One simple thing you can do to greatly improve your proposal reviews

What if you could break the cycle of ineffective proposal reviews with one simple change?

Proposal reviews typically result in dozens of comments from each reviewer. Multiply that by the size of your team, and it’s not unusual to have hundreds of comments. So not only do you invest time in preparing for the review and waiting for the participants to complete their review, you have to invest more time in processing all those comments.

Most of the time you start off by eliminating all the comments that can’t be acted on. This is often a large percentage of what you’ve received. Then you drill down to the ones that require action. When you look back you think about how much effort was wasted, even if you acknowledge that some of the comments actually produced positive change. That’s why we keep having the proposal reviews and tolerate the inefficiency.

But what if you could get rid of that inefficiency with just one simple change?

And you don’t even have to change the steps in your process or workflow to implement it.

To greatly improve your proposal reviews, all you need to do is ask for instructions instead of comments. When you ask for comments, you get observations. Nearly all of the observations, no matter how well meaning, will be things you can’t take action on.

Observations of a proposal are too far removed from what to do about them to provide consistent value to proposal writers. Observations are what are at the core of proposal reviews that are not consistently effective. We are taught that observations have value, but the truth is that for proposal reviews, observations are counterproductive. If you want to make your reviews productive, you’ll turn observations into instructions.

You’ll still get some instructions that won’t have enough information for you to take action on, but the percentage will greatly improve. And the overall number will go down as reviewers self-edit, not even submitting the “comments” that they can’t translate into instructions.

An instruction like “Add more detail to this” may or may not be actionable. But it’s better than a comment like “This section is weak.” While it doesn’t guarantee success, by prohibiting observations and requiring instructions, you force the reviewers to think more productively.

Only permitting instructions greatly facilitates processing the results after the review. You get fewer submissions, and the ones you get have a defined action. You don’t have to put time into figuring out what action to take.

That’s it. I told you it was a simple change.

But I know all you proposal specialists are overachievers, so here’s the advanced version. If you have implemented Proposal Content Planning like we recommend in our MustWin Process, and if your comments are a result of reviewing your Content Plans, then the instructions can be added directly to the Content Plans. You can set up headings or use a different color for instructions from reviews. But they go right in the document. You don’t have to collate “comments,” figure out what to do, and then somehow get them in the document. The reviewers put their instructions in the Content Plan. Afterwards, you can review their additions, tweak wording, and remove any that are contradictory. But it will go much, much faster. And there are no extra steps after you are done reading what the reviewers had to say.

As a side-effect, making your reviews about creating instructions will train your organization to think in terms of crafting better instructions. Your review process becomes a guidance process. The proposal process becomes about planning instead of correction. That’s much better than a review process that devolves into observations and trains your organization to do exactly what? You might not want to answer that question…



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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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