In our series covering the Seven Deadly Proposal Sins started last year, we have discussed the first four: Pride, Gluttony, Greed, and Envy. These covered the common mistakes and misconceptions we have come across throughout our work as business development consultants. Committing one or more of these sins is the surest way to waste resources on a losing bid.

The fifth proposal sin, Sloth, manifests itself throughout the business development life cycle (or, for example, us not completing this newsletter for nine months). Sloth is all about being lazy and then skillfully rationalizing the laziness away by saying things like:

  • “This bid too far out to commit resources to.”
  • “We have plenty of time—the RFP is not due to come out for a few months”
  • “We will focus on delivery right now.”
  • “We can reuse most of what we have written for another proposal.”

All of these responses have a certain logical appeal, but no company holds on to a contract forever. Yet, the slothful company’s capture effort gets constantly relegated to the important, but not urgent work pile. And before you know it, the slothful company has run out of time for any meaningful preparation.

Most companies understand capture is generally necessary, but their efforts boil down to a customer visit or two, teaming discussions with their usual partners, and “tracking the RFP.” However, “tracking the RFP” is not a step in the capture process. Companies that spend their time waiting for the RFP to drop, or paying lip service to the capture effort, run out of time. They fail to perform “early game” business development/capture efforts such as understanding the customer’s objectives and requirements, developing a preliminary solution linked to objectives, positioning with the client, gathering competitive information, developing a winning strategy, establishing a price-to-win, assessing the risk, and making a final bid-no-bid decision.

This lack of preparation results in proposals being developed in a cut-and-paste manner. Often, it takes longer to customize boilerplate sections than writing from scratch, but cutting-and-pasting is rampant in slothful companies. Although the material may originate from a winning proposal, every solicitation is unique, and the evaluators can spot force-fitted boilerplate immediately. However, writers usually resort to this behavior because there are no-win themes or solutions for them to write about. Proposals developed in this manner lack substance, contain errors and produce amateur graphics and presentations. Ultimately, this destroys the credibility of the proposal and it lands the circular file. A Slothful company’s proposals convey to the evaluator’s carelessness and laziness, instead of professionalism and dedication. When the RFP is issued, Slothful companies have run out of time to develop a winning proposal.

Mitigating Sloth: The key to mitigating sloth is starting early, at least a year or two prior to RFP issuance, which is easier said than done. Once an opportunity has been identified, qualified, and added to the pipeline, the first thing to do is to get everyone who has knowledge about this customer to start developing win themes. Win themes precipitate win strategy. Win themes are developed through brainstorming on customer’s issues, concerns, and hot buttons. Customer hot buttons are what the customer cares about. They represent pain, challenges, and the most important requirements. By taking the hot buttons, re-wording them into benefits, and then incorporating your solution to deliver those benefits, you have the beginnings of your winning strategy.

By following this process of developing benefits first and finding the features or solutions second, you can effortlessly shift the focus of your proposal to your customer and away from yourself. For example, OST recently won a win theme and proposal writing training contract with a Top 5 Government contractor because we developed a proposal based on what the customer asked for (or hot buttons). This sounds like a no-brainer, but we bid against our staunchest competitors, and if professional proposal companies aren’t developing customer-focused proposals, then perhaps sloth is a more insidious proposal sin than we realize.

If your company knows the customer well, you should be able to identify the customer’s hot buttons and postulate the scope of work if the Draft or old RFP isn’t available. If you are pursuing an opportunity with a new customer, then the outcome of this brainstorming session will likely be a long list of action items to find the information you don’t have. The more complicated the statement of work, the earlier you have to start.

Sloth affects both large and small companies, and this type of preparation costs time and resources. The action items need to get done, regardless of when you complete them. As we discussed in the Greed newsletter, consistently winning work requires bids to be resourced to win. Winning companies spend 60% of their dollars on capture, 30% on proposal preparation, and 10% on post-proposal work. Companies combating sloth avoid waiting until the last minute and ditch a frantic proposal process that results in an uninspiring proposal.

If your company is stuck in the perpetual reactive mode, and you can’t seem to find a way out, then reach out to us to talk about how we can help you raise your Pwin and institute more sustainable and less stressful BD processes.

Best regards,

David Huff
Director of Business Development and Operations

OST Global Solutions, Inc.

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