The secret to solving 14 proposal problems at the same time

What do all of the following have in common?

Q) What is the fastest way to speed up proposal writing?
A) Speeding up figuring out what to write about and making sure you have the information you need is the best way to speed up proposal writing. With the right approach, this can be made checklist simple.

Q) What is the best way to win proposals?
A) Connect the writing to what it will take to win. As important as relationship marketing and intelligence gathering are to understanding what it will take to win, if they don't get turned into black ink on paper, they're not part of the proposal. Proposal writing is about making this connection.

Q) What is the best way to achieve quality assurance for your proposals?
A) Explicitly validate the content of the proposal against what it is supposed to contain. It takes more than just having a review.

Q) What is the best way to get the most out of inexperienced writers?
A) Make sure that proposal assignments come with guidance. You can embed thet guidance, instructions, reminders, and tips right into the content plan.

Q) What is the best way to balance the time needed to plan against the time available to write?
A) Use an approach to planning that is scalable and puts as little time into creating things that don’t go into the proposal as possible.

Q) How do you measure the progress of writing?
A) If you account for everything that needs to be written, emphasized, explained, etc., then writing becomes a process of elimination. As you convert instructions into narrative, you can measure progress by how many of the items you have completed. You can say what percent of your goals have been achieved as opposed to how many pages you have written. It is much easier to achieve this if your approach to planning the content of your proposal facilitates itemizing the instructions.

Q) How can you measure the quality of proposal writing?
A) If your approach to content planning enables you to track how many of your goals you have achieved, then you can take it a step further and assess how well you've achieved those goals. The right approach to content planning puts you into position to say not only whether you have achieved your goals, but also how well you have achieved them.

Q) How do you measure your use of visual communication?
A) Everyone knows their proposals should have more graphics. Many try to get them by creating some quota, like one graphic for every three pages. But did you realize that with the right content planning approach you can actually measure what percentage of your message is communicated using graphics?

Q) What is better than a template?
A) Re-using your content plans is a wonderful way to accelerate your proposals without having to extensively edit text to match the new context. Or you can create a bid strategy re-use library or a proposal recipe library. Just don't recycle your narratives.

Q) How do I ensure that my proposals reflect our strategic plans?
A) Before you insert your win strategies and themes into the Content Plan for your proposal, you can map them to your company's strategic plans and include instructions for the authors regarding them. It is much easier for reviewers to see whether the Content Plan contains instructions regarding those strategic plans than it is for them to see whether they are addressed in a narrative draft.

Q) How do I balance between centralized control over proposals and distributed input?
A) Our approach to Proposal Content Planning can be implemented as a centralized model, with a manager or core team preparing the instructions and then assigning them, or as a collaborative model where everyone contributes to the plan. Most organizations are hybrids, and not at either extreme. They need to be able to adjust and balance control vs. consensus.

Q) How do I facilitate proposal collaboration?
A) The vast majority of proposal collaboration happens via email and often things don't make it into the document. Subject matter experts and proposal writers need to exchange ideas. Executives need to be able to perform oversight and make corrections and contributions. Authors of different sections need to deal with overlap. The time to discover these issues, figure out what to do about them, and make sure the right information flows to the right people is before it is turned into pages of narrative. Content Planning enables you to go beyond just adding instructions to authors, and to add questions, identify issues, or even ask for help right there in the document. A Content Plan can be passed around and used as a container to hold data, thoughts, and ultimately decisions that then can be turned into the right narrative.

Q) How can I improve the quality of proposal writing?
A) Planning the content can be more important than reviewing it. Planning the content of a proposal can also be about more than just what goes into the proposal. It can be about how it goes into it. It's an opportunity to explain to the authors how something should be written, as well as what it should include. This could be a reminder to use the RFPs terminology, optimize a section against the evaluation criteria, demonstrate understanding through results instead of empty claims, etc.

Q) What is the best way to stay below page limitations?
A) Our approach to Proposal Content Planning blends the ideas of a compliance matrix, an annotated outline, and a document shell. It can help you make sure that what needs to be written fits the space allocated before you start writing. The alternative is to eliminate white space, edit for brevity, and force too much text to fit into too little space usually at the last minute without quality control. And what kind of a message does that send to the customer? It's much better to have the right message and level of detail from the beginning.

What they all have in common:

We knew it was important, but we didn't realize until we started writing this article just how central Proposal Content Planning is to proposal success.

It boils down to these three things:

  • Planning the content before you write is the best way to speed up proposal writing
  • Planning the content before you write is the best way to achieve a proposal based on what it will take to win
  • Planning the content is what connects relationship marketing, intelligence gathering, strategic planning, proposal management, team collaboration, proposal execution, and quality validation

That sounds too important to ignore, which is what most companies do because it's so hard to get people to plan their proposals before writing them. It also tells us that instead of picking the low-hanging fruit by focusing on everything else first, that no matter how painful it might be, most companies should focus on how they plan the content of their proposals until it's solving problems like those described above.

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Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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