The Importance of ‘True North’ Proposals During Uncertain Times

By David Lunn, CP APMP, MCIPS

A recent experience with a client reminded me how quickly things can change, and how this can introduce uncertainty and potentially dangerous risks for those chasing contestable business.

A few weeks ago, our client submitted a written proposal for a very large infrastructure project. As is often the case in deals of this scale, the procurement process included a post-proposal presentation.

Change of course #1

Under normal circumstances, the presentation would have happened face-to-face. However, given current pandemic management practices, the face to face element had to become virtual.

This necessitated adjustment to the intended presentation approach, sequencing and content. Quickly adjusting to this new way of working, our client worked hard to ensure its client centricity, logical approach and believability would resonate, even with the potential loss of non-verbal cues to guide the presentation.

Change of course #2

Things changed again. Well into the presentation preparation process, our client was unexpectedly advised that shortlisting would be completed without the presentation element. Our view is that this change, ostensibly for social distancing reasons, was likely due to potential probity concerns introduced through a virtual process. We also suspect we’ll be seeing more on this topic over time.

Why is this an issue?

Presentations are a very important part of the shortlisting process:

  • For sellers – it’s the chance to meet decision makers and build even further credibility, hopefully not for the first time.
  • For buyers – meeting prospective contractors, especially proposed key persons, helps to validate decisions they are already forming and answer key questions like ‘will we be able to work with these people?’

So even though procurement processes can change at any time, the unexpected and complete loss of a planned presentation element, virtual or otherwise, is a big deal. In our view, this could be fatal for sellers who mistakenly limit their view of written tenders as a vehicle by which to ‘get in front of the client’, thereafter backing their verbal persuasion skills to get the deal across the line.

But not so for our client

Fortunately, our client understands the importance of a well-crafted written proposal. This understanding was vindicated when we received the delightful news that our client was shortlisted, based on the strength of its written proposal.

So, what can we learn?

This situation places sharp focus on the information evaluators use to form their sourcing decisions. As this example shows, procurement processes can change at any time.

That’s why we so strongly advise clients that every interaction with the buyer; from business development meetings, site visits, clarification questions, expressions of interest and the like, must align to continuously reassure, test understanding and build trust. And this must all coalesce when an opportunity to make a formal written offer becomes available.

Importantly too, when true north alignment is well-planned and seamlessly executed, this approach has a cumulative and persuasive effect that isn’t reliant on the ‘next step’ in the sales process.

As this pandemic has reminded us, you never know what’s around the corner. So it’s vital that you give yourself the best chance of success, through careful management of every stage of the tendering process, up to an including your ‘true north’ tenders or proposals.

Our message is clear

If you’re ever tempted to underinvest in your next tender response, remember that the quality of your proposal, including the ‘true north’ alignment of the supporting activities that preceded it, might be the only thing standing between a contract win or laying people off.

And if you do get the chance to present post proposal, make sure you pull out all the stops to capitalise on the brilliant opportunity this presents.


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