the art of reviews
Proposal reviews are extremely important, but let’s be honest, at times (and more often than we would like) they are an uphill struggle that we just don’t need when getting closer to the deadline. Why is this and how can we make them work better for us?
It’s in no doubt that proposal reviews are a critical and arguably one of the most important stages of your bid process. No matter how big or small, simple or complex the bid, getting at least a second pair of eyes to read through the response before it’s submitted to the customer has multiple benefits to increase your chances of winning.
The purposes of the review stage include:
Checking that the solution meets the customer’s needs and can be delivered
Identifying areas of strength and weakness of the proposal
Scoring the proposal against an evaluation criteria (ideally the customer’s but if they do not provide one, it’s not a bad idea to set one yourself with weightings against what you know are the customer’s priorities)
Picking up on errors (eg spelling, punctuation, grammar)
Ensuring the risk (technical, commercial, and financial) to the business is acceptable and mitigated where appropriate
And of course, our old favourite, ensuring the proposal answers the question.
Having been on the ‘other side’ when commissioning work earlier in my career, I can tell you that it’s very easy for an evaluator to see when a review hasn’t been done well or even at all! Things like the customer’s name spelled incorrectly in a header/footer, meaning that it’s wrong on every page of the proposal is a big turnoff for an evaluator! And yes, I did see this on more than one occasion.
So why can they be such hard work? Some of the reasons for why this is the case are covered below.
1. Inane comments
How many times have we seen some of these comments?
“Needs to be more salesy”
“I don’t like this section”.
At a recent APMP UK event, one attendee said that one of the comments she’d had from a review was simply “?”!
For comments to be truly worthwhile and help improve the proposal, they need to have context. Think about why a section needs to be rewritten. Is it because it’s incorrect? Is it because it doesn’t flow well? Is it because it isn’t reflecting the customer’s hot-buttons or your win themes?
When going through review comments, think about the reviewer’s status as well. When analysing historical documents as part of my university degrees, it was always important not just to think about the content, but the context as well, including the author. This holds true here as well. If the reviewer doesn’t like a section, does it really matter? If they don’t have a relationship with the customer and understand a section’s purpose, then how much weight does their comment really have in your review?
We’ve all had reviewers submit their comments back to us after the deadline we’ve set. In the past, I’ve had to allow 3 days in my schedule for a reviewer to read through the proposal and return comments to account for the fact that they never got it back to me within the day that I’d allowed. Not because the proposal warranted 3 days to review, but because they were always distracted and prioritised other activities above the review. Sometimes I would also get comments back at 3am in the morning - if someone is reviewing at that time of night, how good will their review be?
Some critical reviewers to the specific opportunity may also not be available when the review is needed. This either means delaying the review to allow for this, putting pressure on the team during the post-review pre-submission period, or not having the right people involved in the review.
3. Reviewer diversity
Ensuring diversity in your review does not necessarily mean increasing the number of reviewers - too many cooks can spoil the broth. Diversity is all about getting a view from a variety of functions - a review is not all about ensuring the solution is technically sound and compliant. It’s also about reviewing the proposal’s commercial and financial viability, the readability, the competitiveness, ensuring it answers the question, that it hits the customer’s needs, and that it is professionally presented.
Having an independent reviewer is important as well - if someone who has little knowledge of the context can understand what we’re selling, then whoever reads it at the customer’s end is likely to understand it as well. To get all this, without having 6+ reviewers, means ensuring that your review team can evaluate the proposal with multiple hats on.
4. Reviewer capability
It is important to remember that ‘proposal reviewer’ is a role not a title, and regardless of what some might think, being at a certain management level on an organisation chart shouldn’t mean someone automatically becomes a reviewer! They might read the proposal before it goes out the door, but that’s very different from being a reviewer. Whilst some people are naturally gifted at reading a proposal and identifying ways it can be improved to increase the probability of winning, my experience suggests that this is a rarity. As with any other role, reviewers’ capabilities need to develop so that their skills are honed for the benefit of the proposal.
5. Don’t score
Regardless of providing our reviewers with an evaluation criteria (set either by the customer or internally) so they can score the proposal, there are some that ignore this and don’t provide a view on how each section would score ‘out of 10’ for example. The issue with this is that it could result in the customer’s evaluation team being the first to score the proposal, meaning that you miss the opportunity of knowing which sections could be improved to increase your technical, commercial, or financial scores.
A vital part of review scoring is so you can do some final competitor analysis. With intelligence of likely technical, commercial, and financial scoring by competitors, this can be compared against the scores from internal reviews to identify if there are any areas of your offering that need to be altered to increase your likelihood of winning.
So, with these hates in mind, how do we actively work to prevent them to make it easier to close out the proposal before submission?
Hold a Review kick off session
This will help you set your reviewer expectations.
Be clear on things like who reviews which sections of the proposal. If it’s a particularly large proposal, you might want to consider getting people to focus on certain sections to minimise the risk of the proposal not being completely reviewed due to time pressures. As well as using this kick off to highlight what you want the reviewers to do, also use it to highlight what you don’t want them to do, eg correct spellings, punctuation and grammar. Or even be clear that you reserve the right to ignore comments if they are not constructive. Use this session to indicate if there are any time limits on the review - if you know how long your customer is going to review your proposal, get your reviewers to spend the same period of time evaluating it.
Communicate with reviewers prior to, during and after the review.
Prior - get the review in their diary as early as you can to mitigate the risk of them not being available when you need them. Also, provide updates to the reviewers on how the proposal is progressing so they will know at what level of completion the proposal is likely to be when they will receive it, or even if you need to push the review back/pull it forward.
During - don’t just leave them to review. Check back in on progress. Get interval scores from them. See if there are any ‘unwanted habits’ creeping in and stop them early.
After - rather than just getting review comments in Word or email, hold a wash-up session so you can get views verbally as well. This doesn’t need to be going through the proposal line-by-line, but you can get the salient points and clarify any comments not understood.
Make it easier for the reviewer to do their job by giving them checklists that can help them.
This could be a list of the customer’s hot buttons and your win themes, which they can then tick off and identify where these are covered in the proposal. It could also be a list of specific evidence you want to be clear in the response - if the reviewer can’t find it, the customer probably won’t either. Replicate the score sheet that the customer is likely to use when marking your proposal and give that to your reviewer to use.
As part of this, to see how observant the reviewers are, maybe consider adding a comment on the last page for reviewers to come forward to claim a prize to check that they’ve actually read it! I’ve done this before, and the results can be quite interesting – just make sure you remove the comment before submitting the proposal!
Reviewer selection empowerment
As the bid or proposal manager you have a right to be at least part of the reviewer selection, so ensure you are empowered to do so.
When making your selection, do so appropriately - don’t choose reviewers you know will ‘just wave it through’ because you want to just get the proposal ‘out the door’ with minimal rework. Similarly, select reviewers who have some understanding of the topic, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining the requirement and solution before they are ready to review.
Reviewers part of lessons learned
All members of the bid team need to learn how things can be improved for the future.
Having reviewers being part of this session means the whole bid team gets to know and understand any lessons raised by the review team, as this may identify ways the proposal can be written or managed in a better way in future. It is also a means to develop the reviewers’ capability - tell them where they can be clearer with comments in the future.
Also, when you know how the customer has scored your proposal, share this with the reviewers, whether you’ve won or lost. See if there’s a gap between the internal review and the customer score - are your internal review scores higher or lower than the customer? Is the customer picking up on things in their evaluation that internal reviewers are not? Remember, this is not personal, it’s all about how you can win as a team!
Identify & prominence
Ensure that everyone knows who the reviewers are and how important their role is from the earliest point you can - they are part of the bid team and remind everyone of that.
Reviewers and their comments are part of the overall solution and are of vital importance. By making their role known, the reviewer and everyone around knows that they must be available to evaluate the proposal and not be distracted when doing so.
Register of reviewers
Keep a register of your reviewers across the company and what their capabilities and areas of expertise are, eg size/complexity of proposal, editorial (formatting/spelling/punctuation/grammar), ability to be independent, functional.
This can be used when selecting reviewers to ensure you get a diverse cross-section of capabilities. It can also be used to identify where reviewers’ improvements are needed.
Reviewer & owner/writer relationship
If a specific section needs particular attention, encourage, and facilitate the relationship between reviewer and the section owner/author.
By doing this, reviewers can be coaches and part of the team with the same goal of winning. By working directly with section owners, the reviewers can help improve the response in the most efficient and effective way - sometimes the proposal lead can be an unnecessary barrier.
If you need a review team of more than three, consider having a review chair/lead.
Not only will this replicate how the customer is likely to organise themselves through an evaluation board, but it will also help you significantly mitigate the ‘too many cooks’ situation. The review chair/lead can iron out disagreements amongst reviewers, communicate the feedback, and nudge reviewers to complete on time.
Ultimately, the proposal reviews are one of the most important elements of the bid process and should be respected by all. Reviews are not just a tick-box exercise to say the proposal can be submitted. They should be replicating the customer’s proposal evaluation as best as possible and identifying ways in which you can improve your likelihood of winning. As time between the reviews and submission is going to be finite and potentially tight, they need to be done effectively so that expectations are clear and the bid or proposal manager gets the most out of them.
BidCraft can independently review your bids to make sure they're evaluator-friendly and high-scoring. We use our Reviewing & Scoring service to assess whether your bids fully answer the question, address the evaluation criteria, and pull through your win themes - making them clear and compelling.
We also have a Reviewing & Scoring online course as part of our BidCraft Academy - head over to our website for more details: https://academy.bidcraft.co.uk/courses/proposal-reviewing-and-scoring