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When you do a lot of proposals, it’s easy to find yourself starting with the RFP. After all, you can’t really start proposal writing until you know what’s in the RFP. You can’t create the outline. You don’t know what the schedule is. You don’t know how many people you need to help. Etc.
Unfortunately, I've seen the notion that the proposal starts with an RFP actually destroy entire companies. It tricks them into building their business around looking for RFPs they can respond to. Since thousands of RFPs come out every day, their staff can spend all their time doing just that. And in so doing, they limit their companies’ potential to somewhere between failure and meeting payroll. They limit themselves to low margin bids with low win rates. They never develop what it really takes to be successful, but they keep busy doing it.
To break out and be successful, you need to realize that a proposal should start with an understanding of what it will take to win. Nobody can read just an RFP and understand what the customer is really looking for and how they will reach their decision. All you can do is play games with the scope and evaluation criteria, and hope to win on price while claiming how important quality is to you.
When you think of the proposal as starting with an understanding of what it will take to win, the first thing you realize is that you need some input. You need information about the customer’s goals and preferences. You need to understand how they go about making decisions and what impacts them. You need to understand what matters to the customer.
What it will take to win should drive everything you do in your pursuit
The pre-RFP phase becomes about leveraging relationships to provide the information you will need to win the proposal. The proposal phase starts with turning the information you have into quality criteria and instructions for proposal contributors. The RFP merely provides structure, specifications, and details that need to be responded to. You will win or lose based on what matters to the customer about those details, which won’t all be in the RFP.
You want your writing assignments to substantiate the reasons why the customer should select you. Those reasons will be based on what matters to the customer and what it will take to win. For the assignments to reflect them, you must start by articulating them. You start with what it will take to win.
You also want the quality of your proposal to be measured by how well the writing reflects what it will take to win. Two things result from this:
- You need to turn your understanding of what it will take to win into quality criteria. Your proposal reviews should not be open-ended subjective inconsistent efforts. They should be driven by quality criteria based on what it will take to win.
- You should give your writers the same criteria that the later reviews will use. You should build those criteria into their assignments in the form of instructions.
When you do this, you achieve traceability from the draft proposal all the way back to your customer contacts, regarding what it will take to win. So not only should the proposal effort begin with what it will take to win, it ends there as well. This is a good thing.
We use the Readiness Review methodology to guide people to collect the right information during the pre-RFP phase. We use the Proposal Content Planning methodology to turn what it will take to win into instructions and writing assignments. And we use Proposal Quality Validation to turn what it will take to win into quality criteria and conduct proposal reviews based on them. All of these methodologies can be found detailed in PropLIBRARY in a form that is ready for immediate implementation.
To become an extraordinarily successful company, always start your proposals by assessing what it will take to win. If you start the pursuit before the RFP is released, then the pre-RFP phase should be about discovering what it will take to win. If the RFP has already been released, then the first step should be assessing what it will take to win. No matter when you start, the first step is assessing what it will take to win.
If you are having difficulty articulating what it will take to win, or if what you come up with matches what it says in the RFP, those are indicators that you lack insight and aren’t competitive. It is an indicator that you should not bid. Think about it: If you don’t know what it will take to win better than what’s in the RFP, you lack a competitive advantage. You should never bid on a level playing field.
Cancel a few bids like these and instead of people coming to the table saying they have something they want to bid, they’ll start showing up explaining what it will take to win. That’s the transformation you want.
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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.