the store

What Type of Proposal Training is Right for You?

Most proposal training budgets are wasted. It starts when people go looking to take “a class” that looks like it addresses the right topics. They don’t have the vocabulary to distinguish one course or provider from another. They figure if they get some time with an instructor and some course materials they’ll get enough value to make it work. If you want to maximize the value you get for your training dollar, you should learn how to describe your training goals.

When I ask people whether their goal is to develop their skills or gain knowledge they usually answer, “yes!” However, depending on the training topics, one of them can be much more important than the other. The goal for training in:

  • Business development should focus on skills enhancement when the subject matter is customer interaction, and knowledge enhancement when you are dealing with process.
  • Proposal writing should focus on skills enhancement.
  • Proposal management should focus on knowledge enhancement when you are dealing with process. Skills enhancement should be added as a secondary goal when you are focusing on implementation activities or have an entry-level audience.
The difference is being able to do something versus understanding what to do. You might be tempted to say that you always want to be able to do something, but when it comes to process, especially in business and proposal development, you need to understand what to do, even in circumstances that are adverse or that you have never encountered before.

It often comes down to the difference between a course that focuses on process and a course that focuses on activities. For activities like writing, skills enhancement is vital. You can explain how to write to someone all day long, but when it’s just them and a blank sheet of paper you don’t know what you are going to get. Writing is a skill, and as such requires practice in order to become good at it.

When you are looking for training, you should consider questions like:

  • Where are your weaknesses and where do you struggle? If the proposal assignments people return are of poor quality, that’s an indicator they need skills enhancement more than knowledge enhancement. If things are done with poor planning or quality validation, that’s an indicator that they don’t know what to do, and need knowledge enhancement regarding techniques and process.
  • Do you want to be exposed to proposal writing techniques or do you want to get better at them? An experienced writer can learn techniques from a presentation, but an inexperienced writer needs to learn by doing.
  • Do you need to understand how to do something? This implies learning about techniques and or process. But are the techniques and processes being offered relevant to you?
  • If you have a process and capable people won’t comply with it, then you have a management problem. Training that focuses on techniques and process can help, but are best delivered top down. This is a fancy way of saying that it’s your executives who need the training first. Only for them we call it a seminar, an orientation, coaching, or any term other than training. If you have to do it bottom up, you should focus on techniques instead of process.
To find training that meets your needs, you have to look past subject matter coverage. It’s not just about getting helpful tips that are in the right territory that add up to enough value to make the training worth it. It should be about more.

If you need skills enhancement training, you should look for “learning by doing. “ The vast majority of the time should be spent on exercises. Presentation should be minimal. For this type of training, if the instructor has more than a handful of slides or doesn’t actually pass out, collect, and discuss the exercises, it may involve too much presentation to give you a chance to develop your skills. The exercises should map to your goals for skills development as well as subject matter coverage. If the exercises are an after-thought, or are sporadic, or random, or if the exercises themselves (as opposed to the slide) don’t target specific skills that add up to the capability you need, then it’s probably not the right training for you. It’s not simply a matter of having exercises — what counts is what they add up to.

If you need techniques and process training, it is important to make sure that it is relevant to your environment. It should still include exercises, but the focus is on learning what to do and how to do it, as opposed to “learning by doing.” For this type of training, the key question becomes whether it reflects the way you will be doing your proposals and how applicable the techniques and process will be in your environment. If it just provides information that is disconnected from how you will actually use it, it’s probably not the right training for you.

Keep in mind that Government contractors are different from private sector firms. But even a course that targets your type of company may not be specific enough to meet your needs. The techniques and processes used to propose service and product offerings are very different. Proposals for commodities are prepared very differently than proposals for solutions. The process and techniques that are relevant to one may not even be applicable to another. For example, exercises based on aerospace or information technology bids may or may not be relevant to you. If the course description doesn’t address relevance, then it probably isn’t.

So what should you look for?

When you are considering a class:

  • Look beyond the subject matter covered to what the goals are and how they are achieved.
  • If the course description addresses topics, but doesn’t address what you’ll be able to do with the information, then you may end up more knowledgeable, but in a way that doesn’t directly impact your success.
  • If the course presentation does address what you’ll be able to do with the information, but doesn’t address how that will be achieved, then you may not realize the results described.
  • If it is a skills enhancement course and there are over a dozen topics addressed each day, there probably isn’t enough time allocated for exercises.
  • If it is a presentation on techniques and process, but it doesn’t address implementation or different types of proposals, companies, and offerings, it may not be the right focus for you.
How long should the training be?

Most business and proposal training is offered in one, two, or three day formats. This is because of logistics and not because of the subject matter.

Exercises require a lot of time and are the primary driver of the cost of training. I can teach a topic in fifteen minutes, but doing the exercise may take an hour. In a single day, you can only do so many exercises, and this limits the number of topics you can cover.

Material that takes a day to cover when presenting techniques and process might easily take two or even three days to cover through “learning by doing.”

In person or remote?

Each has good and bad aspects, and neither one is necessarily better. Exercises, questions/answers, and interactivity can all be achieved remotely, although not quite as effectively as in person. But then again, doing it remotely costs a lot less and is far easier to schedule and attend. If you have a preference, stick with it.

Remote training opens up formats and approaches that aren’t possible without the technology. Remote training can approximate but not reproduce the interaction that is possible in person. But at the same time, classroom training is limited in the formats and use of media it can support. You can do things with remote training that you can’t do in a classroom. The trade-offs and differences wash out.

Remote training that simply emulates what is done in a classroom setting will not be the most effective. If it doesn’t exploit the technology in ways that are different from a classroom, then it’s just a cheaper less effective approach. If you are considering remote training, you should look for something that is interactive (and not just recorded) and that leverages technology to provide formats and approaches that are different from you would expect in a classroom setting.

More Free Articles On This Topic:



Our Off-the-Shelf Process Documentation
guides you through every step of winning a proposal:

  • Collecting customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence
  • Turning your intelligence into win strategies
  • Turning your win strategies into a winning proposal
  • Making sure your proposal is right
  • Comes with online training!

Click here to find out more!


By Carl Dickson, Founder of

© 2018, LLC all rights reserved