Laura's Winning Ideas

Proposal Expert, Laura Ricci, Muses on How She Reached Her 85% Hit Rate, Creating and Managing Dynamic Teams and Living Through Turnarounds Supporting Good People Doing Great Things

Stay Safe Out There: Proposal Security

— LRicci at 9:08 am on Thursday, March 15, 2012

Scary news today about a security breach by a contractor handling sensitive information for a client.

The SAIC employee’s car, a 2003 Honda Civic, was parked in a garage that housed many luxury cars, “yet the thief or thieves, who went to great effort to avoid security, did not break into any of the luxury cars in the garage, targeting instead the relatively inexpensive car containing the confidential data.”

Industrial espionage is a real threat, and proposal teams are in the cross hairs because they handle time-sensitve and critical mission-sensitive information every day. Don’t get casual about the confidential nature of your information.

These incidents should be used by proposal managers to tune up everyone’s awareness of the importance of security for all your proposal information.

Have a brainstorming session to discuss what might be a security breach for your group, and talk about how to tighten it up a bit.

Here’s a few ideas to consider:

1) Back in the dark ages, proposal teams had to create their own backups and decide how and where to store them. Today, you can count on your IT department automatically doing this for you. However you should ask about your backup procedure. In one firm, I discovered that the IT department had the members of the proposal team on a lower priority backup schedule. Once a week is not nearly often enough for a proposal team.

Since the team wasn’t considered executive staff, their computers weren’t flagged as being more mission critical than the Marketing VP. I’m prejudice, but everyone handling a proposal due in 30 days, for serious money, are more critical than someone handling the color of the new logo.

2) Laptops. How do you manage these?

What is your property policy? How and where can they be used? Does everyone know how to distinguish a secure internet connection from an insecure internet connection? Invite IT in for a brown bag session, and buy their lunch to show you how to stay safe on-line.

3) Fax machines. I hate ‘em because they are almost completely insecure. A seven year old can set up an intercept on a fax machine undetected. If you must use one, make sure it is the busiest machine you can find, so someone would have to pull out your information from all the minuetae being transmitted. Better yet, don’t use them. I only use them for lunch orders.

4) Print shop. Most of the current printers keep a file of every page copied in memory. When I use an outside print shop, I bring some work and sit there during production.  Any misprints I take with me for destruction, rather than let them sit in their trash bins. When we are finished, I stand next to the operator and watch as they delete all our files.

Check your own copy machines and printers and ask IT to help you create a procedure to purge the memory on them if they don’t automatically delete. My printer deletes only when it shuts down, but not otherwise, so during proposal production, it gets rebooted everyday.

5) Email lists. Some of us use emails lists to communicate during proposals. Have you checked these lists lately? Sometimes we fail to notice that someone has left the company, or is no longer in the same department and in a “need to know” status. Clean up your lists, or better yet, make it a policy to delete mailing lists after each proposal and recreate at proposal start.

One of my proposal team members was responsible for the daily backup to tape (I’m REALLY old!) and we talked about the safest place to keep the backup tape. My policy was that the most recent tape had to leave the building each night. He jiggered a cassette tape from a local band, so his backup tape would travel with him undetected. The two greatest talents of proposal professionals are that we are all ingenious and fun. Use it!

Follow your data and you’ll come up with more potential leaks you can address before a problem arises. Stay Safe out there!



Related Posts: for sale

— LRicci at 3:46 pm on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One of my orphan URLs is

If you’d like this URL, and are among my circle, let me know. I’ll sell it to you for cheap. Real cheap. Like in, buy me a Latte or two.

I just hate to let it back into the wild for a URL pirate to pickup for resale.

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Steve Jobs Speaks to Proposal Teams

— LRicci at 3:50 pm on Friday, November 4, 2011

Much is being published about the life and work of Steve Jobs. After reading Walter Issacson’s book¬†Steve Jobs, I have some notes that apply to our work. These may protect you from the managers who will read this book and decide that they too have attributes of Steve Jobs that they want to unleash.

“This is Crap”

Steve Jobs reacted in extremes. Ideas presented to him were either vilified or worshiped. Often ideas were dismissed, only to appear again later, but now as Steve’s idea and insight.

Genius doesn’t react well to surprises. And in my experience neither do mere mortals. Nothing in a proposal should be a surprise. EVER.

Most often, we are working to respond exactly to the requirements of an RFP. But sometimes the RFP is so far from what the client should be doing, that our firm wants to propose an entirely different idea. Here’s how to win in this circumstance:

One of our clients was well served by a team of engineers who’d been working with their facility for years. Corporate HQ wrote an RFP for a project that each of their plants would need. But our engineers had been talking to their customers at the local plant about a different approach. They believed by combining efforts among several of these types of projects they could save their customer money. They recommended creating a database that would be used for all these types of projects, instead of repeating work and collecting the data from scratch each time.

They wanted to respond to the RFP with a proposal that offered a completely different approach, and cost quite a bit more.

Here’s how I helped them win: We broke the RFP down into storyboards, and outlined the recommended approach. As we reviewed the storyboards, for each one, I asked, “Who spoke with the customer about this and when? Do you need to refresh their memory about this topic?” These guys were good. With over 20 elements outlined on the storyboards, they’d discussed almost every single item. Only one idea they were putting in the proposal they had just come up with. Immediately they made an appointment to get out there and cover this new idea with the customer.

When the proposal arrived, nothing in it was a surprise. The customers used the proposal to defend the decision to spend 3X the budgeted amount on our approach.

Anyone else would have said, “This is Crap.”

“What Do You Do Here?”

Junior folks at Apple avoided riding the elevator with Jobs. They were terrified that he would ask them questions, the scariest one being, “What do you do here?” A misstep could mean the end of your job.

I grind away at proposal teams that they should always know exactly what they are doing that makes a difference to the bottom line. If you don’t know, you ain’t making a difference. You are just overhead.

“We won 18 of the last 20 proposals I supported.”

“We won $xxx million last quarter from new clients.”

“We NOGOed the xxxxxxxx project that Lockheed Martin is losing money on.”

Avoid telling executives that you saved money. You can’t grow a company by cutting expenses. If you don’t know, track your progress and figure out where you can make a difference and focus on improving that. Hurry up. The book is out and your own Steve Jobs wannabe will soon be walking your halls.

P.S. I greatly admire Steve Jobs. I came late to being an Apple Fanboy, but I now have 5 Apple products I wouldn’t want to live without. And I get it. I’ve worked with Genius, and it ain’t patient, deliberate or diplomatic. The adrenaline Geniuses run on keep them high as a kite and to try to tether them to the mortal realm is folly. Our jobs are “Supporting Good People Doing Great Things” and we’re pretty smart and can invent ways to capture their Genius to translate for customers. And the ride is the best time of our lives.


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Archetypes and How to Use Them

— LRicci at 12:28 pm on Thursday, October 20, 2011

Archetypes were described by the ancient Greeks, and used in Jungian psychology to analyze family dynamics. Today they are used to guide marketing for corporations.

If you are a manufacturer of consumer goods and will need millions of buyers to grasp the value of your brand of gizmo, a discussion about archetypes will help you design a message that is more compelling than BUY OUR GIZMO!Soap is Soap

If you are a soap manufacturer, you spend time and serious money on just the right inflection to communicate your special features, to the masses of potential soap buyers. But no matter what color, size or variety of advertising, you are just selling soap. (and dreams)

But for my clients, this approach is not the best, and often is a complete waste of time and energy:

1. We are not mass manufacturers. We are more similar to bespoke(1) Tailors. Each client seeks professional help to create/solve/construct a one-off project. Trying to attract them to your firm by noodling over a mass market message won’t work, and is more likely to make you look silly.

2. We provide the solutions required in the moment. And that means we solve problems differently depending on the issues of critical importance to that client for this project. So an archetype that applies today, will not apply to the next project we do, and will change again with the following project. It’s a rabbit not worth chasing.

However, it is important to always be honing your skills and finding new ways to extract the precious stories that qualify your firm for great projects. Archetypes can inspire you and give you questions to help your technical staff remember stories and tidbits about their work and solving client issues. These you weave into stories about why you are a valuable asset to future clients.


Our client was a micro-manager. He liked to be at the table every time a meeting was held about their project. The lead PM had learned to include him as a member of the team to a degree way beyond most client’s desires. We’d won work regularly with this client and knew what he wanted and we gave it to him. (Damsel, Guide, Great Mother archetypes)

But now we had a new project RFP. The building was similar to others we’d done for them, but in our meeting to discuss the opportunity (GO/NOGO meeting) I asked what was changed from the last time we proposed to them. “Well, one of his kids has leukemia. They just found out a few weeks ago. She’s starting treatment at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. Very sad.”

Would our usual approach work when he would need time for his family? Should we offer a different approach? Wouldn’t a turn-key project be better for him under the circumstances? We took a chance.

“You know us, and how we make decisions. You can trust us to include you when necessary. And this project is similar enough to projects X,Y and Z that we know how you’d like most of the details handled. This time, we propose a turn-key project that minimizes the hours needed for your involvement and provides you sufficient access to know we are meeting your expectations.” (Networker, Mentor, Engineer archetypes)

We won, and his daughter finished treatment by the time ground was broken.

In our industries, focus on a firm-wide archetype misses the greater value our clients seek in us. They want to be heard, and their problems solved. The successful firms deliver bespoke solutions with grace and passion. It is challenging and interesting work we do.

If we were tailors, we’d think it fun to make a Red Zoot Suit for one customer, a tuxedo for the next, and a military uniform for the next, and an “ordinary” looking suit for a lawyer needing to connect with a jury.

We ain’t selling soap.

(1) bespoke describes a high degree of “customization”, and involvement of the end-user, in the production of the goods. Retrieved 2011-10-11.

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