If your company is preparing a big-money proposal for a prospective client looking for a horse, be careful you don’t end up delivering a camel.
What does that mean? A camel, as the saying goes, is a horse designed by committee. The idea is that, when a committee gets together to design a horse, the result is so muddled that the end product is something that looks nothing like a horse … ie, it turns out to be a camel.
While the saying isn’t really fair to horses or camels — both of which are perfectly suited for their respective environments — it does properly reflect the problem with committees. (User-experience developer Erik Flowers offers a more horse-and camel-friendly alternative in his blog: “A committee is a cul-de-sac into which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”)
As Wikipedia puts it, “The defining characteristics of ‘design by committee’ are needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality and the lack of a unifying vision.”
All those characteristics will work against your company when you’re trying to win new business through a request for proposal (RFP). The last thing any prospective customer wants is a firm offering a solution or service that’s needlessly complex, inconsistent, flawed, banal and lacking vision.
So how can you avoid the endless and futile cycle of writing and editing a proposal by committee? Here are a few keys to remember:
- Have one person charged with the final OK. Proposal-writing by committee falls down when there’s no clear leader at the helm. One person — whether it’s the CEO or the director of sales — needs to direct the process and have the last word when it comes to signing off on a bid.
- Set a clear objective. Before writing one word of a proposal, specify exactly what you want to achieve first. And keep that objective in the forefront throughout the bid process to make sure you don’t become sidetracked.
- Get everyone involved in the same room. Ideally, all the people involved in writing the proposal should meet for real, in the same room, at least a few times throughout the process, particularly in the beginning and the end. If that’s not possible, get everyone together in a virtual setting — say, a cloud-based meeting — to go over the bid. Nothing contributes to confusion like multiple one-on-one or email discussions between a couple of people here, three or four people there, without any overall coordination.
- Defer to the experts. If your communications pro says the sales department’s message is unclear, let comms handle the edit. Second-guessing the people with expertise in one area is a sure route to horse that ends up looking like a camel.
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