Making good Digital Services Store proposals

I’ve worked on calls off for the Digital Services Store from both sides – as a client procuring a couple of projects, and as an advisor to a supplier putting in bids. In this post I wanted to write up what I’ve learned about making good proposals. It’s based on things that I’ve seen and done that have worked, and things that I’ve seen and done that haven’t worked.

My view is that it is a shared responsibility of both parties to make it a good procurement. You need good proposals. And to get them, you need good requests for proposals.

In summary, if you’re writing a proposal, you need to pay attention to what you’re being asked, and be good at writing. If you’re a client, you need to explain very, very clearly what you’re looking for. Both these things sound simple but are hard to do. Whatever side you’re on, use opportunities to communicate in ways that aren’t writing.

I hope this is helpful. I would love to know other people’s views of what is good or bad. You can talk to me @rebeccakemp

For potential suppliers, my advice is:

1. Really tailor your proposal to what the client wants. This sounds very obvious and I imagine that all the people who wrote bids I’ve reviewed would say they had done it. But out of 5 proposals for a digital strategy I received, only 2 had done this satisfactorily, and none of them had done it to what I consider a high standard. At the very least, your proposal needs to include the phrases and words used in the call off (not just the client and project name). 3 out of 5 of the proposals I read in that procurement didn’t make much effort to do this. Frankly, I was a little insulted. To be a suitable standard, you need to show that you have thought about the requirement and built it into your proposal.

2. Make it easy for the reviewers to read. It’s likely that the person marking your proposal is doing a batch of them, without time to luxuriate over your individual proposal. So make it easy for them by doing the hard work to make it simple. Use headings and topic sentences. Keep appendices to a minimum so the marker doesn’t have to keep flicking between documents. If you are using appendices, make it easy for the marker to get to the relevant information, rather than them having to wade through your standard proposal slides. Write clearly. Get it edited.

3. Make it easy for the reviewers to give you marks. As much as possible, structure your response point by point against the requirements and criteria in the procurement documents request for proposal and marking scheme. Think of it like a job application. It matters if you get awarded 2 points or 3 points for each question, so make sure you’ve hit every point. The difference between and 2 and a 3 is frequently how much the proposal is tailored to the client’s project, which takes us back to point 1.

For people buying services, my advice is:

1. Be really clear about what you’re doing and what you want to buy. I thought I was clear in my digital strategy request for proposals. But the responses showed me that I hadn’t been. When I reviewed the documents again I noticed that the title of the project was misleading. Cringe. Filling in all the documents for the proposal is challenging, at least for me, especially when you’re not procuring digital development services. When I do the next one, I’m going to get more people to review it to pick up on my mistakes and make sure it’s really clear.

I'm better by slide

2. Do a webinar. You’ll probably be offered the opportunity to do a webinar for potential suppliers to ask questions. Do it. It will make you put your requirements into another format, like in my slide above. For me, having to explain it in a presentation made me communicate it more clearly. It will help people who prefer to listen rather than read. It also gives suppliers an opportunity to raise questions, which is important if, like me, you’re not perfectly clear about what you’re looking for.

3. Meet the supplier if you can. I was advised against this. In hindsight, it didn’t matter for one where the requirement was very simple, but I wish I had met the supplier for the other one. At the very least, I could have probed the suppliers more on their understanding of the project – which for the weaker proposals, was probably higher than their documents suggested.

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