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Differences mean professional possibilities. Cultural differences, native language differences, and time zone differences are all parts of international proposal development. Working with culturally diverse technical subject matter experts across the world presents meaningful opportunities (and challenges) for proposal professionals. How? They must help translate domain-specific, quantitatively focused solutions into a hard-hitting business case.
Unlike U.S. federal government competitive procurements, commercial business-to-business proposals can involve several face-to-face interactions with the customer’s management and technical teams subsequent to the release of the final solicitation documents. This presents multiple opportunities to successively enhance and tune the management and technical solution sets. Given the 24/7 work cycle and customer expectations for rapid modifications and iterations, the velocity of this process makes the international commercial proposal development environment particularly invigorating. It also becomes quite demanding from perspectives such as communication and document configuration control.
Working with culturally diverse technical subject matter experts across the world presents meaningful opportunities (and challenges) for proposal professionals.
To be sure, there are considerable similarities between commercial B2B solicitations and U.S. federal competitive RFPs. In a recent $100 million commercial request for solution, for instance, there were numbered sections that addressed format, page count, and file-naming conventions—similar to Section L of the Uniform Contract Format of the Federal Acquisition Regulation. In addition, there were evaluation criteria and considerations nearly identical to Section M. There was also discussion of quality, capability, cost management, approach, and value to be delivered—clearly recognizable language from the federal market space. Of note in the commercial RFS was special focus on “ensuring that the relationship and operational interaction with [the client] will be well managed.” Clearly, the long-term interaction between offeror and ultimate client was envisioned by that client to extend far beyond a transactional level.
Data analytics, Agile data stores, Lean principles, Centers of Excellence, and robotics were important elements in the technical solution set for this particular commercial proposal. However, the pivotal decision makers of the ultimate client—a multibillion-dollar, European-based corporation with a global presence—directed laser-like attention toward the business side of the equation. They zeroed in on the business value to be delivered by the talented people, advanced processes, deep knowledge, and leading-edge tools presented in the offeror’s proposal. Indeed, there was an entire series of pre- and post-RFS-release meetings that focused almost exclusively on the business case and the sustainability of the potential long-term partnership.
Therefore, technical details—which certainly needed to be presented and illustrated—had to be transformed into business benefits. These encompassed compressed “time-to-value” horizons, decreased total cost of ownership, increased corporate-level visibility into the program, relevant “value levers” and when to activate them, and lower risk profiles, as well as support for triple bottom line, or TBL, business practices. TBL addresses the social contributions, environmental sustainability, and financial dimensions of a corporation. And the proposal had to demonstrate how the ultimate client would move up the “value chain” within its particular industry, based upon the solutions being offered. Conceptualized by Dr. Michael E. Porter of the Harvard Business School, value chain refers to changing business inputs into business outputs such that they have greater value than the original cost of creating those outputs.
Among the valuable lessons learned:
- Appoint two document “owners” for each proposal module—one in the U.S. and the other in India or South Africa, for example, to cover the entire 24-hour cycle in a given day. These document owners will be fully accountable for configuration (version) control.
- Introduce all core team members early in the proposal life cycle, to facilitate full understanding of roles and decision-making authority, swim lanes, plan of action, and milestones.
- Conduct regular “stand-up” teleconferences to communicate progress, priorities, critical near-term issues, and the geographic location of core team members so everyone knows in which time zones they are working. Over-communication is critical to success within distributed teams.
- Develop the end-to-end proposal outline early in the process, and continually validate it against the solicitation document and client verbal directions, as they evolve over time, to ensure exacting and full compliance.
Dr. Robert S. Frey, APMP Fellow, PMP®, is co-owner and principal at Successful Proposal Strategies LLC. His book Successful Proposal Strategies for Small Businesses (Boston: Artech House) reflects insights, lessons learned, and best practices from his 30 years of professional proposal development. He can be reached at 410-812-1177 or email@example.com.