Where should you start to improve your proposals?

Where you start depends on who you are, or more accurately the role you play. People look at proposals differently depending on their role, and their contribution to winning is different as well. If you don’t start at the right place for the role you play, you risk leaving a gap that will decrease your company’s ability to achieve its full potential.

Let’s take a look so you can see how this plays out…

  • If you are the top dog, it is vital that you create a culture that treats decisions about pursuits and proposals as investment decisions. The top dog has different titles at different companies. But you know you are the top dog if you have authority over the finance group. If you provide leadership and direction to the finance group, you can teach your organization not to treat business development and proposal costs as expenses, but rather as investments. Bad investments get cut. Good investments are maximized. The reason this is vital is that the key metric is your company's win rate. If you allow a culture that treats winning business as an expense, it will be cut even if that means a reduction in win rate. A reduction in win rate will lower the overhead pool that funds business and proposal development, creating pressure to lower expenses again, resulting in an even lower win rate that can send your company into a death spiral. However, if instead you treat pursuit costs as investments, then you manage their costs according to what will produce the greatest return on investment.
  • If you are the head of business development or capture, then improving proposals starts by identifying what it will take to win them, and delivering the information that a proposal team needs to write a proposal based on what it will take to win. This is different from what most companies put into their “capture plans.” Success requires you to anticipate and discover the answers to the questions your proposal writers will have when they try to combine the response to the requirements with what matters to the customer. You may have to restructure your commission system if it emphasizes leads because if your sales close with a proposal, then the role of sales is not complete until the proposal is won.
  • If you are a proposal director, in charge of overseeing how proposals are done, then improving proposals starts by managing the hand-off from sales/marketing/business development to the proposal and integrating that with the review process. You can achieve this by informing those involved in the pre-RFP pursuit about the questions the proposal writers will need answers to after the RFP is released. You can't write a proposal about what matters to the customer unless you know what matters to the customer. You won’t be able to get what matters to the customer unless those who face the customer bring it to you. They won’t bring it to you unless they know you need it. In addition to smoothing the transition, you can also make improvements by changing how your company defines and assesses proposal quality.
  • If you are a proposal manager, in charge of producing proposals, then improving proposals starts by being able to articulate what information you need to write a winning proposal, and flowing that information into a plan for writing the proposal before any writing actually begins. It will help if you become a teacher. You should not expect those who must bring information to you to know what information you need or how to get it. They may need you to teach them and show them how that information impacts the document, long before the proposal has even started. Your success depends on them, so making improvements in your company’s proposals means making improvements in their performance as well as your own.
  • If you are a production manager, in charge of formatting and completing the proposal document, then improving proposals starts by getting involved earlier in the process and not by simply trying to mandate deadlines or style sheet compliance. If you want to add value, you need to move beyond formatting and produce information. You need to create the process tools that make getting information into the proposal and through the review process easy. The more you do to help contributors complete their jobs, the more they will be able to meet the deadlines that you need to do your job.

The common thread in each of these is information. Winning in writing is about discovering what it will take to win and flowing that information to the document needed to close the sale. It requires an integrated approach. If everyone is not on the same page regarding roles and information requirements, then no matter what you do in your sandbox, it will never reach its full potential. While improving your proposals starts with defining your role, you won’t get very far until you’ve defined everyone else’s role and the flow of information between all of you.

A subscription to PropLIBRARY can help you define those roles as well as well as get everyone on the same page and guide people through what they need to do to fulfill them. Or for something less comprehensive but quicker to implement, our Master Proposal Startup Information Checklist identifies the questions that drive the flow of information and turn it into something checklist simple. Enjoy!



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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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