Jan 27, 2008

On why RFIs and Proposals are so lengthy

S Anand, one of the first business bloggers I started reading has an insight into why things are so long in work life...specially consulting. Hat-tip to Alok for sending this gem by email.

I got involved with a proposal. I wrote a few bits of it. (One page, actually.) Others wrote a few bits of it. And then some standard appendices were added to it. Finally, it ended up as a 180-page document.

The interesting thing is, I can bet no human ever read those 180 pages end-to-end.

I know no one at our end did, because we turned it around in 1 week, and I was the last to assemble the document before sending it out.

I'm guessing no one at the client end did, because they'd have gotten 5 such documents, and had a week to shortlist down to 3.

So if we didn't read it and they didn't read it, why did we put it in?

An innocuous sounding statement: do more. I tremble whenever anyone suggests it. There's no defence.

There's a fundamental belief at work here. That more is better.

This is fueled by a lack of confidence. Put in high-sounding words. They look impressive. What's missed is that experts use jargon because they understand what it means, and it conveys a lot in few words.

Firstly, you've got to believe that less is more. The response to "What's the harm in adding...?" is "It dilutes the message". There's two things here. Believing it. And having the courage to say it. Trust me, you really believe it only when you say it.

Next, you've got to understand -- really understand -- before you write or speak. That requires not fooling yourself. And it requires a lot of practice. I've had nearly 20 years of training in fooling myself, so it's an uphill task. Many people are worse off, never having tasted true understanding.

Third, you've got to be brave enough to shut up, or say "I don't know". Initially, this was tough for me, but I learnt from a friend. I always thought him not-so-smart, but honest. He'd ask, "But why?" and when I'd explain, he'd say, "I don't understand it." After two hours of trying to get him to understand, I'd realise that I was the one who never got it in the first place.

So will the consulting methodology change? Maybe not. On saturday my CEO and I were involved in redoing our firm's marketing presentation. It was 12 slides long. And it was made a couple of years ago. So instead of adding a couple of slides here and a couple of slides there, we focused on our message. Putting the client at the centre. And not talking about us too much. I remembered a powerful sales message from my pharma marketing days....features, advantages and benefits of our products/services is what we like to say. However the client wants to hear the benefits first. Sometimes just articulating the benefits is enough. You get distinguished from your competition :-)

when you hear a presentation about too much "we are this" and "our people have done this" maybe the presenter hasn't really given a thought about how his/her clients will be benefited.