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Expert Advice from Aurora

May 18, 2010

We recently asked you to submit questions to ask an expert, and are pleased to bring you the answers from Aurora Cammarata. For more information on what makes Aurora an expert, check out our 4/29 blog post.

Aurora answered two questions for us: one about working with technical staff on proposals, and one about performing client satisfaction surveys.

Do you have any tips for working with technical staff on proposals? I love our staff, but since proposals aren’t their first priority, it’s often hard to get information in a timely manner! – Anna

Good project management skills including clarity with regard to your requests, regular communication and feedback throughout the process, and co-opting others with authority to support the proposal effort should improve your chances of getting your technical partners to participate in a responsible manner.

I always create the Table of Contents with responsibilities noted as well as a proposal production schedule. I share that with the proposal team either in a kickoff meeting or, if time does not permit, by email. I make sure everyone knows what the deadline is to produce their portion of document for me and vice versa – not just the deadline for the proposal itself. I explain what it takes to edit, format, get sign off, print, and deliver the proposal so they understand why their pieces are due two/three days ahead of the proposal due date. When they understand the other components of the production, they are usually on time with their contributions. Always check in with them 24 to 48 hours before their personal deadline to make sure they are on track or see if they need additional assistance or just to remind them of their responsibility to be on time.

Find out what else is on their plate and help them to communicate to their supervisors about what needs to be accomplished for the proposal and when it needs to be complete. Supervisors might be able to help their staff free up time to work on proposals by shifting other responsibilities or working around other non-essential deadlines that you or the technical staff might not have the authority change.

Be in regular communication with your proposal team – share pieces of the proposal that are complete in advance of the deadline – it might give someone else an idea or point of view for their work. If something has changed that affects them – like the deadline – let them know about it so they can adjust accordingly and as soon as possible.

The blank proposal page is often daunting and intimidating to technical staff – especially those that have not written proposals before. I will oftentimes give them good examples of the kinds of things I am asking them to produce like a previously well-written project approach or a detailed project schedule.

If I am trying to create a project description that explains similar challenges to the project that I am proposing on, I will often interview the project manager or the designer or engineer so I can probe about challenges met, problems solved, and the extra miles taken to service the client. In the course of their daily professional lives, some technical staff just do not see the extraordinary in what they do. I will then write up my version of the project description and go back to have them edit my draft to make sure I got the technical “lingo” right.

I hope that helps, Anna!

Last year we launched a client satisfaction survey whereby we ask clients whom we’ve just finished a project with to answer 10 short questions and give us a final grade (A, B, C, D) on our work with them. The survey takes between 10-15 minutes. We’ve tried collecting the info both by phone and via an on-line survey tool, but have found it hard to get clients to take the time to answer the survey (it’s been a lot of voice mail and email messages, all ignored). We explain the purpose of the survey (to allow us to find areas where we can improve our work and our services) and have someone unrelated to the project make the calls/send the emails (in hopes that they’ll be more inclined to give honest feedback about their project manager). Any tips on how to increase client willingness to participate? – Valerie

You are not alone, Valerie. This is a tough one. I would suggest a couple of things. Although you think 10 questions and 15 minutes is short – it may not be from the perspective of your clients. Are the questions essays or multiple choice? My first suggestion would be to make the questions multiple choice with the ability to add comments. I would also try and get the survey down to 5 or 6 questions. I would also give them advanced warning of when they will receive the questionnaire and when it needs to be returned. Make sure the survey is done within 30 days after project completion. Clients will be less inclined to answer detailed questions about a project completed 6 months ago than 6 weeks ago. Give them no more than 10 days to return it – you might think that giving them 30 days is helpful but I have found that it might be too generous – people have a tendency to put it off and then forget!

The other suggestion is to offer a fun incentive – send a small box of chocolates or cookies in a mug with your company logo on it – with the advanced warning about the upcoming survey. It is a “thank you in advance” for taking the time to complete the survey.

If you get negative feedback from the survey, it is worth following up with a phone call. I would suggest that a principal or owner, one not directly involved in the project or with the client, make that call. You should help prepare that principal to probe for more details with additional questions so you can, in fact, do what you said you would do with the information, that is, use it constructively to improve your service with their suggestions.

If you get excellent feedback, you may want to take the opportunity to draft a letter of recommendation with the client’s feedback quoted. Send it along to your client for revising or editing and have them return it on letterhead with a signature. It saves time, effort and energy when you need a good reference or client quote for a proposal in the future.

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