"In any battle you need a strong team. I would prefer to have you on my team than my competitors.”  Past Blog Contributor

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nFold has two blogs you can follow to improve your proposals and keep in touch. Read the latest posts below or click on the tip names to see the blog archives.

nFold Proposal Tips

Based on best practice and experience, these tips from Sandy Pullinger on a wide range of proposal topics will inspire you as you learn the art and science of proposals and tenders.

Proposal Adventures of Wendy Word

Relax and enjoy the tales of friendly witch and proposal pioneer Wendy Word as she keeps you in touch with the latest news in the local South African proposal community.

nFold Proposal Tips

Proposal Checklist - what makes a proposal good?

With entries for the annual nFold APMP proposal award due at the end of August, my mind turns to the definition of a good proposal. Tom Sant defines a good proposal as one that wins. But wait, there’s more…

I enjoy judging the  award each year and discussing the relative merits of each proposal with my fellow judges. We have revised the decision criteria to include the overall impression, executive summary, layout & graphics, and language & structure. Within each category, we’re looking for something special.


Overall Impression

We put ourselves in the shoes of your customer when we read your proposal. If your proposal makes us want to say YES, then it’s a good proposal. As a sales document, a good proposal is one that wins the deal or advances the sales process to the next stage. It is NOT just a quote, nor is it simply a bill of materials, nor is it a product brochure, and it certainly is not all about us as the vendor. You make clients want to say YES to the extent that you convince them you can deliver what they want at a reasonable price. You must also demonstrate unique reasons to choose you that matter to the client.

Executive Summary

Your executive summary should make a strong business case. It must stand alone and make your value proposition clear. It should be long enough to cover the basics, but short enough to remain interesting. Include high level pricing and payback unless prohibited. Focus on three or four key win themes that matter to the client and highlight unique aspects of your bid. Use pictures that help you to tell your story. Keep it short and simple.

Layout & Graphics

As a client skim-reads your proposal, it should be pleasing on the eye. The key points should jump off the page. Use white space and pictures to enhance the layout. Get a graphic designer to create a template for you or to do the layout of your proposal if the bid budget allows. Explain your outline with reference to the client’s request so that your logic is clear. Give more space to topics that are important to the client rather than providing heaps of information and making the client work out what’s important.

Language & Tone

Use a persuasive structure and direct tone in your proposal. Make it feel like a sales conversation. Always run a spelling and grammar check and show readability statistics. You should use less than 10% passive voice, aim for sentences of 15-18 words on average, and write your executive summary at a grade level of 8-10 and your technical proposal at a grade level of 10-12. This probably means you’re not using too much fluff, guff, geek or weasel – which is a good thing for a proposal. Keep your language clear and simple.


Ten Things to Check

Here are a few simple things I check when I want to transform a proposal from good to great:

1. Comply - Read the RFP or client request and make sure the proposal complies.

2. Greet - Include a cover letter (with contact details) if the proposal is more than 20 pages. Get the most senior person who has met the client to sign it.

3. Persuade - Add client focus and differentiation to the executive summary if missing and make the value proposition clear.

4. Focus - Write section summaries that help the client to focus on key points.

5. Fix - Check spelling and readability statistics. Shorten sentences, improve passive voice, and reduce grade level if needed. Eliminate errors that kill credibility.

6. Skim - Add dynamic headings if missing, to make the proposal easier to skim.

7. Layout - Add pictures and action captions or call-outs to break up the text, support the story and make the proposal easier to understand. Fix pictures that are too complex or do not fit the style of the proposal.

8. Next – Always ask for the business and make it clear you are ready for the next step of the sales / decision process. Add a conclusion before the appendices.

9. Read – I read the proposal from start to end after making changes to make sure that there are no inconsistent details. Make it a pleasure to read.

10. Package – improve the title page with a dynamic heading to match your key win theme and get creative about packaging the proposal to stand out from the crowd.

Why not check these the next time you read or write a proposal and see what happens? I’d love to know if it works for you!

Posted 198 weeks ago

Proposal Adventures of Wendy Word

Having a bad hair day

Sandy says that when she hit send on her last proposal tip, she began to feel chronic symptoms related to holiday brain fever and error mania.

Have you ever typed an email, got distracted, hit send in a hurry, and skipped the quality checking step or paid it lip service only? Heard the expression more haste less speed?

Then maybe you too have had the same symptoms. Nausea. Emotional trauma related to a perfectionist making any error whatsoever. And turning bright red because you haven’t done anything quite so stupid since you were 3?

A tip to the tipper…cutting and pasting introduces errors. Only use it in a proposal or email campaign when your source content is ‘clean’ of date or customer specific details.

Sandy’s response is the same one she gives to her children. Sorry! Guilty as charged. Do what I say, don’t do what I do.

Posted 169 weeks ago

Getting it right the first time

On the 8th of October 2015,  an eager bunch of Group Bid Office recruits attended the two-day Right First Time Bid and Proposal Management training at the EOH Head offices, along with several people from other business units.

In the session Sandy Pullinger covered everything from creating a compelling Executive Summary, writing efficiently all the way to ensuring that delegates create a compliant and comprehensive winning proposal.

The normal expectation for training sessions, such as these, is that you listen for 16 hours over a 2 day period and hope that you have something useful to report back on. Most Bid Mangers in the EOH Bid Office already have extensive experience in running a tender process with years of experience behind them. Still, they said that the session taught them something new and helped them to discover practical ways to enhance what they already DO know.

Posted 179 weeks ago

Winner takes all

Last night I attended the APMP annual general meeting. It was the last meeting chaired by Sally Jacques. We’ll miss your sense of humour and inspirational leadership, Sally. I’m flying some flowers to you on my broomstick to say thanks for all you have done to take the association to the next level. Our new APMP chair person is Izane Cloete-Hamilton. We expect great things from the new boss lady. Onward and upward.

I was excited to find out that Barclays Africa won the last nFold proposal award. Well done Marlize and Elmien on your steady progress year by year and the truly excellent proposal that you submitted this year! Finalists in 2015 were Tracy-Ann Damons for quantifying the payback and Reza Forouhar for differentiation. For 5 years, nFold has sponsored the award.

Here is a happy snap I took of all the winners with their cheezy trophies. From left to right, Marlize Schwar (Barclays Africa) 2015, Belinda Engelbrecht (Aurecon) 2011, and Larissa Cornelius (EOH) 2012-2014. You go girls!

Posted 182 weeks ago

To certify, or not to certify

…moot is the question. Another 18 brilliant proposal people passed the APMP certification exam in August, bringing the total in SA to about 130. Yee haa!

APMP is the first best and only globally recognized certification for proposal pioneers like you and me.

Tell your friends to register for the next certification event planned for April 2016. Study group sessions kick off on 18 January, so be sure to register before then. You can book online: https://www.quicket.co.za/events/11967-apmp-foundation-certification-and-exam/#/schedules.

Be there or be square.

Posted 187 weeks ago

Of Cowboys and Soldiers

I attended the 6th annual APMP SA Conference on 23 July. The topic was Prepare Produce Propose Present. Try saying that quickly three times in a row after a glass of wine and you’re sure to put your tongue in a twist!

Sandy spoke about what to do before the RFP arrives and presented a tale of two bids: one managed by cowboys where everything goes wrong, and another managed by soldiers where planning pays off. She made the point abundantly clear that you cannot rely on luck but should rather plan to win. Sandy looks good in a cowboy hat, but not as good as Clint Eastwood.

Posted 193 weeks ago