Much like a “perfect” farmer, marketing professionals must take charge of each step of the growing (submittal) process, or else risk disaster.
Dedication, hard work, persistence, and pride are some of the most commonly used adjectives to describe the perfect farmer. There is one trait that is usually omitted, but constitutes the basis for a farmer’s success: sense of ownership. Getting your hands dirty and feeling completely responsible for the whole process of germination, growth, nurturing, selection, packaging, and distribution is the only way to ensure “the fruits of your labor.”
Much like a “perfect” farmer, marketing professionals must take charge of each step of the submittal process. Sitting idly by and waiting for technical personnel to forward “their” information is a recipe for disaster. If you truly believe each proposal is like a vegetable that you need to nurture until it is ready for consumption, you must challenge technical and management personnel at every juncture. Practitioners are used to managing projects and writing project plans that translate into boring, purely technical write-ups. The paradigm under which you should function is that you, and only you, are responsible for every single thing related to the submittal – aesthetics, format, style and strategy, approach and winning themes.
Immersing yourself in the process, researching about the services, market, and project at hand, and being knowledgeable about your firm’s relevant experience, will position you to challenge the technical staff on content. In my experience, only a select few “professionals” have not taken my challenges with open arms; to the contrary, the majority welcomes it because it pushes them to think about the issues from the client’s perspective. Also, at every step of the way, you must ask why – why are we including this sample project, why is this the best way to organize the team, why is this task relevant, why would the client select us? Remember that you should “plant the seed” for this line of questioning and thinking at the proposal kick-off meeting and in your regular marketing meetings.
Let’s look at some of the cues we can take from farming applied to the submittal process:
- Planning. As farmers plough the soil in preparation for sowing seed, marketers need to be invested in the business development processes in anticipation of solicitations that will hit the street. In an ideal world, the key members of a proposal team are aware of the client’s needs and preliminary strategies and action plans can be developed before the official Request for Proposal is released.
- Customization. No two pieces of land are the same, even the ones close to each other. They may share several characteristics, but each farmer is the only one that truly understand his plot of land. Every project (and every proposal), is different and it should be addressed as such. General guidelines and some boilerplate are useful tools, but only as a starting point in the proposal development process. Content should be edited to specifically speak the client’s language and should go straight to the point. The use of “fluff” does not contribute anything positive to the proposal and it actually hurts the overall document, just like over-fertilizing the soil.
- Innovation. The first mentions of hydroponic farming
(growing plants using only water, nutrients, and a growing medium), were met, as many other innovations, with skepticism. Ultimately, this technique has been proven to be extremely successful. As we present “our case” in a proposal, we should not shy away from presenting a unique approach and be creative in the way the document is laid out. You need to be mindful of what will work in a particular situation, so think about the audience, its personalities, and the competition, and how their documents look and feel. Do not go overboard for the sake of being different; if you have fertile soil, use it. Hydroponics is not your best-case scenario.
- SWOT. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Farmers use this effective business tool in their hard, hands-on work. They need to thoroughly understand their land’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their farm’s labor force and equipment. Similarly, they need to take into account external situations that present opportunities or pose threats to their livelihood; including a growing demand for certain vegetables (i.e., kale), emerging pests, and the effects of climate change. When leading a team through the discussions that will lead to the development of a winning proposal, it is imperative to perform a SWOT analysis.
No matter how many similar proposals you have developed, the effort does not get easier. This is the nature of the business if you are doing it right. David Bly said, “Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven’t planted.” Going after a project without having cultivated the client’s relationship, without planning your strategy and team beforehand, without customizing your content specifically speaking to the audience, without offering any type of innovation to stand out from the crowd, and without thoroughly understanding all the key elements surrounding the project, is like trying to set up a home garden by just digging a hole and dropping some seeds into it.
This “proposal” land is your land. Take charge of each venture. Own it.
Javier Suarez is the central marketing and sales support manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.