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EVENT RECAP | Professional Development – Are You Stressed Because Your Proposal is a Mess?

February 27th, 2017

Featured Author

Paige Irvine

Paige Irvine
  • Chair, Spotlight Blog
  • SMPS-NY Communications Committee

An RFP comes in, and whether or not it’s Friday at 5:00 pm and due Monday or you’ve got five weeks to put it together there are a number of agreed upon methods to eliminate the messiness and stressiness of your proposal response process. In a panel held Thursday, February 23rd an architect and three sub-consultants who have honed the process shared their methodologies for implementing key strategies for various RFP submissions, simplifying work with handy resources and tools, determining go/no-go process based off RFP language, and time- and team- management styles within any given opportunity.

MEET THE PANEL


Moderator: Katherine DeMurcurio

Associate, Business Development
M Moser Associates

Barbara Horton, FIALD, MIES, LC
President & CEO
HLB Lighting Design

Nancy Kleppel
Principal
Appleseed Strategy

Carrie Villani
Director of Marketing
Leslie E. Robertson Associates (LERA)

Katherine James, LEED GA
Senior Associate, Director of Marketing
FXFOWLE

PANEL COMMENTARY

In its simplest terms, the panel’s de-stressing methods can be summed up in the following points:

  • Strategize early
  • Organize
  • Rely on templates
  • Set [fake] deadlines
  • Commit to internal transparency
  • Communicate clearly
  • Utilize strong graphics
  • Measure opportunity costs
  • Identify red flags

 

Develop a strategy

The first question to ask about any RFP is always ‘when is it due?’ With your final deadline in mind begin to set up a strategy. When reading through the RFP, James encouraged analyzing if the RFP is asking for anything unprecedented or unique. From there, identify your firm’s strengths and distinctions to inform the strategy. Horton pointed out, it may help subs to ask what the prime’s pitch will be so they can supplement it cohesively.

At the kick-off meeting, come prepared with all your RFP questions. For each line the prime has, you should have one to offer in return, urged Villani. Better yet, keep a list of standard questions to ask at each kick-off. All panelists emphasized the importance of having standards, templates and guidelines in place to save time and keep brand identity consistent. Horton testified that any request can be met – citing meeting a 2-hour deadline – with organization already in place.

Kleppel agreed, depicting a team that lacked both the organization and the skills to execute a proposal response on time. In response to that experience, she helped the team install a very basic format to guide them through proposal making. The framework allowed them to act almost entirely independently the next time an RFP came around while leaving room to advance the strategy as they acquired more skills.

Communicate and delegate the strategy

The panel conceded to the importance of communicating your strategy and enforcing boundaries and criteria across the team from the kick-off. Set visible, early and [yes, even] fake deadlines for everyone involved. That goes for principals too.

Streamline with technology

In communicating to all parties, use of media formats and tech tools greatly simplifies task management and streamlines assignments.

Though Deltek Vision can do so much, Villani recommended focusing on a few key goals to depend on the CRM for, giving staff access where needed so progress is traceable. James touted Deltek for managing activity/tasks and data mining for client/project data. Horton advocated for the critical flow of communication between Principals, PMs and Marketing. Micro Focus GroupWise forwards emails containing selected buzzwords to the whole team, keeping them “ten steps ahead.” Kleppel offered Basecamp as a project management tool. No matter the application the panel agreed technologies require training to use them properly, so it’s vital to have a team that understands the value of adopting them.

Using graphic images

High quality images and photos are invaluable to a strong proposal. Since good photography can be expensive, see if you can buy-in when the owner or architect holds a shoot. However crucial they are, panel consensus is that graphic images must be meaningful to your work on the projects in your proposal. Omit pictures that showcase someone else’s work, unappealing equipment or have no purpose other than to fill space.

You’re almost there. And then…

An 11th hour request for additional items comes in. What now? It’s okay to say “no” to late requests, said Horton. James agreed, if what is asked for it doesn’t add to the strength of the overall proposal; better to make sure everything essential is already covered. Instead of just saying “no” Keppel advised conveying the opportunity costs of meeting a new request.

Then when your proposal is fully fleshed out, Kleppel encouraged choosing a good editor in your firm to review it for clarity.

To go or not to go?

Whether prime or sub, maintaining relationships, not the project itself, obliges the decision to respond to an RFP. When evaluating a go/no go, Kleppel comes back to opportunity costs. Chances are there are a one or two RFP’s you can afford to decline each year. Review proposals submitted over time and identify the least rewarding/attainable ones so you’re prepared to decide if you’re unable to meet the request in a cost effective way; or perhaps you aren’t able to add to the team in the way the prime is looking for. A gracious decline can involve recommending an alternate subconsultant better suited for the job.

Identifying no go opportunities comes down to catching red flags. Are you repeatedly asked to respond to RFP’s but never get selected for the team? Red flag. Ask the prime what you can do to change that. If they don’t give a constructive response that’s another red flag. If asked to submit exclusively or to sign a rider or amendment to a contract, it may be worth asking for the master agreement. If they decline or you catch another firm’s name in the master, red flags.

In the end

When all was said and done, it helps know the panel agreed unanimously on almost all recommendations. Marketing professionals at all levels walked away from the panel with a few new tools or strategies to help reduce the stress of the infamously hectic RFP response process.

For marketing coordinators looking for additional insights into proposal writing, priority management, time-saving tricks or just balancing day-to-day responsibilities, Villani suggests joining SMPS New York Coordinator’s Club. Coordinator’s Club topics cover a whole spectrum of interests voiced by marketing professionals of all levels, and joining one or every event can be an effective way to grow your network and expand your understanding of professional marketing in A/E/C.

Catch pictures from the event here.

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