I once had a client say he wanted to do ‘fresh writing’ for the entirety of content in every single tender, bid and proposal response.
That’s right…every time…every bid…100% written from scratch. Unsurprisingly the ‘fresh writing’ diktat put considerable extra pressure on his already frazzled team and didn’t help his firm’s win rate.
When it comes to putting together tenders, bids and proposals for professional services turnaround times from release to submission are shrinking. Perhaps you’ll have 2 – 4 weeks to respond or, for less formal competitive selection processes, you may have days, or in some cases hours, to turn around a pitch.
So it was with relish I heard, at the 2017 APMP ANZ conference key note by Jon Williams, it’s not just okay to reuse content; it’s actually best practice! There’s no need to feel guilty or that every line must be crafted anew. These days there’s simply no other way to efficiently get a compliant and compelling proposal out the door in a complex world in limited time.
By leveraging boilerplate (material previously presented in other tenders, bids or proposals) you can inject a heap of efficiency into your proposal development. This frees you to spend the precious (and necessary) time designing your client service plan (or solution) and perfecting your draft. I like to think of this as ‘same-same, but different‘.
However, there is an art to recycling, re-spinning, reshaping, upcycling and updating tender, bid and proposal boilerplate content.
Know your audience(s) and understand the context so you know how to make it different
As with any piece of communication you must consider your audience (or audiences); the evaluation panel plus other stakeholders.
For instance, a change management consultancy hoping to win work with local government might be contending with these direct and indirect audiences who can influence the final decision:
- Procurement – checking minimum compliance and meeting of requirements
- HR management/team – initiating/sponsoring/driving the project
- General Manager/Finance – controlling budgets
- Mayor and councillors – ultimate decision makers/veto power
- Council officer participants in the program – perhaps influential in provider selection
- Community/ratepayers – indirectly powerful, the Council’s spend must stand up to their scrutiny.
These audiences are not fools. Usually they’ll be reviewing several (if not scores of) bids so it’s important not to be boring, irrelevant or so generic and ‘me too’ that all they will have to assess you on is price.
The scenario that has led to the need for a proposal, bid or tender will supply you the context around just how much tailoring and fresh writing will need to be injected into your customisation of boilerplate.
A sole provider appointment to deliver a bespoke software solution with scoped pricing and detailed preliminary design will require more customisation than say, a prospective client, who says
‘Great to meet you can you send me a short overview/capability statement/proposal I can show my colleagues?’.
So first, a word of caution on some of the risks to beware of when using boilerplate, followed by practical tips on how to leverage your existing content well.
Risks of reusing generic same-same boilerplate everywhere
Avoid these traps inherent in boilerplate:
- copy so general that it’s near meaningless to that client’s requirements
- broad messages – they won’t alienate anyone, but you’re not about to convert the your evaluators with over-generalised words and ideas
- vague, general material that tends to make you sound just like everyone else in your sector – check out the test below
- really broad, generic, undifferentiated ‘motherhood’ statements that mostly leave readers bewildered … just wondering what you’re on about and how it applies to them
- on the flipside what you have carefully crafted for one very specific business opportunity is risky to reuse as is, too.
Practical tips to go from same-same to different
Get a proposal library (aka a boilerplate repository)
Your proposal content library or boilerplate repository ideally comprises slices of well-written copy for common (and perhaps less common) requirements and questions which can be quickly assembled and ‘individualised’ or ‘personalised’ or ‘customised’ or ‘tailored’.
Another advantage of collecting this type of material is that it will have been previously approved, it should be reasonably non-controversial and you won’t have to waste time seeking sign-off on every aspect of the content (perhaps just new elements).
Over time you can build up succinct ½ page to one page write ups that give you a consistent model for responding to questions around:
- Service delivery (audit process, litigation approach, recruitment model whatever the steps are to the services are you deliver)
- Relationship or account management (approach, team structure and communication model)
- Firm infrastructure (systems, data security, other tech, management, policies, procedures)
- Editable diagrams or flowcharts that encapsulate process steps that can be then tailored or top and tailed with some mentions of the client’s name or other specifics
- Professional profiles/resumes/CVs/bios for each team member that are nicely laid out and are easy to edit for each opportunity.
As part of your bid wrap up process index, cross reference or otherwise update your content library after each bid hands in. Clearly flag new or improved material and make it easy for your team to access. And make sure it’s clear (by some sort of time and date convention) what is most recent so you don’t create version control issues, revert to an out of date CV or old content.
Now, test your boilerplate content to ensure its not the same-same as your competitors
A big problem with being overly reliant on old boilerplate is that it can make you sound just like your close competitors, that is same-same without the different.
Try this simple test: if you globally searched your firm name, and replaced it with that of your closest competitor, would your proposal sound equally applicable to them?
Put any boilerplate content you are considering recycling through its paces:
- check that it resonates with this market/client
- make sure that it doesn’t alienate your new intended audience
- check, do the benefits hit the mark?
- what specifics and details can you alter, add or remove to improve the resonance?
Too much ‘edit, find, replace’ or over reliance on automation can be dangerous
While ‘edit, find, replace’ and other fancier automation tools can be your friend, they do need to be used intelligently.
At the most basic level this means thorough vetting to ensure no mentions of other clients have remained (especially due to name variations e.g. Sydney City Council, SCC, Sydney City, the Council). Also check no other words have been interfered with and had letters replaced making the word nonsense (for instance replacing ALL mentions of ‘AIG’ can render ‘campaign’ into something weird).
I’ve reviewed many proposals where the wrong client name has been left in and it screams to a prospective client ‘we couldn’t be bothered’.
We recommend you have your proposal closely proofed (word by word) by a human to ensure no stray names or odd specifics have remained. Even better, get a ‘subject matter expert’ who hasn’t been close to document to do a cold proofread to double check the key messages, references, jargon and lingo are spot on and won’t hit a bum note.
Build time in for this from the start of the process and insist on it happening at least one day before hand in.
Include supporting evidence (if it’s relevant to advancing your position as different)
Supporting attachments can add heft to your arguments and round out your evidence but should also be tailored intelligently. They can also make you look a less risky and better prospect than others who don’t bother to include them,
‘Oh good, they have a clearly defined process for that…’.
But, often proposal library content is reused mindlessly – for instance attaching standard marketing materials to proposals is pointless.
Or, another example, unless it is actually a requirement, do you really need to attach the firm’s ENTIRE 150 page work health safety manual? Perhaps a summary or a screen shot of your manual’s table of contents is a better way to provide proof with the full copy ‘available on request’. This may be enough to help differentiate you from others who don’t have a policy, but keep it to the minimum that is relevant to share or include for this opportunity, again remember your audience! They won’t want to wade through 150 pages of your manual.
Even if you start with same-same every time make it different for every proposal
Try these other techniques to freshen up and customise your boilerplate:
- focus your key themes or messages on differentiation for this opportunity (choose 3 – 4 themes to play up and no more)
- highlight your unique attributes (special tech, team expertise, methodologies) that will matter to this client
- check (again) that you don’t sound just like most of your competitors and are differententiated
- top and tail your lead in text and concluding sentences with some specifics (using the client’s name is good) to ensure readers understand why you are including this content and how it is relevant to them and to your case for appointment (and also keep them reading!)
- speak in your own voice rather than following the often sad, professional services norm: pompous, tedious, heavy, dull, undistinguished and boring.
So there you have it, it’s more than ok to reuse same-same boilerplate,
if you do it well and actually make it different.
Being organised enough to have a quality stockpile of ready to roll proposal boilerplate gives you a huge competitive advantage by enabling your firm to quickly create a proposal that communicates specific benefits to its intended audience.
Then, if adapted well, what was boilerplate will resonate with recipients by clearly explaining why these benefits matter and the value you will bring to the client should your proposal win – that is, translating benefits into meaningful differentiators which hit the mark.
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