Monday, May 19, 2008

Get Ruthlessly Simple

I’m reading an excellent book on creativity in business called Juicing the Orange, written by local marketing gurus Pat Fallon and Fred Senn. While they are writing in business-scale terms, much of what they have to say also applies to good business writing.

One of their principles is “Demand a ruthlessly simple definition of the business problem.” This is advice familiar to any business plan writer and any serious networker – if you can’t say what you do in one or two sentences, you probably are still a little fuzzy on what it is.

This applies to the craft of business writing as well. Before you starting writing a piece, come up with a ruthlessly simple statement of what it is you’re trying to say or accomplish. This will keep your thinking focused during the writing process.

Bonus: convert that into an actual statement that says/accomplishes it. There’s your headline. There are the key words that should crop up consistently during the piece to keep it “on message.”

Get ruthlessly simple first. You can embellish later.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Successful Proposals

Look for a detailed article on this subject, coming soon (there will be a link on the right), but I wanted to touch on the most important element of responding successfully to RFPs:


Sounds obvious, but in my own experience, and in the experience of the many top execs on the issuing side of the desk I’ve worked with over the years, the most common reason that RFP responses fail is that the responding company didn’t read the document. In particular, companies incredibly seem to gloss over the narrative part of the RFP, jumping right to the Q & A part. I say incredibly, because the narrative part of the RFP always tells responding companies exactly what they need to do to win the bid! And a word to the wise: slapping a boilerplate on the front-end of your response just doesn’t cut it. Even if it does address issues from the RFP narrative, you are making the RFP review team work to find them, a definite no-no.

When structuring your response, read the narrative carefully looking for three key “how to win this bid” criteria:
  1. Their strategic goal: Repeat this back to them, showing you understand their big picture and how you are strongly positioned to help them reach this goal.
  2. Their “soft” requirements: Assist with brand positioning, promote stakeholder buy-in, ability to adapt to strategic changes – a good (and specific) response to this requirements can often seal the deal.
  3. Their preferred format: Again, seems obvious, but if they give you an outline, follow it closely. As often as not, the reviewing team will have a score sheet that matches the outline – if they have to go looking for your response to an item, they just may give you a zero.

    If, as is frequently the case, their outline doesn’t give you an obvious place to toot your horn the way you want to, use an “Introduction” section or do the tooting in an Executive Summary that precedes your formal response.

In short, make it easy on the RFP response reviewing team by first and foremost giving them what they ask for how they ask for it. There’s always a way to put in the answers to the questions you wish they’d asked.