Proposal Form Versus Substance -- The Eternal Struggle
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
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
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!"]