Being a high end production company, we’re often asked to submit proposals for some great projects we’re being considered for. I sat down with Jeremy Driesen, President and CEO of Ray Bloch Productions, to discuss the proposal process, how it has changed over the years, and the highs and lows of competing against other proposals.
Nathan: You’ve been in the business for a while now. How has the proposal process evolved?
Jeremy: I’ve been in the business for 21 years. I started as an employee of Ray Bloch in 1995 and became an owner in 2000. It’s been continuous evolution since. Back in the day, it was fairly standard that we would print out our proposals, and present them in 3-ring binders. We’d put a cover sheet on the front of it, and that would be the main body of it. All of the text and budget would be in this massive document – 30-70 pages long. On top of that, proposals occasionally involved building and presenting physical, 3-D set models.
Nathan: Instead of the computerized renderings we present today?
Jeremy: Exactly, the technology has evolved to a point where we can create and present much more colorful, easier to read, more visual proposals that are significantly less text heavy.
Nathan: A heavy leave-behind has evolved into a small flash drive.
Jeremy: Exactly. Pitches and proposals are a lot more fun and quick nowadays. We still find that there has to be a great deal written out; that has not gone away. What never changes is that we must make a case for what we can do for the client and the corporate culture.
Nathan: The process from inception of a proposal to the actual client pitch involves a tremendous amount of time, collaboration, creativity, and work. It’s frustrating when all of that work doesn’t result in a sale. Would you say there is ever a weak link in the proposal process?
Jeremy: This question is difficult to answer; every proposal is different. I don’t think there’s so much that goes wrong in the proposal process. Recently, we had one pitch where the client loved our proposal, the client was very pleased. But, they loved someone else’s more. There’s a famous anecdote at Ray Bloch: after pitching, the client told us that we and another company had come in with practically the same proposal and idea. Ours was less expensive, so they thought it couldn’t have been as good because we were too cheap!
Nathan: Just when you think you know the game …
Jeremy: Oh, I think we have won and lost proposals for every reason imaginable. There’s a lot at stake with a proposal: everyone bidding goes big, so you have to bring it big time. It’s a lot of work, a lot of money, and there’s a lot on the line. It’s a tough game, which is why we try to be very careful in assessing each opportunity.
Nathan: How do you assess an opportunity?
Jeremy: “Do we know the client at all?” If it’s a cold outreach on their behalf, I am skeptical because I don’t have any way of getting good information on the company. I believe in relationship sales – the most meaningful sales are the ones through relationships where the client trusts us. There’s a lot beyond “what’s in the proposal?” The relationship is a big deal.
Nathan: Are there any other reasons to turn down an opportunity aside from cold outreach?
Jeremy: We’ve turned down proposals where the client had unrealistic expectations. You may want a new BMW 7 series, but you have 10k in the bank: your expectation and your wallet are out of alignment. In these cases, we couldn’t submit anything we’d feel good about, you know? We’re not geared up to deliver amateur level production. We have a strong reputation and we need to maintain it. Those type of proposals are set-ups for failure.
Nathan: What lessons can you take from a lost proposal?
Jeremy: You don’t always know why you lost. In a perfect world, we’d always get to read the winning proposal to see what the winner did to win the client’s heart. Where did we miss? That’s always the biggest question. One of the most important things to remember is to be able to step back from a proposal and ask “what is the main goal of the client, and are we achieving that? Are we focused on that?” It’s easy to zero in on one area and miss the forest for the trees.
Nathan: How do you recover from a lost proposal? Do you give yourself a day, go for a run, play the drums? Or are you back on the horse right away?
Jeremy: Most losses are momentary disappointments that dissipate because I have been doing this for a long time. I know what the batting averages are and what they should be year to year. Some disappointments are more major than others; in that case, give me a day! A loss can be a bitter pill to swallow; you lose a lot: hope, faith, money, opportunity. Losing stinks.
Nathan: Losing stinks.
Jeremy: I will say that if we created a strong proposal that we feel good about, we have nothing to be ashamed of; that’s the way this business works.
Nathan: As a final question, to end on a higher note: “Does losing a job make winning the next job a greater victory?”
Jeremy: Big time. The silver lining in loss is that the victories are sweeter. You appreciate them more. When it pays off, it’s a great thrill, nothing is greater! My wife says I come home doing the victory dance.