How Many Reviewers Does It Take…?
Don’t you love proposal Reviewers? I just got a proposal section back from review. Three people reviewed it. A quick look at the comments revealed these interesting points:
- The reviewers contradicted each other. Based on an earlier review, for example, I took information out to reduce clutter. This time a different reviewer wondered where it was.
- No one read my notes to the reviewers. Some of the solution was not final, leaving gaps in the discussion. Why make comments about missing information? I don’t have it.
- Changes in requirements were missed. The agency’s question and answer document changed some requirements, but comments did not reflect these changes.
What’s a Writer to Do?
Anyone who ever tried to write proposals knows this scenario better than I do. Outnumbered by reviewers 3 to 1, scrambling for basic information, and under the gun because the deadline is approaching. With a document that has more comments than text, it is impossible for writers to take it to the next level. What a waste of time. It is a recipe for frustration and failure.
Even more, we all know where it will end up: poor scores, lost opportunity, blame-storming
What would make this go away?
Planning. Opportunity planning, solution planning, section planning, and planning for reviews.
Wikipedia says this about that: Planning is the process of thinking about and organizing the activities required to achieve a desired goal. What is our proposal goal? We want to win.
For proposal professionals, planning is that essential step that helps to remove confusion, avoidable rework, and poor content. Most of all, it can make the review process useful by providing structure and direction. See our take on it here: How We Work with You
Start at the beginning
Opportunities are fast-moving targets, and Requests for Proposals are very time-limited. Even if you did not plan for the opportunity in advance, you can plan for the proposal and reduce wasteful rework and friction for your team. Try answering these three questions as a basic plan for each section.
Keep it simple, and go back and re-review after questions and answers:
- What are you doing?
This question is about basic design of the solution. Who, what, where, and how are the next questions to answer to frame a straightforward description of your solution. “We are providing trained and licensed social workers to interview individuals in the community and determine their level of care needs.”
- What does quality look like?
If you understand what the RFP asks you to do, you can then discern what makes a good solution. “Our social workers have at least five years of experience, more than the three years required by the RFP.” For each aspect of your solution, decide what quality looks like. Then prove it. “Our social workers have at least five years of experience, as we highlight in the resumes in Exhibit X.” Better yet, if you can, show a table that highlights these years of experience.
- What difference does it make?
There are differences of opinion about where and how to position benefits to the client – at the beginning, the end, in call out boxes or tables, etc. I like a summary that pulls together the solution with its quality points and tells the buyer why this combination is the best choice.
Okay, on to review planning.
Why do we need Reviewers?
Due diligence. Period. We review to make sure the proposal describes the solution accurately, addresses all RFP items, and clearly states quality points and benefits. Many companies expect their reviewers to also be technical writers, and comment on issues such as use of passive voice, grammar mistakes, and style. Some reviewers have this expertise, most do not. If possible, remove the ability for reviewers to word-smith the section and have them comment on how well the section conveys the solution, quality points, and benefit.
To be a good reviewer, you have to know the requirements, the solution, and the section plan.
Reviewers: Off on the wrong foot
When reviewers arrive unprepared for their jobs, your review will start on the wrong foot and finish there. Make it easy for reviewers to start the right way or replace them.
- Include brief notes or bullet points that lay out the solution and quality points you decided to use.
- Structure the review to address the Three C’s of good proposals:
- Compliance: Did it follow directions? Is the format correct? Is the sequence of the discussion correct?
- Completeness: Does the section address all requirements? If you can’t tell, there is a problem with both compliance and completeness.
- Compelling: Does the section make a convincing argument that your solution is the best choice for the client by combining benefits and quality points?
- Insist that comments include suggestions for change. Just inserting comments such as “I’m not sure I’d start the section this way” do not tell the writer anything. We don’t care how Reviewers feel. Delete those comments and let your writers work on ones that matter.
- Review the reviews and make sure the comments are coherent, constructive, and directive. Then make sure you agree with all of them before you give them to the writer. A good review tells the writer what’s working, what’s missing, and what’s needed.
When in doubt
The Body of Knowledge compiled by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) provides guidelines to help you make your planning and review their most productive. Access it here: APMP Body of Knowledge Not a member? Join here: APMP Membership.
It will make your next proposal well worth reviewing!