Roses in the Vineyard: Marketers as the Vintners of Pursuit Health

This week, I’m thrilled to present some new ideas about proposals and presentations to my clients and colleagues at the SMPS Pacific Regional Conference in Napa. Given the location, there are a lot of presentations, mine included, using a wine theme. But, that’s okay; wine works….for so many things.

Going through high school in eastern Washington, I came to love the dry, arid climate and the rolling hills, many of which are now covered by vineyards. What I didn’t know at the time is these nascent vineyards would grow the Washington wine industry into the second largest in the country (behind California) and producing some of my favorite wines (thank you, Leonetti Cellars!).

If you’ve been wine tasting, and I highly recommend you do (note: this is different than the celebratory bottles we open and guzzle sip at the conclusion of a particularly difficult proposal), you’ll notice something interesting about vineyards. In many vineyards, at the ends of the rows of vines are rose bushes, beautiful spots of color in the palette of brown and green.

I actually worked as a grape harvester for a season in college (best job….ever!), and I do know that few things in a wine making operation are purely for aesthetics. Roses in vineyards serve multiple functions. Yes, they are beautiful, but they were originally planted as early harbingers of disease and because they both attract bees for pollination and provide habitat for beneficial bugs.

These roses are a lot like marketing professionals. As marketers, we don’t create the technical content, but we do ensure our firms are set up for success in the BD/Marketing process, create compliant and compelling content in proposals and presentations, and coach our teams toward many a project win.

So what makes a great wine? I’m not a connoisseur, but my mother used to make wine in the basement, so I’m practically an expert. Fine wine comes from good grapes grown under favorable conditions under the nurturing of a talented vintner who coaxes the right mixture of flavors through careful additions and an exacting process. Sounds like most successful pursuits I’ve been involved with in the past 35 years.

The right grapes are the right team members who bring the right portfolio to win – and deliver – the project. They have knowledge of the project and the client’s needs; they are passionate about the project type, the client, and/or the delivery method. They bring strong writing and/or speaking skills, and they are coachable, able to work as part of a well-choreographed team. When we don’t have good ‘grapes’ it’s almost impossible to create a winning proposal and/or presentation. Firms that are thoughtful about matching people and portfolio and who value training, professional development, and coaching are ones that consistently deliver the right ‘grapes’ to the pursuit process.

The right climate is a supportive organization that values performance in the proposal and interview; leaders choose pursuits carefully in a rigorous Go/No Go process, and always choose investing in developing quality pursuits over quantity. Markers support a favorable climate by providing project, client, and context research. Team leaders participate in early client engagement. The firm values industry and targeted positioning to establish the optimal climate for a future win.

The right additives can make a difference in the success of a pursuit. While I was surprised to learn about the addition of beet sugar to up alcohol content or the introduction of sulfur to control wild yeasts, it makes sense. Sometimes having the right grapes isn’t enough. We’ve all worked on pursuits where we struggled to get a talented team of the right experts to deliver the content and/or the delivery required for a strategic win. Over the years, I’ve learned the value of being an outside coach and the importance of partnering with internal leadership to ensure consistent and quality engagement by team members. And, sometimes the best addition to the mix is the meaningful engagement of one of our outside consultants or subcontractors who bring a perspective from outside the organization.

The vintner is the presentation coach and/or pursuit champion. As a coach, I’ve been honored to work on multiple winning pursuits. In fact, as I write, I was just notified of a $40 million win with a talented team of contractors who eagerly embraced a rigorous, creative way to design and deliver strategic content (yea, team!). However, as much as I  love to help winning teams, at this stage in my career, I’m enjoying transferring coaching knowledge more, creating vintners in many of my client organizations who are able to distill content from their teams, helping their proposals and interviews be both compelling and compliant.

So, to all you roses out there: What marketers do is critical to the success of a high performing organization. We aren’t window dressing, and we don’t just create ‘pretty’ proposals. Our work creates the climate for a successful pursuit; our care of the team during the critical stages of message ‘ripening’ creates the quality experience our audiences expect.

This conference and the SMPS organization is great fertilizer for me – and I hope for my marketing colleagues – to share ideas, give and receive support, and be inspired. I’m looking forward to presenting, listening, learning, and drinking some wine as we celebrate the pursuit roses in our marketplace.