How would you describe your current proposal management process? Do you use color-team vernacular; pink,red, gold etc? Do you have a capture planning stage? Maybe you use a Shipley process or some variation. Now when you think about your process, how much of the work is automated?
If you’re not yet using automation in this process, then I’ll bet the following words/phrases may resonate. Time-consuming. Tedious. Herding cats. Frustrating. Resource-heavy. It’s clear that, for many, the proposal process is far from ideal. Proposal Managers in Bid Centers often work long hours carrying out repetitive, manual tasks. Examples of these tasks include:
- Creating a compliance matrix by hand.
- Checking for correctly defined acronyms.
- Deleting or defining industry terms and jargon.
- Editing what a technical colleague has written. Or re-writing it so it’s more understandable, with a single tone of voice.
- Identifying compliance gaps in the proposal.
- Aligning win themes, and making sure the proposal complies with the requirements.
- Finding and making sure you’re compliant with FAR / DFAR clauses.
- Correcting factual errors.
- Checking if we’ve addressed similar requirements in the past?
- Making sure we have the right resumes and capabilities bundled in our response.
- Finding the best teaming partners.
Does any of the above sound familiar?
No doubt you could expand the list with your own examples. Basically, “cut and paste” is the Proposal Manager’s best friend. And simple search in MS Word and PDFs. Or these may be your worst enemy, if you think about how much time you spend doing them. Do you ever wonder if your skills could be put to better use? If your time could be better spent?
And the challenge here is even greater if your organization doesn’t have huge staff numbers. It is, after all, a numbers game. The more staff members, the more hours you have to dedicate to the process. For many, it’s the difference between winning and losing. Currently, the human investment in proposal-creation is so substantial that larger organizations have a clear advantage. But even in larger orgs, the scope for optimizing the process, and driving higher efficiency and improved pWIN is huge. In fact, we have seen efficiency savings of 80% across the proposal cycle, and increased pWIN rates of 7%+. There is a different way.
Beating the numbers game
Smart organizations working in Bid Centers use automation to take the strain off. For example, VT Docs is document analysis software for proposal and contract teams. It helps automate many of the tedious steps within the proposal process. From bid/no-bid, to compliance matrix generation and FAR/DFAR compliance.
Before you even get started, the decision whether to respond to an RFP can drain your resources. And the wrong decision can be costly. VT Docs helps by shredding RFPs, and creating compliance matrices in minutes. It also creates responsibility matrices (similar to RACIs). This is a real game changer. Consider how much time your organization spends creating compliance and RACI matrices. Imagine if it could be done with the click of a button. You’d be able to easily, and quickly, see whether your organization is a good fit.
How it works…
The result? You shave off hours creating matrices. And you instantly cut out the need for constant liaison with each individual or team.
And during the proposal-creation process, VT Docs really comes into its own. It’s your trump card. It ensures compliance by spotting gaps and risks, and helps align win themes across all teams and levels. It automatically extracts acronyms, flagging whether they are defined at the first instance, and whether usage is consistent.
Tone and readability
The software ensures tone consistency across all teams and subject matter experts. By running your proposal through the solution, you’re able to check up on writing quality and readability in minutes. You can also make sure the proposal is understandable by the target audience. Does it contain acronyms or jargon that the person reading it wouldn’t understand or may dismiss as ‘market-ese’? For example, how many exec summaries mention “world-class” and “best of breed” without any real substantiating evidence? All this does is damage your credibility.
Doc and PDF Comparisons
What happens when you write against a draft solicitation, and then you receive the final version? Most Proposal Managers work within MS Word Compare to detect the changes. But MS Word Compare doesn’t really work so well. It’s visual overload, combining format changes as well as text changes. It’s designed to merge files, not compare files. And finally, it is not a reportable format suitable for collaboration. You really need a way to automatically flag textual changes in a reportable format.
FARs and Flow-Down Clauses
Contract Managers always need to manually identify sensitive FARs/DFARs. For example, flow-down clauses, IP clauses, export restrictions etc. Working on a long contract, you might typically spend days extracting, updating and maintaining the FAR requirements matrix by hand. No more. VT Docs automatically flags FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) and DFARs (Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations). We actually tested to see how much time VT Docs could save. In one of our scenarios, scanning a 106 page RFP doc, we saved ten whole hours. VT Docs extracted 672 FAR clauses in just two minutes, and flagged the most sensitive ones automatically.
And with Excel Compare, you can compare excel spreadsheets against each other, and spot changes. Many of our customers use this to check for pricing and estimate alterations. Hands up if you’ve ever fired off a proposal under pressure, only to spot a mistake later on. We’re human – we all slip up from time to time. But if we set it up correctly, the software won’t fail us. In fact, it can really take the pressure off. Both freeing up time for more useful and thoughtful activities. Who wants to spend hours copying and pasting to create a compliance matrix?
Having worked with the biggest US Federal contracts and hundreds of smaller customers, we see how automation dramatically drives higher efficiency and better pWIN rates.
More wins – the evidence
We know that companies who use VT Docs secure a higher pWIN rate. In fact, our recent customer survey showed an average 9.8% increase. This is due to a number of factors:
- Our customers are able to identify more easily which opportunities they should go for. Deciding whether to bid, or not, becomes a faster and more accurate process.
- Proposals are better tailored towards their target audience. Win themes are better aligned. There’s a consistent tone, and lack of errors, across all proposals.
Finally, the pWIN rate is greater because staff are freed from monotonous tasks, delivering more compliant, responsive proposals. So they can direct their skills more effectively. More on that later.
Revenue increase and cost savings through higher efficiency
We also know that VT Docs is good for your bottom line. Across the clients we surveyed, the average saving was $528k in staff time per year. 66.7 hours per proposal. And an increase in revenue of $438,849,249, from improving pWIN.
Holly Meyer, Director – Business Development of Noridian, said “…we have seen an 80% decrease in the amount of time it takes to shred a contract, and develop a matrix to evaluate our performance against that contract.”
So… are we all going to be replaced by robots?
We know that’s what some of you are thinking. Because when we start talking about letting machines do our work, there are inevitably some concerns. And that’s natural, we get it. This is a new way of working. Once they try it for themselves, our customers quickly learn to trust the automation processes. Much is down to clever software design. We’ve all battled with software that is not well designed, almost as if the vendor has no clue about who is actually going to use it. For us, usability is the main driver. And it’s wired into our product development process. For example, we always showcase our new product ideas to key customers before we write a line of code. This simple approach is very powerful.
Another widely heard objection is – does this make humans redundant? Of course not. In fact, using smart solutions like VT Docs means you free up your time from tedious, repetitive and error-prone tasks. You can make better use of your time and people. Automation takes the strain off by letting software do the painstaking, repetitive tasks. We still use our brains to evaluate the proposal quality and make sure it’s compelling and correct. And your team will have even more time for that.
Automation makes work more human
There are many things automation does really well. And there are many things it can’t. See, by tapping into its ability to process thousands of manual, time-intensive tasks, you’re unlocking a huge opportunity. An opportunity to better use your staff’s uniquely human skills. It’s the automation, or AI, paradox.
The Financial Times said it best, earlier this year:
Automated systems are far better at dangerous, and repetitive or time-intensive work. Humans perform well on abstract and creative tasks. Putting them together can harness the advantages of both.
Imagine a proposal process where automation takes the strain off your teams. Where they have time, and energy, to do what they do best. To consider how to best pitch a particular proposal. To decide how to really bring out your strengths as a company. And think about how they’ll feel, given the opportunity to kill the cut and paste. Free to flex their brain power in new and creative ways. Within the industry, this could really level out the playing field. VT Docs is your best weapon against the competition. By embracing automation, you will increase pWIN rate, decrease costs, and boost your revenue. After all, 11 of the top 15 US Federal contractors are doing just that with VisibleThread. Use your solutions wisely, and plan to win more in 2020.