Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kitten Whiskers and Proposals

When I mentioned yesterday that sometimes I'd rather just write about kitten whiskers, one of my favorite colleagues pointed out that combining them with work is totally possible. She is right, so today I present you with kitten whiskers and proposals. Kitten whiskers have two functions:
  • To gauge the size of an opening so the kitten can determine whether he can get through 
  • To fall out and painfully stick in your foot when you're walking across the room 

Seriously, words cannot convey the level of ow that is a whisker in the sole of your foot. It's almost like stepping on a Lego. Despite those ninth-circle levels of pain, the gauge function is more important because it keeps the kitten out of places in which he really doesn't fit.

Similarly, proposals have two functions:
  • To convince a customer or potential new customer that your solution will fit their needs 
  • To ruin your life for the 30-90 days between the Request for Proposals (RFP) release and the due date 

You can see the parallels, yes? We've all been there: shoved into an ill-fitting proposal effort that consumes our days and nights until we're left exhausted and wondering what malformed beast of a response we just shoved out the door. These situations happen because someone either wasn't using their whiskers or didn't know how to trust them.

If you're new to proposals, you might not trust your whiskers yet to tell you truly whether you should invest the time and people to submit a response. That's okay! Until you're comfortable with your own, you can borrow mine. Here are some tip-offs that will tell you to steer clear of an opening that really isn't a good path for you.
  • Suspicious Specifics. The opportunity is obviously wired for another company and you can see it in the specifics of the solicitation (e.g., "The PM must have sandy brown hair and 11.2 years of experience in the South end of Building 4011.") 
  • Cannon Fodder. The Contracting Officer called you out of the blue and spent 15 minutes telling you about the upcoming RFP and how nice it would be if you responded to it. If they've never spoken to you before and spend the briefest amount of time to reel you in, they already know who they want and just need a certain number of bids to be considered competitive. 
  • Incorrect Container. In addition to work you do very well, the RFP contains requirements you've never seen or heard before. Unless you have a strong teammate to cover those new areas, you (and your response) will definitely not fit in there. 
  • Lack of Capture. A new RFP has dropped from nowhere, but it perfectly describes your areas of expertise! No. If you didn't know about it beforehand, you don't have the opportunity data necessary for a successful response and most likely will fall into one of the three traps above. 

I hope these tip-offs help you when you're faced with a dark hole in the wall and the question of "Should I go in there?" Just remember that everyone gets stuck occasionally, and it's good to ask for help when you need it. You can trust me. My whiskers have a pretty solid track record.
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