The Proposal Bake Off

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You know who I hate? Mary Berry.

See, I love cooking. I can happily spend hours in the kitchen. Chopping, mixing, whisking; it’s one of the best ways I know to switch off from work. Especially when washed down with a good glass of red.

But baking? Along comes Dame Mary and her sidekick Paul Hollywood with The Great British Bake Off. And everything’s so daunting, so complicated, so prone to failure that it entirely put me off. There’s not been a freshly baked scone in our house in a decade or more.

Until: lockdown, and needing to find ways to entertain a toddler. Cooking scones together can’t be too hard, right? So we tried. And they worked. Cakes, cookies, hot cross buns? Sure, Erin and I have had the odd disaster, but it’s become a regular thing now on the Fridays I take off each week to spend with her.

Those “Bake Off” judges, making it seem so complicated? They’re got a lot to answer for.

And I worry that, too often, the papers and presentations we frequently see in the bid and proposal profession fall into the Bake Off trap, i.e. “Let’s make it all sound incredibly complex. Let’s, in the process, deter people from engaging in a process that’s actually pretty straightforward.”

Get to know the client. Understand what they need. Don’t bother bidding if you don’t have any relationship or insight: this is most likely not your deal to win.

“If you can, make your life easier by giving a bit of thought as to what you’ll say in the proposal before the RFP has landed. Don’t take on more work than you can cope with.”

Answer their questions as well as you can, with passion. Get help from someone who knows how to write well, and someone who can make the document look good. Don’t forget to send it in on time.

And try to re-use the best stuff you’ve come up with to get you going next time. (Hey, sometimes using a pack of bread mix is fine to save a bit of time…)

I’m not quite saying that Erin could do it. She’s only two, for goodness’ sake. But it’s pretty simple, right?

So let’s not forget the basics as we all strive for competitive advantage. Indeed, perhaps focusing on the basics might be the very things that could differentiate us and help us to win the deal?

(And no, I don’t hate Dame Mary. She’s a remarkable, inspiring woman – and perhaps the only person in the country who sounds posher than the Queen. But I’m sure you see my point!)

This article was written by Jon Williams.

Jon and his team work with clients worldwide to help them establish winning proposal capabilities and to capture major deals. He has built and led numerous bid and proposal centres; managed, reviewed and benchmarked countless proposals; worked in over thirty countries; and trained many thousands of course participants.

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