Kissing The Blarney Stone: Proposal Team Fact vs. Fiction

Mar 17, 2015

Since it's St. Patrick’s Day, I got to thinking about some of the Irish legends, and the first one that came to mind was the legend of the Blarney Stone.

The Blarney Stone, a block of limestone embedded in Blarney Castle in Ireland, is said to bestow the gift of gab on anyone who kisses it. According to Wikipedia, the meaning of the word “blarney” has subsequently evolved from “the gift of gab” to “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. This led me to think about what “blarney” means in the course of my work (i.e., managing proposals), and it occurred to me that sometimes there is a lot of blarney in the proposal process.

How can we recognize when the members of the proposal team have clearly kissed the Blarney Stone?

Well, it’s when their clever, flattering, or coaxing talk sounds a lot like this:

1. The customer loves us

2) We know exactly what the customer wants

3) The RFP is flawed; our proposal will address what they really need

4) We have no performance issues

5) The customer says it wants “innovations”, but it really doesn’t

6) Other competitors can’t possibly meet the requirements; they don’t have “insider” knowledge

7) The customer is risk averse and will never switch to a new services provider

8) The customer is not price sensitive

9) To win, we just need to submit a compliant proposal; let’s just use the text developed for the original proposal

10) It’s ours to lose

The dead giveaway in all of the above statements is that the facts to support these assertions are nowhere to be seen.

1) Is the statement, “the customer loves us” supported by past performance review scores?

2) Has your project team met with any challenges that were difficult to successfully overcome?

3) Have the customer’s “wants” been thoroughly vetted by the business development/capture team in an organized fashion within the past six months?

4) Can your company, in fact, meet all the RFP requirements, even though they appear to be flawed? There is danger in not giving the client what it is asking for (i.e., technical non-compliance).

5) Have you discussed innovations with the customer in the context of the current contract?

6) Are there technical/management areas where the customer is, in fact, open to innovation, process improvements and other efficiencies, or even cost savings?

7) Does your competitive analysis support the contention that the competitor can’t possibly meet the customer’s requirements?

8) Is there someone on a competitor’s team (such as a major subcontractor) with recent, insider knowledge who can architect a strategy for winning?

9) What has past history shown about the client’s willingness to switch services providers? Under what conditions would the client be likely to do so?

10) Under the budget constraints federal agencies are experiencing, is price sensitivity more likely for the upcoming contract than it was in the past?

Three to five years may have passed between the time you submitted the proposal for your first contract and the new proposal. What has changed in the customer’s external and internal environment during this period that would make wholesale use of boilerplate information a fatal mistake?

Without this important knowledge, “it’s ours to lose” may become a very accurate assessment of what will happen to a proposal team that has been kissing the Blarney Stone.

The proposal manager has three options:

1) Expose the “blarney” for what it is and obtain the factual information necessary to draft a winning proposal

2) Don’t bid

3) Contact Brothers Grimm, Inc., who can send a man named Rumpelstiltskin over to spin some straw into gold…..for an incredibly large fee.

graphic of a notebook and person writing


Ellen Perrine

Written by Ellen Perrine

Ellen Perrine is a Proposal Development Consultant with Key Solutions with more than 30 years of experience in federal proposals including strategy development, proposal management, compliance management, and technical writing.

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