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Proposal Form Versus Substance -- The Eternal Struggle (05-01-2004)

In an ideal world, form and substance would always co-exist. Even in the real world, this sometimes happens... but not often enough for my taste.
A short while back, a customer came to us looking for "visual thinking" training related to proposal development. This got me thinking that in the world of opportunity capture, we often witness the eternal struggle that pits proposal form against solution substance. Ideally, of course,
Stunningly successful capture activities I have witnessed have been led by visual thinkers who have the ability to "assume" (*) a solution until one can be teased out of the bid team. The "teasing" is usually done using a third party facilitator whose task it is to introduce the proverbial grains of sand that are used to irritate the bid team's oyster into producing the pearls that comprise a superior offering and its supporting themes and positive discriminators. The central question that drives most aspects of successful solution formulation, facilitated or not, should always be, "How is that going to help us win?"
Once the substance has been developed and compiled into an interesting and animated story line that all involved can understand, there is a rational basis for a positive bid decision. Moreover, by facilitating the substance out of the bid team early in the capture process, the costly "cast of thousands" proposal syndrome can be avoided. (This syndrome relates to the scenario whereby a sea of cubicles is populated with "proposal form experts" before there is anything of substance for them to compile or write about). The facilitation first approach is focused on developing a sound solution that can be communicated to the customer by means of a superlative proposal. This is substance within form.
Contrast this approach with the all too prevalent form-over-substance proposal that follows the RFP requirements to the letter but fails to tell a story. While this approch may pass muster with low level proposal reviewers operating within the confines of a proposal evaluation tool, I guarantee that no C-level executive worth their salt is going to just buy a bunch of "shall" responses and compliance matrices at any price. Facilitation's quest, therefore, is to develop the bid's substance in advance of the process being taken over by the practitioners of proposal form.
Facilitation is key among CAI/SISCo's business development support service offerings. Perhaps we can help your firm's next major capture activity get off on the right foot.
[*By the way, I used the word "assume" in paragraph 2 in the following sense. Three hungry academics, a physicist, a chemist and an economist, were stranded on a desert island when a can of baked beans washed up on the beach. The physicist wrestled with the problem of opening the can by tool-less physical means while the chemist struggled to invent a reaction that would realease the beans without rendering them inedible. The economist thought about the situation for a while and declared, "I've got it, we'll assume a can opener!"]
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