Do your proposal assignments come with failure built in?

Most proposal assignments are a plea for the writers to figure out how to win the proposal on their own. Is that realistic? Is that even possible? It probably depends on how much customer insight the writers have. But instead of hoping for someone to save the day at the tail end of the process, a proposal process designed to win should gather that information and give it to them up front.

Instead of assignments or steps in your process, think about setting expectations. What do stakeholders need to know and when? To improve your proposals, you need to make sure that when people sit down to work on them, they have what they need.

If they don’t know what they need, you might conclude that you have a training problem. Only instead of looking at it as a training problem, with proposals you’d probably be better off looking at it as a problem with delivering what stakeholders need to know. Part of what they need is information to work with, and part of it is what to do with that information when they get it.

A proposal process that gets the most out of people will deliver both. And that’s important, because if you want to escape the problem of people not following your process, the best way is to make following the process easier than skipping it. And the best way to achieve that is to deliver what stakeholders need to know in order to play their parts.

You can see this in practice when proposal assignments are issued. Does the assignment tell the receiver:

  • What the definition of success is?
  • How to achieve that success?
  • Where to get the input they require?

If the assignment is to write something to complete an outline item, then it fails all three. If the assignment is to write something demonstrating compliance with the RFP requirements, then it fails two and sets the bar for success below what it will take to win. If the assignment is to write a winning proposal with the RFP as input with an unspecified definition for what a winning proposal would be and some unspecified additional input, then you can expect an uncertain result. In all three cases, the assignment set the receiver up for failure from the beginning.

An assignment that is not doomed to failure will:

  • Define proposal quality
  • Provide the criteria required to fulfill proposal quality to the receiver in the context of their assignment
  • Provide the information they will need to fulfill those criteria

For example, if a winning proposal requires writing from the customer’s perspective, then the assignment should:

  • Make reflecting the customer’s perspective at least part of what defines a quality proposal.
  • Provide the criteria the reviewers will use to determine whether the proposal reflects the customer’s perspective. For example, one criterion might be: Is the response about what the customer will get out of what we propose, instead of being about us and what we offer?
  • Describe what results the customer is looking for, what their preferences are, and what they hope to achieve as a result of the procurement.

If the assignment does not do that, how can they possibly succeed?

You can make a huge improvement in your proposals by forgetting about how you currently view your proposal process and just focusing on making better proposal assignments. No amount of proposal reviews or improvement in how you do your reviews can fix things on the back end when poor proposal assignments are made on the front end. No amount of complaining that people missed their deadlines will accomplish anything when you don’t give people what they need to do their tasks. Forget about the steps. Focus on the assignments. And what you need to give better proposal assignments.

How assignments are made is an early indicator of the success or failure of the whole effort. Either you have the information you need to give proposal assignments or you’re just hoping for someone to save you from the fact that you’re not prepared. Improving your ability to give better proposal assignments means arriving at the proposal better prepared. Arriving at the proposal prepared to win is often out of the hands of the proposal manager making the writing assignments. Achieving better proposal assignments only happens when you have a solid process in place to make it possible and an organization that delivers what is needed.

If your current process isn’t delivering what you need to make better proposal assignments, then maybe it’s time to replace it. And if all parts of the organization aren’t delivering their parts, the right process will make that apparent. Either way, the assignments should define success and not failure.



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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com 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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