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Compliance Is Not a Four-Letter Word and Why You Should Take It Seriously

By Donna M. Creason, CF APMP

All seasoned proposal professionals have experienced a variety of proposal antics and snafus. Working in the industry long enough, one develops a tough skin for it.

Noncompliance with proposal requirements is one such area of abuse. Whether this lax view of compliance is from inexperience or from an unashamed disregard for protocol, it must be corrected.

Companies are winning proposals every day. And in most cases, the wins are directly related to how well the companies follow the customer’s lead. If you are in the business of writing competitive proposals, you should comply with the customer’s requests. Sounds reasonable, right? But many businesses do not. They deliberately ignore the instructions and still expect to win.

Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Some people believe the amount of detail in the RFP is the customer’s way of irritating proposal professionals and making their lives more difficult. Others believe it is important for the customer to provide as much detail up front to identify the best resource for the intended work. (Hint: This is more realistic.)

Instead of viewing compliance as restrictive or punishing, it’s helpful to move to the other side of the table to understand how the evaluator might see it.

All decision making starts with elimination. Don’t blame the evaluator. In fact, it would be more valid to blame the brain, since it is the tool everyone uses to make thousands of eliminations, daily.

Initially, the evaluator is not looking to select a winner; it is too early for that. He is trying to eliminate the losers. And what do you think is an effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Compliance (aka directions,instructions).

The quickest and easiest method of elimination is to evaluate who can follow directions … or not!

Determine who is worthy to move to the next round.

You avoid immediate rejection by following the customer’s instructions. After the evaluator eliminates the weaker proposals, he needs to assess those that remain: the leftovers.

Since the leftovers all complied with the RFP instructions, the evaluator must dig deeper to review and compare some of the finer details:deficiencies, strengths, weaknesses,features, benefits, clarifications, and uncertainties.

With this narrower field, the evaluator is gathering sufficient information and evidence to make a well-informed and reasoned selection—to either narrow the field further or to determine a winner.

Decide who is best suited to follow through with the work.

You stop at a bakery and order a slice of banana bread to go. The bakerista goes to the kitchen and returns with your to-go bag. You look inside the bag to see that it contains … a bowl of goulash? Take a minute to finish that scene in your head.

Now, think about how the customer might feel when she asks you to follow her RFP instructions, and you decide to follow some and ignore others. Or even worse, you do your own thing.

If the customer asks for banana bread, give her banana bread. If she wants it with walnuts, add walnuts.If she wants it drizzled with cream cheese icing, drizzle!

Not only are you showing your ability to follow instructions, you are building rapport. If you win the work,the customer already has a level of trust in you. When the project starts, you have laid the foundation. Now you can have that conversation about your award-winning goulash.

Takeaway: Compliance is not a four-letter word or a disciplinary action. It is a ground rule established by the customer for the benefit of the customer’s investment. To win at this game, you must play by the rules and take compliance seriously.

Donna M. Creason, CF APMP, is president/CEO of Summit Publication Design LLC. She is a quality-driven communications and management professional with20+ years’ experience in computer information systems, content creation and management, document design, and technical communication. She can be reached at

APMP Journal Volume V Issue 2

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