

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After nearly a quarter century, I finally (virtually) attended an ESRI User Conference #EsriUC

Although I’ve never worked with the company directly, I have a long history with ESRI.

  • When Printrak acquired portions of SCC back in 1997, Printrak became the company of record for SCC’s computer aided dispatch product, which used ESRI technology for its mapping.
  • When I rejoined the Proposals organization about a decade ago, the (then) Southern California Chapter of the (then) Association of Proposal Management Professionals arranged for satellite locations for its chapter meetings. Initially I would go to Redlands and attend the meetings at ESRI’s corporate headquarters. (Very nice facility, by the way.) Eventually I arranged to host satellite meetings at MorphoTrak’s Anaheim headquarters on Tustin Avenue, so my visits to ESRI in Redlands ceased. Now most meetings (other than Training Day) are online-only.

Add my interest in mapping to the mix, and you would think that I would be a prime target to attend ESRI’s annual User Conference in San Diego. However, as I mentioned, I wasn’t working with the company directly, and so I could never justify attending the ESRI User Conference in the same way that I could justify attending Oracle OpenWorld, the International Association for Identification, or IDEMIA/MorphoTrak/Motorola/Printrak’s own User Conference.

Then this pandemic thing happened, I became a free agent, bla bla bla. And so I found myself watching the Monday plenary session for the virtual 2021 ESRI User Conference.

For those who know ESRI, it’s no surprise that the speaker for much of the 3 1/2 hour plenary session was Jack Dangermond. This was the first time that I heard Dangermond speak at any length, and he provided a helpful overview of the company and its offerings, supported by a slew of ESRI product managers and outside partners.

For those who know ESRI, it’s no surprise that ESRI’s offerings have expanded since the late 1990s, with mobile and cloud options that could barely be envisioned in the last millennium.

And (like Oracle) ESRI has expanded from its base product into various verticals, such as ArcGIS Business Analyst for location-based market intelligence. The case studies illustrate how this product can benefit its users.

And I am certainly a fan of case studies

On marketing intangible products

These days, more and more of us are marketing products that are intangible. But most of the essentials of marketing intangible products don’t differ much from marketing tangible ones.

Many, many years ago, the phrase “intangible product” seemed like a lot of nonsense. How could something be a product if you couldn’t touch it? Could you grab a product out of thin air?

By Hoodedwarbler12 (talk) – I (Hoodedwarbler12 (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26933846

Obviously that is no longer the case.

I’m not even going to, um, touch the NFT world, but clearly things that we used to think of as tangible products are now moving to the intangible realm. I’ll give you two examples from my experience:

  • When I started selling automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) in the 1990s, a law enforcement agency’s AFIS consisted of a set of computer servers in the agency’s computer room, coupled with a set of some fairly expensive workstations in the agency’s work areas. But even then, there were several states that had minimal computer servers at the state agencies, with most of the servers located in the state of California. The Western Identification Network model was duplicated in later years by other agencies who would host their biometric server “products” at faraway Amazon or Microsoft locations.
  • Similarly, when I started attending trade shows in the mid 1980s, I would go by booths and pick up company case studies and white papers and stuff them into a bag. (Booths and sponsors that provided such bags were VERY important.) Today, some vendors don’t even have printed case studies and white papers in their booths any more; the attendees simply request electronic copies.
By Silverije – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63431852

Yet for the most part the marketing of these intangible products isn’t much different from the way that the old tangible versions were marketed. The differences are minor:

  • When Printrak sold AFIS servers, care was taken to place a Printrak logo prominently on the server, where it would compete with the Digital Equipment Corporation logo from the server manufacturer. The logo even appeared as a component on an extended Bill of Materials. Now, purchasers of cloud solutions from the biometric companies don’t need to worry about placing logos on physical servers.
  • In the old days of product marketing collateral, you could get into big discussions about the quality, weight, and finish of the paper that you used to print your collateral. Today, those discussions are for the most part irrelevant, since the recipients print the collateral on their own printers, if they print the collateral at all.

The important thing in each case is the content. Fewer and fewer law enforcement agencies care WHERE their biometric data is stored, as long as it meets certain security, accuracy, and response time requirements. Similarly, people who collect marketing collateral are much more concerned with WHAT the collateral says than the weight of the paper used to print it.

By Rick Dikeman at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=164188

I have been accused of preferring substance over style, and I plead guilty. While style is clearly important, the substance of the product must excel or the style is wasted.

Sometimes this requires the product creator to take a step back from the nitty gritty of collateral creation, and decide what the collateral is supposed to do, and why the customer should care. Rather than saying “give me a case study that tells how the widget is exactly 70 mm high,” my clients are now asking to “give me a case study that tells our customers why our product will let them sleep securely at night.”

If you would like to explore these topics for your next piece of collateral, whether it be a case study, white paper, proposal, or some other marketing written work, Bredemarket can help you explore. Bredemarket uses a collaborative process with its clients to ensure that the final written product communicates the client’s desired message. Often the client provides specific feedback at certain stages of the process to ensure that the messaging is on track. I combine the client’s desires with my communications expertise to create a final written product that pleases both of us.

Contact me and we can discuss how to work together to realize your goals.

Communities, selling, and service offerings

The infamous content calendar says that today is proposal day, but I’m going to ignore the infamous content calendar and talk about a bunch of things other than proposals. (Well, I’ll mention proposals once, I guess.)

First, I’ll talk about the new glasses that I received yesterday.

In addition to a new frame style, this new set has the transition sunglass tint but WITHOUT the computer tint. (The Costco optical person said that I didn’t need a separate computer tint these days. I don’t know if he was right, but I trusted him.) My last set of glasses had both the transition sunglass tint AND the computer tint, which meant that they had a purple color at times. Now my tint in the sun will be brown rather than purple.

But enough about that.

Let’s get to the meat of this post, in which I’ll talk about the communities that I’ve joined since starting Bredemarket, what led me to purchase something from one of those communities, and one of two actionable items (and an action) that I took from that purchase.

Communities

Before I became a free agent, I was an employee of a multinational firm with thousands of employees throughout North America and thousands of additional employees throughout the rest of the world. One of the company’s VPs established an online community to support her nationwide organization of people, including myself in California, my direct supervisor in Massachusetts, and a bunch of people in those states, Minnesota, Tennessee, and everywhere else under the sun. I was able to participate in that online community even after I moved out of that VP’s group due to a corporate reorganization. (Thanks Teresa.)

With free agency and sole proprietorship came the loss of that community. (No, the VP obviously wouldn’t let me engage with that community when I was no longer an employee.) But over the next several months I joined three other communities. As it turns out, I interacted with all three of these communities over the course of the last two days.

  • On Thursday at 10:00 am, I joined the weekly “town hall” for the employees and associates of SMA, Inc. I am officially an associate of SMA, albeit with a very specialized skill set (more on that later). To support its people, SMA convenes a weekly “town hall” that addresses company issues and also addresses the interests of SMA’s leadership. Every week, for example, there is an “art talk” that delves into a particular artist or artistic topic.
  • On Thursday at 6:00 pm, I joined the monthly meeting of the Orange County, California chapter (“SPARK OC”: Facebook, Instagram) of the Freelancers Union. This monthly gathering happened to be a “happy hour,” although I disregarded the injunction to bring my favorite cocktail.

  • Finally, today at 8:00 am, I joined a paid workshop hosted by Jay Clouse of the Jay Clouse empire of entities. The topic? “Invisible Selling.” Due to early hour, I didn’t have a beer, but had a Nespresso instead. The rest of this post deals with that workshop and the results from that workshop.

The invisible selling of “Invisible Selling”

I’m not going to recount that Clouse covered in his one-hour workshop. After all, I paid for the course, and (most of) you didn’t. But perhaps it would be helpful if I described how I was invisibly sold on “Invisible Selling.”

I first encountered Jay Clouse via LinkedIn Learning. (Another thing that I lost when I was no longer an employee was access to my employer’s online courses from Udemy and others, but LinkedIn Learning has filled the gap.) I had long since forgotten which Clouse course I took and when I took it, but I checked my LinkedIn profile and found that I had taken his “Freelancing Foundations” course back in September 2020.

After taking the course, I ended up joining his “Freelancing School” community, participating in various online meetups, and engaging with Clouse’s offerings in other ways.

All for free.

Then I received a couple of emails from him about his (then) upcoming “Invisible Selling” course.

I deduced from the description that it would meet my needs, and figured that $40 was a reasonable price. Plus, I trusted Clouse based upon my interactions with him and his community over the last several months.

So I signed up.

The results of my attending “Invisible Selling”

As I said before, I’m not going to recount Clouse’s presentation. But in my particular instance, I derived two actionable tasks within the first 30 minutes of the workshop.

  1. The first task, which could potentially be worth between five dollars and tens of thousands of dollars to me, was to make sure that I am anticipating potential client objections up front, and addressing them. I’m going to devote some time to that in the future. And as you can see below, I started to address one objection even before I heard of Clouse’s workshop.
  2. The second task is one that I cannot discuss publicly at this time. However, it could potentially be worth more than tens of thousands of dollars to me. Maybe I’ll talk about it someday.

Service Offerings

One potential client objection that I’m already addressing is that my offerings do not fit my potential clients’ needs. I’m addressing this by broadening my offerings.

Many of you will recall that when I started, I came up with a bunch of packaged “services” that I could sell to potential clients as is, or with some adaptation to meet the clients’ needs. Over the first few months of Bredemarket’s existence, I sold various clients my Bredemarket 400 Short Writing Service, my Bredemarket 2800 Medium Writing Service, and my Bredemarket 404 Web/Social Media Checkup. I still sell these services today.

But much of my business today doesn’t derive from these prepackaged services. Well, technically it does, if you read the description of my Bredemarket 4000 Long Writing Service:

The long writing service does not have a “standard” offering per se, because of the variability of what may be needed. Work is billed at an hourly rate.

Some of Bredemarket’s more lucrative work comes from ongoing hourly relationships that I have established with several clients. They use me as needed, sometimes more frequently, sometimes less so, but I’ve kept them happy.

“I just wanted to truly say thank you for putting these templates together. I worked on this…last week and it was extremely simple to use and I thought really provided a professional advantage and tool to give the customer….TRULY THANK YOU!”

Why do these customers work with me? Well, while I have a number of customers employing various technologies, the vast majority of my customers are focused on biometrics. And I am the biometric content marketing expert and the biometric proposal writing expert, because I said I am. (The other John Bredehoft, the one who owns Total Plumbing Services, taught me the importance of self-promotion.)

But what if a client wants to pick my biometric brain and not pay hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to do so?

Well, for the past month I’ve been addressing that price point also via Bredemarket Premium. Certain posts on this Bredemarket blog delve deeply into my quarter century-plus of biometrics knowledge. These posts are only available to subscribers, at the cost of $5 per month. Here’s an excerpt from the public view of one of these posts:

So to my mind I’ve covered the “Bredemarket doesn’t address my price point” objection. (Prove me wrong. Please.)

As I said before, I need to do a better job of anticipating and addressing other potential objections to using Bredemarket to help you communicate your firm’s benefits. And I’ll work on that.

But if your objection is that you don’t like my glasses, I can’t help you. You can’t please everyone.

And a reminder that if I’ve brilliantly addressed all of your potential objections, or even if I haven’t, and if you’re ready to talk about how I can help you:

Biometric RFP writing experts, to a point

As part of my effort to establish Bredemarket as a biometric proposal writing expert (I eschew modesty), I researched some documents that weren’t about proposals, but about REQUESTS for Proposals (RFPs).

One way to write biometric RFPs

There are various ways to write RFPs, including RFPs for biometric procurement.

I don’t think I’m giving away any deep dark secrets when I state that biometric vendors want to influence the content of biometric RFPs. I know of one blatant example of this, when (many years ago) one U.S. state issued an RFP that explicitly said that the state wanted to buy a MOTOROLA automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS). So it issued an RFP to Motorola and several other vendors asking for a Motorola AFIS.

Luckily for the state, Motorola chose to submit a bid. (The bid/no-bid decision was a no-brainer.)

As a Motorola employee (not in proposals, but in product management), I was pleased when that state, after evaluating the RFPs, selected Motorola to provide its AFIS. (Are you surprised?)

But the other bidders didn’t give up and cede the victory to Motorola. Via FOIA requests, Motorola was able to read the proposal of competitor Sagem Morpho, which I can paraphrase as follows:

Your state has requested a Motorola AFIS. Well, Sagem Morpho has provided systems that replaced Motorola AFIS in two states when these states became dissatisfied with their Motorola systems. Since Sagem Morpho AFIS is by definition better than Motorola AFIS, Sagem Morpho EXCEEDS your state’s requirement. So award us extra points for exceeding the requirement and give US your AFIS contract, NOT Motorola.

It didn’t work, but it was a good effort by Sagem Morpho.

Some of you know how this story ended. Motorola subsequently sold its Biometric Business Unit to…Sagem Morpho, I was transferred from product management to proposals in the new combined company, and two of my new coworkers were people who wrote that very proposal. I was therefore able to tell them personally that Sagem Morpho’s proposal was better than Motorola’s. The reaction of the two states who founded themselves back with “Motorolans” again was unrecorded.

(Actually, the new company MorphoTrak and its corporate parent that was eventually named Morpho were big enough that they could get around the concerns of dissatisfied customers. So I’m sure that, at least for a time, those two states were probably visited by ex-Sagem Morpho folks rather than ex-Motorola folks. And I know of at least two instances in which MorphoTrak either bid on or implemented systems outside of MorphoTrak’s geographic territory, just because the customers had relationships with MorphoTrak that they didn’t have with Morpho.)

Back to Motorola’s win of an RFP that requested a Motorola system. Usually, the RFP writing strategy of “write a proposal that favors one vendor over all the others” isn’t always the popular course. Some RFP writers prefer a better strategy, in which the overall needs of the customer are carefully considered.

A better way to write biometric RFPs

Enter the Law Enforcement Standards Office, a division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In 2013, this entity released its “Writing Guidelines for Requests for Proposals for Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems” (NIST Special Publication 1155), a copy of which can be downloaded here. (For historical interest, an earlier draft version is online here. The draft is somewhat longer than the final version.)

I should mention that the committee that created the guidelines included some clear experts in the AFIS world. Let me just mention three of the names:

  • Peter T. Higgins, who was at the time a noted consultant for agencies writing AFIS RFPs and who had previously worked on the FBI’s IAFIS system;
  • Peter Komarinski, another noted consultant and a former key AFIS person for the State of New York; and
  • Mike Lesko, who was at the time employed by the State of Texas as one of their key AFIS people. He has since left the state and has a new job.

And the rest of the committee exhibited similar experience, so these people knew AFIS and knew what agencies needed when they procured an AFIS.

One of the key issues that concerned the committee was latent AFIS interoperability. I don’t want to spend the time to discuss the topic in detail here, but for now I’ll just say that when you have multiple vendors providing AFIS (there were three major vendors and several other vendors in 2013), there is often a challenge when latent (crime scene) prints are processed on one AFIS but searched on another. To sum up the story succinctly, there were methods to overcome these challenges, and the committee was clearly in favor of employing these methods.

Beyond this, the committee was concerned with two topics:

  • The process to procure an AFIS.
  • The process to upgrade an AFIS, which includes steps both before and after procurement.

Regarding procurement, the committee identified four specific phases:

  • Phase 1: Establish Leadership and Align Resources
  • Phase 2: Develop the RFP Requirements and the Document
  • Phase 3: Evaluate Proposals and Award a Contract
  • Phase 4: Manage Procurement Implementation

The meat of the guidelines, however, covered the upgrade itself.

First, the agency needs to explicitly state the reasons for the upgrade.

Once this is done, stakeholders who have a vested interest in the upgrade need to be identified and given assignments; consultants need to be selected if needed (did I mention that at least two committee members were consultants?); and plans to govern the upgrade process itself need to be created (did I mention that one of the consultants had federal government experience?).

Then the procuring agency is ready to…plan. Where is the agency going to get the money for a new AFIS? What should the new AFIS do? What do the latest AFIS do today that the agency’s (older) AFIS cannot do? Are these new features important?

Once the procuring agency has a high-level view of what it wants, and the money to do it, it’s time to solicit. (I’m talking about legal solicitation here.) This involves the creation of a draft of the Request for Proposal (RFP) that is eventually finalized and distributed to bidders. Perhaps a Request for Information (RFI) may be released before the RFP, to solicit additional information to flow into the RFP. This can be an involved process, as is shown by this one example of something to place in an RFP (I’ll return to this example later, and don’t forget that this example was released in 2013):

Form and fit requirements (type, make/model, or physical size/capacity), such as specifying an Intel® dual-core processor that runs on Windows 7® with a 500-gigabyte hard drive and a 20-inch monitor…

Once the vendors get the RFP, the procuring agency has to manage the bidding process, including questions from the bidders, perhaps a bidder’s conference, and then final submission of the proposals to the agency.

Then it’s time for evaluation. The committee includes this statement at the beginning of the evaluation section:

The evaluation of submissions must be fair and consistent.

I don’t think the members of this committee would have authored an RFP that stated “we want a Motorola AFIS.”

And the evaluation would similarly not favor one vendor over another, and would use a previously-defined Source Selection Plan in which each bidder is graded on specific criteria that were prepared well in advance.

Eventually a vendor is selected, and while the original RFP is still part of the package government the implementation, it is usually superseded by subsequent documents, including plans jointly agreed upon by the vendor and agency that may differ from the original RFP.

But is the “better way” truly better?

In general I am in agreement with the guidelines, but as a former employee of a biometric vendor, and as a present consultant to multiple biometric vendors, I have one piece of advice.

Concentrate on the WHAT rather than the HOW.

(By amazing coincidence, this is something that the engineers liked to tell ME when I was a product manager. Live and learn.)

A biometric RFP should state an agency’s biometric needs, but shouldn’t go into excruciating detail about how a potential vendor should meet those needs.

Take the example above. Would the world end if the hard drive only had 400 gigabytes, rather than 500? (Again, I’m thinking in 2013 terms; in 2021, it’s possible that the computer may not have a hard drive at all.) Every time that an RFP includes a low-level requirement that is not met by a vendor’s offering, the vendor has to take time to create a special offering just to meet the requirements of the RFP, an effort that increases the costs to the agency.

Sometimes these special requirements (I don’t call them custom requirements) are justified, but sometimes they are not.

By the way, my least favorite requirement that I ever encountered was the one that told the bidders and their R&D teams exactly how the fingerprint matching needed to be conducted. As long as the system meets the accuracy requirements agreed upon in whatever document dictates accuracy, who cares HOW the match is conducted?

As I’ve noted a couple of times, this document was written in 2013, and therefore is fingerprint-centric (although it notes that the principles also apply to other biometric systems), includes dated technological references (Windows 7 being an example), and does not account for the cloud systems that are offered and/or have been implemented by several biometric vendors. (Storage of biometric data in the cloud introduces a whole new set of requirements to ensure that the data is protected.) I don’t know whether there are any plans to update these guidelines, and some of the principals who authored the original guidelines have since retired, but an update would be beneficial.

Oh, and if anyone plans to write an RFP mandating a Motorola AFIS, don’t. Motorola left the AFIS business over a decade ago.

But Motorola can supply a real-time computer aided dispatch system.

On win themes and proposal themes

Once you’ve figured out the benefits of your solution for various customer stakeholders, you need to communicate the benefits in your proposal.

Sorry, this is a different type of “WIN.” Whip Inflation Now needlework picture. By Unknown author – Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20829024

While I try to avoid complexity where possible, there are times when the communication of benefits will follow a hierarchy. Cheryl Smith describes two levels of the hierarchy in her Privia blog post:

Win Themes. These subtle messages are woven into your proposal narrative, reinforcing your Win Strategy. Knowing specifically what they are upfront will help reviewers know what to look for and identify how and where to improve them.

Proposal Themes. These explicit, section-specific statements are used to guide the evaluator as they read. Knowing specifically what they are upfront will help reviewers test how well they support your Win Theme(s) and identify how to improve them.

As you may recall, different evaluators read different sections of a proposal. For an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) proposal, you may have a certified latent examiner reading the latent entry section of the proposal, while an information technology person might read the network and security section of the proposal.

Unless you’re a sole proprietor, your win themes, proposal themes, and benefits will probably need some level of buyoff from multiple people. Perhaps your salesperson will advance some themes, but maybe his or her boss will need to approve them. (Approvals are a necessary evil in the proposal process.)

And then when the writers actually write the proposal, the writing will be measured (among other methods) for its faithfulness to the themes. Smith addresses this measurement also:

Be careful what you ask for. When you ask reviewers a generic question like “feedback,” you should expect a generic answer like, “this is weak.” Instead, ask reviewers a specific question like “how can I improve this section” or “how can I support this Win Theme”? This small adjustment in reviewer mind-set will transform a “this is weak” comment into an “add this proof point to strengthen the section” instruction. 

This is something discussed by Carl Dickson (someone I’ve mentioned before in another context).

In the perfect world, a proposal—even a proposal hundreds of pages long—will have consistent themes throughout. It won’t sound like it was written by a bunch of different people—even though it probably WAS written by a bunch of different people.

One of my clients is a practitioner of something called a “book of truth,” a short document distributed to all of the writers for a particular proposal. The book of truth not only states the win themes and proposal themes, but also has some rules for consistency, such as how to refer to the customer. You don’t want to refer to the customer as “Los Angeles County” on page 2, “the County of Los Angeles” on page 7, “L.A. County” on page 9, and “San Francisco” on page 11.

Yes, the latter can happen when you repurpose text and don’t check it carefully. Watch out, because despite the fact that San Francisco and Los Angeles are in the same state, they are not the same city, despite what some people might think.

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.