Winning the Business

Improving Your Team’s Signal-to-Noise Ratio

Reduce the noise, let your proposal be heard

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One of your primary responsibilities as a proposal manager is to develop a quality proposal that resonates with your customer. Through the process of preparing a win strategy and developing a relationship with the customer, we craft responsive value propositions to bring us the win. In fact, the strongest proposals clearly communicate those messages in a way that allows your customers to realize that your solution has an unmatched ability to meet their needs.

The strength and clarity of your messaging makes the difference between a winnable proposal and one that’s underwhelming.

The strength and clarity of your messaging makes the difference between a winnable proposal and one that’s underwhelming. It’s critically important to get the messaging right; the challenges lie in the execution. Your proposal team is busy understanding the strategy, writing the narrative, reviewing the materials, and taking care of the million tasks that lie between kick-off and delivery. It’s easy for the message to get lost in all that activity.

Drawing Scientific Parallels

As someone who manages proposals for a scientific research organization, I have many great opportunities to learn new ideas and concepts in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and radio frequency systems. Every once in a while, I find that a concept I learn from one of these domains brings new light to my work as a proposal professional.

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is an important measurement in several engineering and scientific practices. It compares the level of a desired signal to the level of competing background noise. The radio frequency engineers down the hall would tell me that this is represented as SNR = (P signal) / (P noise). But for the purposes of our discussion, we can focus on this concept: By eliminating background noise or increasing the power of the signal, your SNR rises above 1:1. When this happens, there is more signal than noise—which is a good thing.

Spend time documenting and communicating your strategy early in the process to ensure clarity in your messaging.

The key is being aware of factors that affect the SNR. Here are three potential sources of noise in a proposal effort, and what you can do to make sure your signal is loud and clear:

  1. Undocumented or unclear win strategy: We rely on our subject matter experts and proposal content developers to translate the win strategy into compelling proposal narrative. If they can’t find the win strategy or don’t understand it, it can lead to spending more time revising or, worse, submitting a proposal that’s difficult to evaluate. Spend time documenting and communicating your strategy early in the process to ensure clarity in your messaging.
  2. Fully formed narrative in the content plan: The content plan review (or pink team review) is an unmissable opportunity to hone your message and find the sneaky sources of noiselike headers that don’t map to evaluation criteria or lead to superfluous information. Your content plan reviewers can do this most effectively when they’re looking at an annotated outline or a storyboard. At this early stage, a draft filled with fully formed narrative makes it difficult for the reviewers to find your signal, so resist the urge to provide a draft that’s too mature.
  3. Unnecessary or unrelated information: Text that’s wordy, flowery, or unrelated to evaluation criteria “hides” the signal. Be judicious with your red pen and eliminate phrases that can’t be substantiated (e.g., best-of-breed, world-renowned, etc.) and any unneeded words. Also eliminate any content unrelated to evaluation criteria. More often than not, this material only serves to confuse and distract the evaluator from your signal—the responsive messaging you’ve crafted to prove your ability to meet their needs.

Thinking about the proposal process in terms of signal and noise can help us identify and then eliminate unnecessary noise, while increasing the power of our signals. The result is a better and more winnable proposal.


Corinne Jorgenson, CF APMP, is a Dayton, Ohio-based director of marketing, communications, and proposals for Riverside Research, a scientific research company. She can be reached at cjorgenson@riversideresearch.org.

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