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Are you still doing proposals the way you did when you got started?

Are you still doing proposals the way you did when you got started? If you are still doing proposals the way you did them when you got started, there’s a good chance that you’re repeating the same mistakes. Last week I wrote about how everything I learned early in my career was wrong. This week I want to focus on how to get it right.

What I used to do, and what I still see a lot of people doing, is to take a technique I learned and keep trying different ways to make it work. What I finally realized is that it is better to look at all your needs and then decide what technique will best meet those needs.

It was thinking about what the proposal team needs from the planning process that led to me throwing out storyboards. It’s not that storyboards aren’t helpful; it’s just that they don’t fulfill enough of what is needed.

One of the things you have to learn how to do is to figure out at what level to address your needs and how to articulate them. If you express your needs at too high a level, or if you don’t address all your needs, then you can end up accepting the wrong solution. One way to catch this is if you have implemented a solution and continue to have similar issues. If you are constantly modifying your approach, then your approach isn’t meeting your needs. You should try asking yourself which needs are not being met.

Often proposal people say that what they need is for people to follow the process. This is a good indicator that you're thinking about your own needs instead of what you need from the process. If people aren’t following the process, there’s a good chance that they’re not perceiving any value in it for themselves. A successful process must meet the needs of all the stakeholders. Understanding what each stakeholder needs from the process is a good place to start when cataloging what you need from your process.

When assessing a process or trying to figure out a process to implement, instead of falling back on what you were taught, try asking what will fulfill your needs.

To help you get started, here is a list of things that we need from a proposal process and a list of corresponding questions that you can use to assess whether what you are doing meets that need.

What is needed
Do you?
To know things about the customer, the opportunity and the competitive environment Provide written guidance for what information to gather, how to assess it, what to extract from it, and what to do with it once you’ve got it?
To know what to expect Show each participant every step in advance and enable executives to make an informed decision whether or not to follow the process?
A way to make sure that any intelligence gathered actually makes it into the document Provide a format and place to put the information gathered to carry it forward and make sure that they don't lose track of it while they are preparing to write?
To minimize effort Create too many orphans, or process documents that are not part of the finished deliverable?
A way to make sure that the pursuit is on track Tell how to measure progress toward being ready to win at RFP release?
Avoid improvisation Do you already have the forms, checklists, templates, and written guidance you need or do you create them (or change them every time they’re used) on the spot?
To know what to write about Provide a means to ensure that everything that should go into the proposal has been accounted for?
To know how to organize the writing Provide a means to validate the outline before anything is built based on it?
To know when a section is complete Enable writers to assess whether they have addressed everything that needs to go into their writing assignments?
A way to validate that what they wrote was correct Provide a baseline or set of specifications that the finished writing can be compared to or assessed against?
A way to prevent backtracking and redoing Provide a means to make sure that what they are going to do is correct before they have completed it?
A definition for quality and criteria for performing reviews Produce quality criteria as part of the process and hold reviews with a defined scope that measure against the criteria, or are your reviews purely subjective?
To be able to manage the pursuit in either a centralized or decentralized way (to adapt to the company/users rather than force change on the company/users). Permit documents to be completed by managers, a core team, or delegated to participants depending on the preference of the company?
To involve stakeholders and participants from all over, including outside the company Enable people to make contributions to the content without making them solely responsible, and provide means for document and information to be transported?
To meet the customer’s deadline Adapt to a range of schedules (from a few days to a few months) without breaking?
To adapt to the staffing resources available Adapt to proposal teams with from 2-200 or more people?
To survive the real world If an amendment comes out in the middle or someone gets added or taken away from the proposal, or some other critical event happens, will the process break?
To be usable with little or no instruction time Provide sufficient guidance so that someone suddenly thrown into it can figure out what to do by simply following the directions?
For the proposal writers and other participants to accept and follow the process Make it easier for writers to complete their assignments than it would be for them to simply start writing?

We get a lot of inspiration from the discussions
in the group on LinkedIn. So can you!

Our process meets all the needs above and more...

Our Off-the-Shelf Process Documentation
provides step-by-step guidance to help you:

  • Get ready for RFP release
  • Develop win strategies
  • Produce a winning proposal
  • Achieve quality assurance
  • Comes with online training!

Click here to find out more

By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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