Building a Foundation to a Successful Marketing Career
Hey, it’s Lindsay and today I want to write to you about A/E/C proposals. More specifically, what you should be doing before the RFP comes out, how to craft a win plan, and then how to manage, write, and deliver your winning proposal. As a marketer in our industry, your work life revolves mostly around proposals. You are most likely coordinating multiple proposals any given week. Knowing and understanding these phases of A/E/C proposals will provide a foundation of skills to advance your marketing career.
A couple of days ago I sent out an email asking you for your top questions on this topic and I was completely overwhelmed by the response so I thought I would write this article to respond to the most asked topic areas including:
- Win Strategy
- Proposal Management Plan
- Proposal Production Scheduling
- Content Development – Succinct and Graphically Appealing
- Getting Information from Technical Staff
One of the most asked questions and challenges was about creating a win strategy or win plan to help with the proposal theme and story.
Many of us wait until the RFP is advertised to start discussing what our differentiators and what the clients’ needs are for the project. More often than not, this is way too late to fully develop a win strategy.
To develop a viable win strategy, you must identify what potential projects are coming out and what clients and decision makers are involved. Your team then needs to research different areas about the project including:
- Why is the project happening?
- How are the decision makers involved?
- What does each decision maker think about the projects? Issues? Hot buttons? Etc.
- What does the competitive landscape look like? Should you team up with another firm? What does your position look like now? What are your chances of winning?
- What activities or strategies does your firm need to do to improve your chances of winning?
Eventually, all this information will be documented in a Win Plan. This Win Plan will guide the pursuit team from the moment your firm identifies the project until the RFP comes out the proposal is finalized. It will also help your team start to develop unique, compelling content to use in your proposal.
Proposal Management Plan
Creating a thorough proposal management plan will save you time when it matters– during writing, reviewing, and production. This plan forces you to take the time to read and analyze the RFP, contains a compliance matrix, proposal outline, and production schedule. Before even getting to the proposal planning phase, having a Go/No Go process, or even a discussion may avoid wasted time down the road.
The proposal management plan also includes holding a proposal kick-off meeting with your team. This meeting gives the team to go through all the requirements, ask questions, understand the timeframes and deadlines, and agree on strategies and content.
Proposal Production Scheduling
There are typically three general phases of the proposal production process: 1) Planning, 2) Writing, and 3) Reviewing and Delivering. There is an art and science to developing a realistic proposal production schedule that balances time to write and time to review.
There are so many moving parts and people involved in producing a proposal—marketing, project managers, technical staff, subconsultants, etc. You most likely need to get information from each person. Then you need to put all that information together, review, edit, print, and deliver. Documenting all these activities onto a schedule helps you visually see when they are due and when you’re falling behind.
Ideally, your proposal production schedule will include weekly proposal check-in meetings to review outstanding items and re-assign tasks, if needed. This keeps you on target and identifies any potential hiccups early on.
Content Development – Succinct and Graphically Appealing
This is when you will see the efforts of your Win Plan and Proposal Management Plan pay off. You should be able to use the content gathered from your Win Plan such as issues, hot buttons, strategies, project proofs, etc. to help fill in your proposal sections. That combined with your Proposal Outline (part of your Project Management Plan) will guide your writing and help identify any content gaps.
While drafting your proposal, you want to make sure that the document is as readable as possible. If the reviewers cannot read and understand your message, they can’t score your proposal high. Some strategies I have used in the past to help make proposals more readable include:
- Using fewer words. I do this by writing in active voice and first person. I also do this by cutting out prepositional phrases whenever it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence.
- Breaking up large paragraphs into smaller ones.
- Using bulleted lists instead of sentences with long lists.
- Including descriptive subheads. This helps to make the page scannable.
- Adding only meaningful pictures and graphics. Each graphic must have a caption that describes the unique selling point or differentiator. If we don’t have one, we don’t include the graphic.
We would like to create every proposal from scratch every time. However, that’s not realistic when you are working on several proposals at once. I believe there are also some elements that can and should be consistent proposal to proposal such as your quality approach or project management approach. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to start with your firm’s standard process and then just adapt to the specific project or client.
Getting Information from Technical Staff
This was probably the most cited challenge. This is a challenge that I have faced and still face today. I don’t believe the challenge will ever be solved. However, there are ways to help improve this process, work around technical staff, and minimize the effects late content can have to your schedule.
I think first it starts back at the beginning with the Win Strategy. If the technical staff is invested before the RFP comes out, they are more inclined to feel the importance of the proposal effort. Second, when you are developing a good Win Plan document, a lot of the content is already being developed (or at least identified) before the RFP is advertised. This takes a lot of the deadline pressure off both marketing and technical staff.
There are still ways to get information from the technical staff – both conventional and a little unconventional. Some methods I have used are:
- Be very specific with what you need and when you need it. I found that if I just ask for a project description, I get no response. Rather, ask a specific question or provide a fill-in-the-blank type format.
- Don’t (just) ask the Project Manager. The Project Manager role is one of the hardest roles in an A/E/C firm. They have client, firm, project team, and marketing needs they must cater to. If the Project Manager is not being responsive, look to others that may have similar knowledge. Often this can be the lead architect, engineer, superintendent, assistant project manager, etc. I tended to ask anyone I could get a hold of.
- Don’t start with a blank page. I would try to find something about the piece of content I was asking for (a scope from the contract, another project approach from a similar project, a list of bulleted questions, etc.) and provide that to the technical person. It’s a lot easier for most people to start with something on the page rather than a blank screen.
- Don’t ask them to write anything. In my experience, my technical team had different strengths when it came to providing information. Some would feel comfortable writing, some were more comfortable around a table in the conference room, and some were just better on the phone. I would chase down one project manager in the breakroom and record as I peppered him with questions (he knew). Then I would use that to write the approach. Learn about your team’s different ways to provide you information.
Mastering proposal coordination can be great. You don’t need decades of experience to learn it. Anyone in the A/E/C industry can successfully manage proposals and build the foundation for a rewarding marketing career.
I love this industry, especially marketers who put in countless hours producing proposals so their firms can win projects that shape our environment and skylines. I’ve been teaching proposal coordination methods since I hired my first marketing assistant in 2007. Since then, I started the blog, Marketers Take Flight, and presented at numerous conferences and workshops to spread the knowledge I have obtained through the industry. I kept getting positive feedback from marketers across the country about my material. So, instead of creating a huge course or developing my own in-person workshop, that many people couldn’t commit the time or expense to, I’ve decided to do an online, highly interactive, deep dive training just on proposal coordination methods.
This training is specifically an introduction to proposal coordination. It goes deep on those topics outlined above.
Get on the List
I just CLOSED the doors to my first Intro to A/E/C Proposals Training Program. Don’t worry, I will be offering it again in the future.
This is the deal, at the bottom of this page there’s a little form where you can enter your email address. If you’re interested in being on the contact list, then enter your email in that form. If you go ahead and put your email address in that form right now, then I’ll send you an email when I open up registration for the new proposals training program.