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  3. The MustWin Performance Support Tool enables you to quickly define your quality criteria and put them in front of your proposal writers before they start writing. This produces much better outcomes than waiting for a draft and then figuring out whether you like it or not, all while skipping that part about defining your quality criteria. Entering quality criteria You have two options for adding quality criteria to your proposal plan. The first is to type them in. When you click on the “Add” button, you’ll get a popup like this one. Select quality criteria and enter the instruction. This enables you to define what a “great” proposal is. All those attributes you think a great proposal should have can be typed as instructions so that proposal writers know not only what they are supposed to write about, but how they are supposed to write it and what will be considered acceptable. You can accelerate entering your quality criteria by using the ones we’ve already entered. When you click on the magnifying glass icon, you can view our Proposal Recipes and select “Quality Criteria.” Pick any that are relevant. You can customize them if you want to get them just right for your needs. But basically, it’s click-click-click and you’ve got quality criteria. Thinking things through The MustWin Performance Support Tool helps you think through what your proposal should contain. This includes all of the key topics that we divide the screen into. You can include questions in all the different types shown in the image above. How you guide your proposal writers determines what you’ll get back from them. Use the MustWin Performance Support Tool to put the right guidance in front of your proposal writers. Getting guidance to your proposal writers and having a quick and easy way to ensure it gets followed used to be hard. But the MustWin Performance Support Tool not only makes the mechanics of this easier, it makes the thinking part easier by prompting you with key topics and enables easy use of the hundreds of ingredients contained in our Proposal Recipe library. But what about the writing? Once you’ve articulated what the proposal should contain, your proposal writers now have a better idea of not only what to write, but how to write it. They know what they need to do to pass the review. They know what they need to do to get it right on the first draft. They are not faced with a moving target, which is what it’s like when your reviews aren’t based on written quality criteria and are full of surprises. They can ask questions if there’s anything they don’t understand, or if they need additional input. They can filter the instructions so they only see the quality criteria (or any of the other instruction types in the image above). They can approach the writing as a process of elimination, checking off each instruction fulfilled as they go. They can even report their progress with a simple click of the red/yellow/green indicator next to each instruction. Proposal writers can compare what they are writing to what it is supposed to be. By giving them instructions and quality criteria, you shape the proposal before it gets to the review. You enable proposal writers to self-assess. Get a little validation The MustWin Performance Support Tool not only enables you to put guidance in front of your proposal writers, it enables you to validate whether they followed the instructions. Reviews can assess whether each instruction was followed using the same quick and easy check of the red/yellow/green indicator. Not only do your writers get to see what is expected of them so they can get it right on the first draft, but your reviews can be more than just a subjective judgment and actually validate that the proposal is right, based on your quality criteria. This is what people who are serious about winning need to do.
  4. Most companies consider a proposal review to be reading a draft document. This is the least effective of proposal reviews and makes the smallest contribution to proposal quality and winning. Yet people cling to it. I blame the obsolete color team model for getting in the way of proposals using the same quality assurance methodologies that have improved so many other things people do. This is especially true when the color team model degrades down to a single “red team” review. Most companies also fail to define proposal quality. This sets them up to commit the greatest sin in proposal development. What about your company? How many of these reviews do you do on every proposal? Some of them can be performed by just one person, often the proposal manager. Some require a specialist. Some of them require representation by all stakeholders. And some may need a team of experienced professionals sitting around a table. How you do your reviews is far less important than what you review. This is the essence of proposal quality validation. 15 types of proposal reviews What level of quality validation is your next proposal worth? Readiness. Will you be ready to win when the RFP is released? Have you figured out what to offer, obtained answers to the questions you anticipate your proposal writers having, determined what your think strategies are, and decided how to articulate your message? What about getting approval for your proposal budget and identifying who will participate? Do you have set criteria that define what being “ready” even means? Offering design. Figuring out what to offer should never be done by writing about it. You should bring an approved offering design to the proposal, because an unreliable design is not enough to start writing. This means you not only have to design the offering, but have a review to approve it before you can complete your content planning, let alone start writing. Logistics. Who is going to do what with which resources when? In other words, what is your schedule, assignments, and approach to developing and producing the proposal? And how will these be double-checked? Outline. No one ever gives enough scrutiny to the outline before they start writing against it. An unreliable outline can cause a world of proposal pain. It is worth holding up writing to spend the time and attention necessary to review the outline and make sure it is reliable before you start writing. Proposal Content Plan. Have you considered everything that should go into your Proposal Content Plan? Is the plan sufficient to guide your writers to creating a winning proposal? Once you’ve completed your content plan you should review it before putting it to work. By reviewing your content plan, you also review all of its components, like win strategies, use of graphics, and how you've incorporated customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence. Self-Assessment. Do you have a means for writers to self-assess their assignments before turning them in? Are the assessment criteria the same ones that future reviewers will use? RFP Compliance. If your proposal could get thrown out for non-compliance, it’s worth some effort to validate that you have a compliant response. This requires great attention to detail and slow, deliberate work. Reviews often skip it because of the effort. It is easier for them to get away with that when you combine checking RFP compliance with other reviews. Decisions and risk. Your offering is full of trade-offs. Price vs Quality, etc. If the page limitation is shorter than the number of pages of requirements, you can’t possibly be compliant with every little thing. Which RFP requirements are unclear or subject to interpretation? What decisions have you made and what risks have you taken? Have they been reviewed so that all stakeholders confirm those are the risks the company wishes to take? Quality criteria. Have you reviewed the proposal against a written definition of proposal quality? Has anyone assessed whether you have fulfilled your quality criteria? Evaluation emulation. If the proposal will be formally evaluated, you should review the proposal as if you are the customer, following their evaluation procedures and using their evaluation criteria. Presentation. How does the proposal read? This review is actually less important than most of the others. If you wait until you have a nearly complete proposal so you can see it “the way the customer will” and only then attempt to provide quality assurance, you are setting yourself up for backtracking and a rushed finish. Seeing the proposal “the way the customer will” is only useful for making sure the final assembly was performed correctly. You should only permit stakeholders who have participated in the reviews and decisions regarding what the proposal should be to see the proposal “the way the customer will.” Typography. Proofreading can save you from embarrassment. But then again, what percentage of proposals have lost due to typos? Close to zero? Where should you put your quality assurance time and effort? If you’ve done all the reviews above, you won’t have any glaring widespread typographical issues. But if the only review you do focuses on correcting the language, you’re missing out on all of the above. If you’ve done all of these reviews and can carve out the time for dedicated proofreading, then you may succeed at creating a perfect proposal! Pricing. If the only pricing review you do is at the tail end, you won’t create the most competitive proposal you are capable of. Is what you intend to offer price competitive? What is the price to win? Is your pricing model the best? There are trade-offs and decisions related to pricing that need to be considered and reviewed early, just like there are for your offering. Contracts. Just like with pricing, there are contractual issues that could shape the design of your offering. And understanding the customer’s contracts and acquisition procedures can help you design a better proposal. Contract reviews and participation should take place both early in the process as well as prior to submission. Submission. Is what you are about to submit acceptable to your company? That should be decided well in advance, and if you do all of these reviews it will be. All that will remain is a final check for defects and mistakes. I have seen proposals lose because of a missing page or file, or from a spreadsheet that didn’t work the same on the evaluator’s computer. Rushing to the finish can turn a winning proposal into a loss. How bad do you want to win? Do your proposal writers want to win bad enough to plan the proposal before they start writing? Do your reviewers want to win bad enough to prepare and focus? Does everyone want to win bad enough to consider everything that goes into proposal quality and validate that it’s be achieved? Reviews don’t all have to be formal events. What level of validation is your next proposal worth?
  5. Speaking engagements

    Carl Dickson of and PropLIBRARY is a frequent public speaker. It's one of his favorite things. Because he runs a web-based empire he doesn't get out enough. He'd love to speak at your event, but can't do them all. You are welcome to ask. Let us know when, where, about the audience, and the topics you think will excite them. You can call us at 1-800-848-1563 or contact him through our site.
  6. Bringing the MustWin Process online and making it much, much easier to implement We developed the MustWin Process in 2001. It is at the heart of all the content on PropLIBRARY. The MustWin Performance Support Tool (MWPST) brings it online, but not as a process workflow tool and not as a way of automating cookie-cutter proposals. The MWPST improves the performance of the people who work on and contribute to proposals in order to maximize your win rate and ROI. The MWPST gives you the tool you need to make doing proposals the right way feasible. The MWPST makes it easy to build a proposal around what it will take to win by providing guidance to writers about not only what to write, but how to write it, and then validating that they did it right. It brings Proposal Content Planning online and provides an online storyboarding solution that's so easy it becomes feasible to plan your proposal before you write it. Then it puts the plan right next to the act of writing where it guides, inspires, and accelerates. Instead of replacing what you use to write the proposal, the MWPST supplements and guides the writing. It also adds progress tracking and makes Proposal Quality Validation checklist-simple. The MWPST makes it easier to deliberately build a winning proposal, instead of hoping something magical comes out of the mysterious art of writing. And it avoids the problem of recycling content that was written for a different context and will reduce your chances of winning your current proposal. It enables a team of people to shape the proposal into what it should be, instead of piling re-write on re-write until you run out of time. How does the MWPST work? A Proposal Content Plan works like a container where you put all of the instructions and other ingredients that should go into writing the proposal. Like writing, it was conceived as a paper-driven process. The MWPST gives you that container in an online tool. It makes it easy to put the right instructions into it. Then we wrap everything needed for successful performance around it and put it right next to you as you write: It provides a checklist for new types of instructions like quality criteria, RFP requirements, questions to answer, issues, and more. Plus we've added immediate filtering so you can focus. For example, you can switch from seeing everything to just seeing the quality criteria. You can use that to achieve clarity about goals, approaches, considerations, and what defines success. It helps everyone manage expectations. It gets writers and reviewers on the same page. This was also feasible with the Proposal Content Planning methodology. Now it can be realized with simple clicks. It links to recipes to inspire and accelerate inserting instructions. We invented Proposal Recipes to provide a means to inspire and accelerate without resorting to win rate destroying content recycling. But they too were conceived of as paper-driven. By making them part of our performance support tool, they can be viewed with a click and inserted with another. Create your own instructions, customize the recipes, or insert them as is to get just the results you want from your writers. It uses online Proposal Quality Validation to assess whether instructions were followed. Why is it that proposal reviewers almost never perform validation against a written set of proposal criteria? Does it seem like too much work to create and too difficult to get them to follow through with? What the MWPST does is enable reviewers to go down a list with each instruction, quality criterion, etc., and simply click an icon to record red/yellow/green and post any comments they have. You can still do a document mark-up style of review, if you want. But we've made it easier to get attention focused on the specific things you need validated in order to achieve a quality proposal. It supports users with just-in-time online training courses. Most of the people working on proposals are inexperienced. They need training, but there's no good way to get it to them. We've created a way to embed it into the process. If a writer shows up having never read an RFP before, they can learn how by taking a quick course. If you want to get reviewers on the same page and get more consistent, less subjective results, have them take a quick course on proposal reviews. The MWPST puts links to the right courses next to your content plan so they are available at the moment of need. It provides relevant help articles. We've curated the hundreds of articles we've published, so that a few, highly relevant ones will appear off to the side to help you out when you need it. Plus you can always go search our library to help solve a proposal issue that has come up. It even enables you to tap into support services. If you need some expert help planning, writing, or reviewing your proposal we can provide it. And if we're both using the tool we can do it remotely and burn fewer billable hours getting up to speed on your opportunity. The MWPST is designed for you to use on your own without having to use an outside expert. But we're here for you if you do need it. Make progress like never before The MWPST turns proposal writing into a process of elimination. Each time you write something that fulfills one of your instructions, you can click an icon to switch it from red to yellow to green. Instead of asking "how it's going?" progress can now be measured. With charts. But not with a whole lot of effort required. Just a click. But more importantly, as a writer you know when you've achieved everything that needed to be done. And the proposal reviewers use the same set of instructions and quality criteria during their review. They even use similar traffic light icons to assess whether you fulfilled the instructions and quality criteria. Picture it side by side If you have two monitors, you can put the MWPST on one and Microsoft Word on the other. Your proposal files stay your files and never leave the network. You don't have to learn and use something else to write in. If you don't have two monitors, you can have Word in one window and a browser with the MWPST in another. It's like having the specifications next to what you are creating. That's a simple innovation that makes a HUGE difference in the quality of your proposals. Solving the unsolvable Everyone who works on proposals knows they should do the following: • Start the proposal before the RFP is released • Plan your proposal’s content before you start writing it • Define proposal quality in writing • Base your proposal reviews on quality criteria • Train the people working on proposals And yet, these things hardly ever happen. Now that can change. The MWPST gives you the tool you need to make doing these things feasible. How to get started using the MWPST The MWPST is free for PropLIBRARY Subscribers. You can use it with a Single User Subscription, but you won't get nearly as much value from it as people working on proposals with multiple people involved. You can start out with a Single User Subscription and upgrade to a Corporate Subscription. If your subscription expired, then go here to reactivate it. Once you've got access you'll... Set up each proposal. This is easy and takes seconds. Enter the proposal outline. You'll need to bring this. Software can't figure it out for you. Not even an AI is up to interpreting an RFP. Begin figuring out what your proposal should say and how. The MWPST will prompt you to enter instructions on each topic so you don't overlook anything. You can write your own instructions or start from the ones in our recipe library. You can also create proposal quality criteria for each section and topic. Our recipe library has suggestions for those, too. The MWPST will enable you to provide your writers with a set of specifications for what they are supposed to accomplish. When your plan is ready, start writing. With the MWPST window next to the one with Microsoft Word, you'll know what to write, how to write it, and what quality criteria you need to fulfill. Not only will writing go much faster, but you'll have fewer edit cycles. When writers have questions, each instruction, citerion, strategy, etc., has a place for commenting and discussion. When the writers are ready, start reviewing. Writing doesn't necessarily have to pause. Reviewers can check the quality criteria while the writers continue working. They can revisit anything that scores "red" later. When they review the finished draft, they'll know that compliance, bid strategies, and the quality criteria have been fulfilled and can focus on presentation. Quality criteria based reviews return more consistent and more effective results. Streamlining what you need to do anyway The MWPST is the most efficient way of planning before you write in existence. Let the implications of that sink in. And think about what that can do to help your proposals reach a higher level of competitiveness. P.S.: If you are a PropLIBRARY Subscriber when the MustWin Performance Support Tool goes live, you'll get a $1,000 discount toward a Corporate Subscription. That's a credit worth TWICE what it costs to subscribe as a single user. You can try PropLIBRARY and the new MustWin Performance Support Tool, and if you think the others at your company should be on it, you can upgrade to the Corporate Subscription for $1,000 less. As a reward for being an early adopter, if you become a Corporate Subscriber before the end of January, we'll also give you 8 hours of consulting using the tool. We'll help you craft your content plans. We'll show you how to get the most out of it. To get ready, subscribe now.
  7. Controlling access to your proposal

    Within the MWPPSS there are three roles people can play: Content Planner. Can add/change/delete the outline and planning items. Can control access. Writer. Can view the planning items, report their progress, and comment. Reviewer. Can review the planning items. Permissions are set section-by-section. You can have as many planners, writers, and reviewers as you need. So you can have someone planning one section and reviewing another. Or have someone doing all three in every section. How you allocate these functions to the resources you have is up to you. In order to be eligible for access, the user must be part of your Corporate Subscription. But even your subscribers won't have access until you give it to them. To do this, click on the "people" icon on the outline page. Then click on the "Add User Assignment" button. You should see this: Look up each user you want to have access and assign their role. Do this for each section. To revoke someone's access, click on the "x" floating next to their image/icon.
  8. Entering your proposal outline

    The first step in Proposal Content Planning is to set up the document shell based on your proposal outline. Before you can get started in the MustWin Proposal Performance Support System, you must enter your outline. The MWPPSS does not create the outline for you. Once you have your outline, you enter it to set up the proposal sections for people to begin planning. Warning: You want your outline to be reliable. It is a pain to change the outline after you begin planning around it. It's a good idea to create a compliance matrix and use it to build your outline. It is a good idea to intensively review your compliance matrix and outline before starting to plan the content of your proposal. The first time you enter your newly created proposal, you arrive at another page that looks empty. At the bottom of this page is a place to enter the section number and heading for each item in your outline. Click the "Add Another Section" button and it will appear in the list. It should only take a few minutes to enter most outlines. The list is sorted by the section number. When you are done, click on any section to begin planning it. That's where things get fun. To the right of each outline item is a set of icons. They look like this: The icons are for: Reviewing the section (check mark) Controlling access to the section (people) Editing the section number and name (pencil) Deleting the section (x) To plan the content of the section, just click on the section name. The reason for the "warning" above is that to make changes to the outline, you will have to manually edit the section numbers and name, add new sections, and delete sections. For minor changes, it's manageable. You want to avoid major changes by making sure the outline is reliable before you start. In a future version, we will add the ability to import your compliance matrix straight from an excel file. While that will be a cool feature, it will only save you a few minutes. The hard part is validating your outline before planning and writing around it. Even with the import, you'll still want to make sure your outline is reliable.
  9. Click the "Add New Proposal" button and give it name. That's basically it. But here's some background and things that are good to know... When you first arrive, it looks blank. That's because you have defined any proposals to work on. When you add a new proposal, you should also give your proposal a description. We recommend including the solicitation number (if any). You might also want to include the client name, either in the proposal name or in the description. What you put in the title and description is up to you. You have have a long description or a short one. You can edit it later. What you want them to do is enable people to be able to find and understand what they are working on.
  10. Why does everyone assume every proposal should have a proposal manager? Before you respond, take a deep breath and contemplate that. There are alternatives to the traditional proposal manager-led hierarchy. If you think that proposal managers have all of the responsibility and none of the authority to do their jobs, maybe the problem is you have the wrong management model instead of a lack of authority. Most of the conflicts that are endemic to proposal development come from a lack of clarity regarding expectations. Do you need a proposal manager who: The point is to understand your needs. Because they are different from everyone else’s needs. Tells everyone what to do? Does this include deciding what everyone should write? Is a facilitator, who helps other people to make the decisions, including what to write and how? Runs the process and produces the document, but stays out of what’s getting written? Is a mentor? Who provides specialized experience and expertise so that your staff can function at a higher level? Is just one part of a package of support services that you can request? Do you do things differently based on what’s needed for a particular pursuit? Do you have a range of capabilities and offer to help or lead as needed? Who owns deciding what to offer? How to present it? What words to use? Defining the bid strategies? Setting deadlines? Enforcing deadlines? Who is responsible for doing what it will take to win? Deciding who does things usually requires participation by The Powers That Be. If you can decisively say it’s the proposal manager who should decide these things and everyone participating agrees, that’s great. But in most companies, these responsibilities get shared. And they often get muddy. And that means the model that has the proposal manager as the clear authority might be a bad fit for some companies. Here are some considerations for what type of proposal management will work best in your organization: What is your decision-making culture? Is it consensus-driven or authoritarian? Is it centralized or decentralized? Do you want one person with clear accountability for the proposal, or do you want other stakeholders involved? A proposal can impact a large number of people and require contributions that cross organizational boundaries. Do you want one person to force the issue or should everyone get a seat at the table? Your corporate culture matters here, because it will set an expectation regarding who gets to participate in making decisions. Do you need proposal development to be collaborative or controlled? Which is more important, enabling everyone to contribute, or ensuring that people do as directed? The best answer for you may be different from other companies. How much subject matter expertise do your proposals require? Depending on what you offer, you may need experts to write the proposal. Or at least contribute to it. Whether the subject matter experts (SMEs) write the proposal or not depends on the expertise required, the availability of staff, and the level of expertise that the customer’s evaluation possesses. Billability and economics are also considerations. There is no single right answer for whether SMEs should do the writing or make the decisions. But the answer you choose will impact what approach you should take for proposal management. How much proposal specialization do your proposals require? If the RFP instructions and evaluation criteria are complex and require background knowledge, like they do with government proposals, you may need someone to direct, facilitate, or guide your staff to do what it will take to win. Do you have large proposal teams or small proposal teams? And are they the same people every time or different? The amount of direction that a few people who do all the proposals need and that a few dozen people of varying skills and experience need are completely different. What are the size, scope, complexity, and deadline? Is it a big proposal effort? Is it complicated? Do you have enough time to pull it all together? Do you need precise coordination and discipline? Will the same people needed to make decisions be participating in the proposal reviews? You can’t have objective proposal reviews if the people who make decisions about approaches and bid strategies are also the reviewers. If that’s just the way it is in your organization, then embrace it. Go for a collaborative process that prevents defects instead of one that focuses on discovering defects after the fact. How mature is your proposal process? Is it fully documented, completely implemented, and proven? Or is it half-baked and more of a way of doing things than a process? Do you need someone to introduce a process or help guide you through it? Is one of your goals to help your staff develop their own skills and capability to do proposals in the future? How well trained is your staff? Do they have the skills needed? Do they have the knowledge needed? Just because they’ve worked on proposals in the past doesn’t mean they're good at it. Are your resources really available? Whether you have a proposal manager or not, if your pursuit is not adequately staffed, it is doomed to failure. You could put a lot of effort into figuring out the best approach for you, only to have it fail because it was staffed with resources who really aren’t available. How much do you want to win? If you can't afford to staff the proposal properly, including a proposal manager, you probably have other priorities that are more important than winning. Have you considered the ROI? If you are planning to just get by with the resources you have, will that result in the best ROI? Have you calculated how much investment in opportunity pursuit maximizes your return? Have you calculated where putting that investment maximizes your win rate? Why not? If you think you know it without looking at hard data, you're probably wrong. Rules of thumb aren't. Conflict resolution and strategic development The odds are that more than one of the above applies to you. Not only that, but there’s a good chance you have conflicting answers. What do you do when you have a complex proposal with lots of stakeholders against a tight deadline with people who have conflicting priorities and can’t be relied on, that seems to beg for direction, but also have a consensus-driven culture? Ask yourself what your strategic goals are. Do you want to centralize or decentralize the proposal function? Do you want to develop the skills of your staff, or make do until you can hire the expertise you need? Do you want the operating units to figure out their own needs, or do you want this to be a corporate support function? Is responding to RFPs critical to the growth of your company? What’s your real mission? To begin the long-term effort of resolving the conflicts, start today by taking a step toward your strategic goals. There will be problems with whatever decision you make. When that’s the case, it’s best to confront them strategically. Do you need a proposal manager at all? Not having a proposal manager does not necessarily mean that no one is accountable. Maybe whoever wants to pursue the opportunity should be responsible for the proposal. Or maybe whoever gets a proposal assignment should be responsible for the completion of it, without someone called a proposal manager with responsibility but no authority hovering over them. What if instead of someone leading the process, the process was self-administered? What if each phase had goals to be achieved by people playing certain roles? What if each goal had quality criteria mapped to it? What if instead of assignments being made against the outline, they were made against functional roles or activities? What if each person playing a role knew both the goals to be achieved, and the quality criteria that would be used to define success? Then it might be nice to provide a mentor people could consult if they need help fulfilling the quality criteria. If the quality criteria are done well, people could self-assess whether they are doing quality work, without waiting for a future review. Maybe instead of a process, people need a guide that explains the goals, quality criteria, and self-assessment. Maybe editing could be provided as a service. Maybe the proposal department becomes a service catalog instead of an organization competing for ownership of the proposal. Maybe people should ask for support services instead of being given a mandate to turn control over to someone else.What model is right for you? Or maybe you really do need a proposal manager and the above is heresy. That’s okay too. The point is to understand your needs. Because they are different from everyone else’s needs. The nature of what you offer and the answers to the questions above will determine what the right approach is for your company. There is no single approach that is right for everyone. There isn't even a single approach that is right for everyone in a given market. And perhaps more importantly, whether or not you decide you need a proposal manager, asking these questions will help you implement your decision better. Don't just go through the motions and do things the way you think you're supposed to. If you want to maximize your win rate, challenge yourself by asking questions and keep doing it until you have solid answers for all of them. If you can’t get people to follow your proposal process or complete their assignments, then maybe the problem isn’t a lack of cooperation. Maybe you have the wrong proposal management model. It’s a question worth asking.
  11. We've been dropping hints about a tool we're developing and going to release soon. We're not ready to invite the world in just yet, but we can show you what we're up to. Honestly, it's an approach I just stumbled upon. I wasn't really looking for it. If I say that it has the potential to radically change how people go about winning proposals, that might sound a bit grandiose. But that is exactly what I think it can do. Just not in a way that anyone expects. Imagine combining what you see below with all of our process guidance, online training, proposal recipes, etc., into a single integrated environment. If you do complex proposals with multiple people involved, imagine having all that support to get everyone on the same page and making it as simple as clicking on things. We're not trying to change how you write. Just enable you to write better. And faster. The MustWin Performance Support Tool enables you to figure out what it will take to win and build a proposal around that. It's not about document assembly. We're not trying to recycle document parts written for a different customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. We want to make it easy to beat people who do that. The MustWin Performance Support Tool assists you with proposal writing by putting instructions next to where almost all of you do your writing, in Microsoft Word. You can display it on a second monitor or in another window. As you write, it will be there to remind you of everything you are supposed to address and how. It brings all the iterations of Proposal Content Planning online. Accelerating Proposal Content Planning The number one excuse for not properly planning a proposal before writing is that you "don't have time." So we've made it faster. Much faster. And it's online. Another way to think of it is a way to have real online storyboards. Within each topic, you add instructions, define quality criteria, make suggestions, and more, all with a simple click. Here is how simple it is to add to your content plan... Providing guidance to your proposal writers that helps shape the proposal What kind of proposal do you want? What points should it make? How should it make them? If you know, you can instruct your proposal writers and their job can become proving them. If you don't, you can instructions for people to figure them out and then prove them. Inspiration as fast as you can click As you know if you've followed the articles I've published, I'm not a big fan of reusing past proposals. But I do see the value in providing acceleration and inspiration in the form of proposal recipes. Now we've made it easy to drop recipes into a Proposal Content Plan with the click of a button. We currently have 228 recipes for you to draw on. Not only that, but if you notice that little bookmark symbol in the portion that's grayed out... with the click of another button you can save an instruction you've written for use in other sections or proposals. If there are instructions you want to put in every proposal, all you have to do is pick them from a list like this. Tracking Progress Instead of asking a writer "how it's going?" we've enabled authors to self report their completion of each instruction with a simple click. This rolls up into section- and proposal-wide status views like this one: Real quality validation instead of just subjective reviews Reviewers can click the traffic light icon next to each proposal quality criterion in each section to "grade" it. It helps that the MustWin Performance Support Tool also makes it easy to define quality criteria. Reviewers can expand each criterion if they want to add more detail or an explanation. Writers can also ask reviewers for clarification. And the team can discuss issues. Release schedule We don't have one. We're done adding features. For now. We've got some amazing ones planned for next year. But right now we're just cleaning up the user interface. Then we're going to invite PropLIBRARY Subscribers to have at it. For no extra charge. It's going to become part of a PropLIBRARY Subscription. That's kind of insane, given that PropLIBRARY already provides a full process library and 20 hours of online training for a minute fraction of what they cost elsewhere. But that's how we roll. And since its real impact of the MustWin Performance Support Tool is on proposal teams, we're going to do some promotion of our Corporate Subscriptions. If you want your company to have this level of support, just get a Corporate Subscription. Not only will your proposal contributors get to use the MustWin Performance Support Tool, but they'll also get the online training and premium content all for one fixed fee and a really low price/user. If you are already a PropLIBRARY Subscriber, we'll let you know when it's time to play. If you are not, you should become one so you can be part of it all. If your subscription expired, then go here to reactivate it. If you are a PropLIBRARY Subscriber when the MustWin Performance Support Tool goes live, you'll get a $1,000 discount toward a Corporate Subscription. That's a credit worth TWICE what it cost to subscribe as a single user. You can try PropLIBRARY and the new MustWin Performance Support Tool, and if you think the others at your company should be on it, you can upgrade to the Corporate Subscription for $1,000 less. As a reward for being an early adopter, if you become a Corporate Subscriber before the end of January, we'll also give you 8 hours of consulting using the tool. We'll help you craft your content plans. We'll show you how to get the most out of it. To get ready, subscribe now. Invitations to try it out will only be going out to subscribers, and will be going out soon.
  12. When people think about tools for proposals, they usually make the mistake of thinking about automation. What they should be thinking about instead is performance. When you think of automation, you think of reducing effort and cost. Let the computer do it for you. Go right ahead — if you want to produce proposals that are easy to beat. But when you think of supporting performance, other things that become important. Like the fact that many people who get involved in proposals are inexperienced. Or how, unless you sell a commodity, increasing your win rate returns a much higher ROI than lowering your proposal costs. Increasing your win rate makes the effort worthwhile. And besides, automating proposal production doesn’t target where the most time is wasted on proposals. People spend far more time thinking about proposals than writing them. A performance support tool helps people think and not just assemble. The real problem To maximize your win rate and ROI, instead of automation you want a system that enables you to actually do the things you know you should to win your proposals, but somehow can’t seem to make happen. Here are some reminders of some of the things that everyone knows, but hardly anyone does: Ignore automating document assembly and solve these problems to increase your win rate • The proposal should start before the RFP is released • You should plan your proposal’s content before you start writing it • Proposal quality should be defined, in writing • Proposal reviews should be based on quality criteria • People working on proposals should be trained My vision for a proposal support system ignores automating document assembly in favor of solving these problems and increasing your win rate. It returns a huge ROI. PropLIBRARY started life as a collection of best practice articles. It grew into an end-to-end process that addressed the issues above, but required manual process implementation. Then it grew it into a cross-linked online training platform. And now it’s about to become a proposal performance support system. Here’s how We’re creating a single tool that will address Readiness Reviews, Content Planning, and Proposal Quality Validation by providing instructions, guidance, and quality criteria. It will be the easiest way to implement these methodologies the world has ever seen, because it will blend off-the-shelf guidance with proposal recipes. It will enable customization and an approach to re-use that accelerates without destroying your win rate. All it does is provide an online interface that integrates everything you need to do. It provides performance support. It doesn’t even bother with automating document assembly, since most companies are already pretty good at document assembly and it’s often less than 10% of the total effort that goes into a proposal. Integration is the key You can build your own performance support system. Just integrate these ingredients: Create a database for your Proposal Content Plans with your quality criteria definition. Make the content plans and proposal criteria easy to complete. Put your proposal recipes in another database and then integrate it with your content planning function. Provide proposal management support in the form of progress tracking and review reporting. Create bite-sized online training that works more like a proposal help system. Forget days-long courses that are taken separate from proposal development. Support collaboration because people will have questions and issues to discuss. Essentially what you are doing is integrating guidance, training, planning, reviewing, and collaboration. This is what your proposal team needs to be successful. Here are some goals to achieve along the way: Keep the focus on what to write and not on assembly. Shape the document with instructions and guidance about what to write. And not by bringing forward narratives that were written for the wrong context or are too generic to be competitive. Make content planning and quality validation checklist-simple. Make planning, writing, and reviewing a real-time collaborative effort instead of managing by draft cycles. Spend your time thinking about how to guide your team and about what defines quality instead of editing draft after draft. Eliminate the production of as many process artifacts and deliverables as you can by moving them online. Remember that raising your win rate is more important than saving proposal costs by reducing proposal quality. Eliminate wasted effort by focusing discovering and articulating what it will take to win in a way that enables you to drive it into the document. This is what PropLIBRARY is becoming. Join us on December 14th at 11am (Eastern/UTC-5) to see it in action Carl Dickson, founder of and PropLIBRARY, is going to demonstrate the new MustWin Performance Support System (MWPSS). You'll get to see how easy it can be to plan before you write. He has a couple of surprises planned as well. Register for this free online event here. The new MustWin Performance Support System will be a free add-on for PropLIBRARY Subscribers when it is released. This is a great time to become one. If you are a previous subscriber, you can still renew your subscription and get access to the new tool, online training, and proposal recipe database. The new tool will be most useful for companies where proposals are produced by teams of people. If you subscribe now and upgrade to a Corporate Subscription later, you will get credit for TWICE the cost of your initial subscription and save $1000 on the price of the Corporate Subscription that will give access to up to 50 users. This is a great way to try PropLIBRARY before committing to the Corporate Subscription.
  13. Proposals usually require effort that crosses organizational boundaries. People who are used to owning things have to share. People who are impacted by decisions want to own them. If you base your proposal staffing on titles, you are asking for trouble. You are creating territories, and people will begin to identify with them. They won’t want to leave their territories and they may want to grow them. The list of things that need to be done to win the proposal is fixed. But who does what depends on what resources are available to you. Using titles to define roles and responsibilities also makes it difficult to change who does what from one proposal to another based on the circumstances. And worse, it makes it easy to default to position descriptions to define who does what. Position descriptions rarely reflect the functional needs of what it takes to win a proposal. So maybe you have to have titles. HR probably thinks so. But that doesn’t mean that you should use them to allocate effort or define roles on a proposal. Defining proposal responsibilities functionally instead of by using titles The list of things that need to be done to win a proposal is finite. You can and should create that list. It defines the functional requirements of proposal development. But for each thing you put on that list, there are multiple roles. And this is what using position descriptions disrupts. Does a proposal manager decide what words to use or draft them? Or does a subject matter expert? Or a proposal reviewer? What about the offering? Or the win strategies? There are no right answers that apply to every proposal. Instead, you need a way to define the role played for each functional requirement to win a proposal. The good news is that these roles usually fall into just six categories. Take your list of functional requirements, and put it in a table or worksheet with six more columns. Label these columns: Plan Draft Decide/approve Support/contribute Review Coach/mentor In each cell, put one or more names. Your proposal manager might plan the content, with support from subject matter experts, for someone else to draft. Or the subject matter experts might plan the content for writers to draft. Or a writer might plan and draft the content. A reviewer might also decide/approve the final draft. Or the proposal manager might decide/approve what changes to make with the reviewers making suggestions. The list of things that need to be done to win the proposal is fixed. But who does what depends on what resources are available to you. By using a worksheet like this, you set expectations in a way that is specific to the proposal being produced. You can change it up on the next proposal. During the proposal, people don’t have to fight for control. They become free to work together and collaborate. Resolving conflicts The fights will be over whose names go in which cells. And that is exactly what you want. You want it out in the open before you start. You don’t want the fights to be in the middle of the proposal. That’s how you get the passive/aggressive lack of cooperation that undermines many bids. So go ahead and fight over who gets which role. But once the worksheet is complete, everyone knows not only what to do, but who plays which role in every activity. And when availability changes or whether the next proposal is big or little, you can make assignment adjustments while keeping the clarity. It’s that clarity that will enable people to focus on winning the proposals, which will benefit every name on the worksheet. PropLIBRARY helps companies becoming winning organizations through a combination of online process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. As the links above show, PropLIBRARY can help you win more business while also providing hours of online training to boost the skills and get everyone on the same page. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.
  14. The best way to accelerate a proposal is to lay the groundwork for winning in each step, so that the next step has what it needs. It does not come from automating or accelerating doing the ordinary. The goal is not to submit a “good enough” proposal, it’s to win them all and turn proposal writing into a profitable activity instead of a necessary evil. To achieve this, each step has to add value that the next step can build on. Here are eight examples: You can improve the efficiency of your proposals while improving your win rate Pre-RFP pursuit. Build your capture plans around answering questions. Those questions become a script that guides your sales force regarding what information to seek. They’ll never be able to uncover all the information you’d like to have, but if they know what to look for, they'll get more of it. You’ll be better able to assess your readiness to win the proposal, by looking at what answers you have and what you don’t. And even if you start at RFP release, the same list of questions helps you quickly assess what you do and don’t know. Within the MustWin Process, we use this approach to create Readiness Reviews that help ensure the company is ready to win at RFP release. Offering design. Also during the pre-RFP phase, you should begin designing your offering so that you can discuss it with the customer and validate your thoughts before presenting it in your proposal. Having an engineering methodology for designing your offering and validating it before you begin writing about it is important for avoiding a proposal disaster. Proposal startup. The hand-offs that occur when the proposal starts are usually not smooth. However, if your list of pre-RFP pursuit questions anticipates what your proposal writers will need to know to write a great proposal, the hand-off will clearly show what information you have and don’t have to work with. Our proposal startup checklist includes more than a hundred questions. Also during proposal startup, you need to read the RFP and prepare a compliance matrix. There is no shortcut for these, they simply must be done. And done well. One of the reasons to accelerate everything else is to carve out the time you need to do these critical tasks. Proposal logistics plans. Schedules, assignments, kickoff briefings, production plans, etc., can and should all be turned into templates. Completing a plan should be as simple as filling out a form. It should take minutes and not hours. Defining proposal quality and preparing a review plan. If you don’t define proposal quality, then you’ll waste tons of time between people not knowing what is expected of them and circular discussions about what a good proposal is. Having proposal reviews is not the same thing as having proposal quality criteria or proposal quality validation. Not only can you have written proposal criteria, you can accelerate putting them in place. Some criteria can be standardized. Others will depend on the business line, customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. You can turn creating your proposal quality criteria into a forms-driven process with parts standardized, and others to be filled in. By quickly preparing your quality criteria, you'll have time to review and validate them before moving forward. Proposal content planning. Several things can accelerate identifying what needs to be written so that writing can proceed. If your pre-RFP pursuit questions anticipate the information needed to write a great proposal, then you’ll be able to quickly bring the answers forward into your Proposal Content Plans. You’ll be able to turn them from general things you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment into specific instructions that proposal writers can use to properly position what they are writing about. You can also create proposal recipes that can be quickly copied and pasted into your proposal content plans to inspire your proposal writers with what to write about. You can also use proposal recipes to more quickly figure out your win strategies, and include them in the plan for writers to substantiate. Proposal recipes can also be used to inspire creating graphics, guide interviews of subject matter experts, help standardize approaches across business lines, and remind writers of corporate standards. Proposal writing. Proposal writing is accelerated by having a Proposal Content Plan that provides the information and guidance needed to write a great proposal. It tells writers what to do to fulfill the proposal quality criteria, so they don’t get surprised at the draft review. Done well, a Proposal Content Plan turns proposal writing into a process of elimination instead of guesswork. Proposal Quality Validation. Proposal reviews are accelerated by having a definition for proposal quality and criteria that can be used so reviewers know what to look for. You can also accelerate planning your reviews by turning them into a forms-driven process that allocates your quality criteria to specific reviews and addresses logistics issues (participants, location, schedule, etc.). You should be able to create a written review plan in about 15 minutes. When you have a written review plan, you can have the plan itself reviewed and validated to ensure that your approach is sufficient to meet the quality needs of the company. This forms a critical value chain: pre-RFP questions and offering design accelerate both the creation of your proposal quality criteria and the Proposal Content Plan, which in turn accelerates both writing and quality validation. Do not break this chain. Not only will things take longer if you do, but quality will suffer as well. You should also note that this does not rely on automation or reusing old proposals for acceleration. That is because it is based on the most efficient way to build your proposal around what it will take to win. The last thing you want to do is accelerate creating losing proposals. Instead, you want to improve the efficiency of creating better proposals, so you will raise your win rate. And raising your win rate leads to growth that pays for doing things right to achieve more growth. PropLIBRARY helps companies becoming winning organizations through a combination of online process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. As the links above show, PropLIBRARY can help you win more business while also providing hours of online training to boost the skills and get everyone on the same page. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.
  15. What will a 1% change in your win rate return? If you don’t know, you really need to gather the data to calculate it. Because small increases in win rate are often worth considerable effort. In fact, increasing your win rate will often net a better ROI than chasing more leads. Once you’ve done the math and found your motivation, then you have to figure out what to do to improve your win rate and reap the promised ROI. To help you out, here are nine places to consider investing in to increase your proposal win rate: People. Hire for talent over experience. You’d be surprised how many experienced professionals write ordinary proposal copy. Doing this requires knowing talent when you see it. You are looking for the difference between good proposal writing, and great proposal writing. If RFP compliance is critical, it's worth it to pay for someone who knows how to make a compliance matrix. And make sure that the person who manages your proposals is on the same level as those contributing to the proposals. Junior staff can manage a good proposal, one that is as good as your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). But it takes someone with more gravitas to push senior SMEs to prepare great proposals. Processes. However good your people are, people alone are not enough to maximize your win rate. If it’s not documented and if it can't be implemented by someone other than the person who designed it, then it's not a process, it's merely a way of doing things. However, investing in process is not limited to documenting your process. It also includes taking the time to develop an effective process. Developing a process to produce proposals is straightforward. Developing a process that produces great proposals (video) is not. But it's worth the investment. Tools. Investing in tools for proposals is tricky. This is because proposal automation often leads to less expensive proposals that also have a lower win rate. A lower win rate will almost always cost far more than any labor saved. There are better ways to make proposals faster and easier. There are also better ways to make proposals less expensive. The tools you need to increase your win rate are ones that help you collaborate and think. Graphics. Graphics communicate better than words. Not only that, but the process of conceptualizing your graphics can help you better think through your proposal messages. Investing in graphics comes in two ways: investing in the time it takes to conceptualize graphics, and investing in an illustrator to render them. The illustrator may be the lesser of those two costs. But the return is a better message communicated more effectively, leading to a higher win rate that can dwarf both of those costs. Customer relationships. Customer relationships take time to develop. In government contracting, if you want to influence an RFP, you might have to start two years in advance of its release. One way to increase your win rate is to invest time against that long-term goal. Performance. Keeping the customer happy may be worth investing in if you care about winning your recompetes. You don't want to be in the position of trying to win in spite of bad past performance reviews. Having the highest possible past performance scores is worth some investment. Mathematically there is a sweet spot between maximizing profit margin and achieving ROI by investing in performance to increase your win rate. Calculate it. A small change in win rate will impact a lot of contract dollars. Information. One of the most important bid considerations is whether you have an information advantage. An information advantage requires time to build. Allocating that time is an investment. Information can also come from purchasing certain databases, but that is the same information everyone else has. Investing in databases may be necessary to keep up with your competition, but shouldn’t be counted on to provide an advantage. Metrics. The best metrics only require a minimal investment because they should flow naturally from doing what you need to do anyway. If you want to know how your investments are performing, you need to track the results. Metrics that help you track the ROI performance of your investment in improving your win rate and that enable data-driven decisions are worth investing in. Culture. Investing in developing a winning culture is the most expensive investment of them all. This is because it can’t be bought. It requires an investment in the form of time from those at the highest level. And yet, having a winning culture is as important as having an effective process. And most executives get it tragically wrong. Or worse, they assume that their corporate culture comes naturally from the things they do or their mission statement, effectively ignore their culture, and end up with whatever fills the void. This is usually a risk-averse daily grind that is the lowest common denominator of the results of turf battles. It’s not a coincidence that most corporate cultures are dysfunctional and most companies have low win rates. What’s not on the list? Re-use libraries. Unless you sell a commodity, proposal reuse libraries lower win rates more than they save in effort. Yet staff crave them because they see proposals as an expense and an imposition. See #9 about dysfunctional anti-growth corporate cultures. Luckily, there are alternatives. Where should you invest first? Invest where you will see the greatest ROI. This will likely be the one that you’ve ignored the most. If you are just getting started, it will most likely be people or process. If you do not have sufficient cashflow or budget to invest, consider focusing on culture and metrics since you may be able to improve them without spending any money. Investing time to develop the right metrics can help you justify the budget you need as an investment instead of as an expense.
  16. It’s all about ROI. And your ROI is directly impacted by your win rate. Low win rates lead to a low ROI. For some companies, a 10% increase in win rate is the same as a 40% increase in leads pursued. Bad bid decisions lead to a lower win rate. Lots of low probability bids translate into a certainty of a low win rate This isn’t about subjective preferences, rules of thumb, or even best practices. This is about the hard reality of math. If you don’t understand the mathematical relationship between your win rate, the number of leads you need to pursue to hit your numbers, and the way resource allocation impacts your win rate, then skip this article and instead learn the math. This article will make a lot more sense after that. If you’re not tracking the numbers to be able to do this, then read the article and immediately start tracking them. Signs that you are making bad bid decisions that are reducing your ROI You're bidding an RFP because: We can write the proposal. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. This is true even if “you’re not bidding anything else right now.” What you should be doing is refining your pursuit process to maximize your win rate. This includes identifying the criteria that make a pursuit worthy of bidding. Instead of chasing a pursuit with a low win probability just because you can, invest in increasing the win probability of all the future pursuits you have a realistic chance of winning. When this is given as a reason to pursue a bid, it can be an indicator that bid decisions are not criteria based, there is no formal lead qualification process, and the pipeline is running low. We can do the work. Your ability to do the work, and your ability to win the pursuit are two different things. Everybody bidding will be convinced they can do the work. Bidding without a competitive advantage lowers your win rate. Hope is not a strategy. If you have to pass on a bid where you can do the work but don’t have a competitive advantage, ask yourself what you need to do to better position for the future. Citing “we can do the work” to justify a pursuit is not only a sign that there are no bid decision criteria, it’s also a sign that strategic planning is lacking. We'll just hire the incumbents. Like everyone else. Bidding without the right resources on the expectation that you can just hire the staff currently doing the work if you win and the incumbent contractor loses is worse than bidding because you “can do the work.” You can’t actually do the work. You’re hoping that you can hire the staff who can. That is bidding at an intentional disadvantage hoping to make it up in other ways, usually by undercutting the price, which hurts the credibility of your being able to hire the incumbent staff. When you hear people say “we’ll just hire the incumbents” it not only indicates a willingness to bid without a competitive advantage, it could also be a sign that pre-RFP intelligence gathering was so weak that the number of incumbent staff weren’t known. We've got relevant past performance. A variation of this is “We've done other business for this customer before.” Both fail the “So what?” test. The simple fact of having experience does not matter. It’s the impact of that experience. For a bid decision, what matters is whether the impact of that experience amounts to a competitive advantage. Keep in mind that everyone bidding will claim relevant experience. It’s not the quantity of experience that matters the most. It’s the impact. How does whatever experience you have provide a better result or outcome for the customer? That is what matters to them. It’s not how much experience you have, it’s whether you can produce better results. When having experience is seen as the only or primary qualifier for bidding, it’s a sign that the company is not developing any real differentiators. We can win it by bidding low and making it profitable after we get the contract. Bidding below the level you can perform at is a recipe for killing your past performance record. And that means you can win this contract this way, but you’ll be doing it at the expense of your future win rate. It’s short term thinking at the expense of long term ROI. It’s often a sign of desperation. It's the same work we do for our current customer. See #4. “So what?” Should the customer care? If they do, then that’s the real reason to bid. Developing a core competency is a good thing, and this involves looking for similar works to build relevant capabilities. However, the fact that you want to build core competency does not matter to the customer. Having a core competency that gives you differentiators and advantages that offer benefits are what matters to the customer. If you can’t match the similarity in the scope of work with an information advantage about the customer and a competitive advantage in your offering, then the probability of winning will be low. The similarity is relevant in qualifying the lead as being worth learning more about. But by itself is not an indicator you should bid. Using it as a reason to bid is an indicator that your lead qualification and bid/no bid decision criteria are the same, and that can be an indicator that you are starting your pursuits at RFP release. The customer said we should bid. Customers do not always mean it. Sometimes they tell that to two companies in order to have three bids. Customers don’t care about your win rate, ROI, or proposal budget. They think everyone should bid. So if this is the only reason to bid, it’s not enough. You should respond with a lot of questions and gauge their willingness to discuss their needs. If the RFP is already out then it’s even less of an indicator they want you. Who did they talk to in order to know what to put into the RFP? If you can turn this contact into the start of a relationship, it can be a very good thing. If all they want is a bid, then not so much. It's similar to a proposal we've already written and we can just use that. No you can’t. Not if you care about win rate and ROI. And even if you try, you’re going to find out that reusing a previous proposal takes just as much effort, and sometimes more, to create an inferior new proposal. If you need to lowball the effort it takes to win the business, it’s a sign that the business is not worth pursuing. Lots of low probability bids do not translate into a high probability of winning. They translate into a certainty of a low win rate, which results in a low ROI. We can't win if we don't try. This is a total strawman. It goes along with “we need to bid more to win more.” You can lose more than just the bid by chasing low probability pursuits. The way to maximize your ROI is to skip them and invest in achieving a high win rate for pursuits that are worth chasing. Hear this is usually a sign that there aren’t enough strong leads in the pipeline. There's a better way to do it than what it says in the RFP. Then why didn’t you bring it up before the RFP was written? This is a sign that the pursuit started at RFP release. It’s also a huge risk if it’s a government bid or a commercial bid that requires compliance. A bid strategy based on non-compliance should be a no-bid indicator for these types of bids. We can price lower than they can. If your strategic plan is to be the lowest price provider and you are as good at it as Walmart, then this is a positive bid indicator. But for everyone else it’s a bad sign. Pricing competitively is a good tactic, but it’s a sketchy reason to bid. It indicates that you are relying on price instead of a competitive advantage. It also could indicate that you’re taking chances with your ability to perform, so that even if you win, you still lose. Bidding with no other differentiators or competitive advantages other than your price is an indicator that you started the pursuit at RFP release and are not thinking through your bid strategies. This may indicate a company that’s trying to make it up in volume, by submitting lots of low-priced proposals instead of bidding strategically. If this is the case, your ROI will suffer greatly. We have the right team. See #4. So what? A team must be more than a collection of impressive names. It must be a rationale. Why does your team matter? Why is it better than any alternatives? Relying on other companies to increase your win rate, which is what teaming is, is a questionable practice. If you question it and come up with answers that indicate it’s right for you, then those answers are what matter. Reliance on teaming as your primary differentiator is often an indicator that you’re also relying on experience as a differentiator. See #4 again. There is no incumbent. It’s good that there is no company currently doing the work with an information advantage. But that does not give you a competitive advantage. The lack of an incumbent may indicate a lead is worth exploring, but it’s not worth bidding unless you have a competitive advantage. See #6. This is an indicator that your qualification criteria and bid decision criteria are the same. Denial. Are you looking at these and saying “we don’t do that” based on some technicality or justifying that when you say it there’s a good reason? Do you say them so habitually that you don’t even notice you are saying them? Are you in denial about your organization? Do you have a strategic plan, lead qualification process, and bid decision process? If you do and you’re still saying these things, do you need to reengineer them? How important is ROI to you? It’s not that you should never say these things. Sometimes they are part of lead qualification. Sometimes they are a secondary point in a justification to bid. But if people question putting effort into a low probability bid and the first thing that someone says to justify it is on this list, it’s an indicator you have a problem. It’s an indicator that you are not achieving the best ROI you could be. PropLIBRARY helps companies becoming winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.
  17. A lot of improvisation usually goes into proposal efforts. Proposal management is often an assignment to figure it all out. But conflicts are best resolved before they manifest. Plus it’s good not to be set up for failure. The list below is written from the proposal manager’s point of view. But you can also use it as an organization trying to figure out how to best win new business. It’s a lot more than is normally discussed. But the effort is worthwhile. And not only for you, but for the organization as a whole. Even if you can’t answer some, you’ll be better off making the attempt and realizing where you have some issues to work through than to try to settle things as they come up because that approach has more negative consequences for your win rate. So, putting issues related to budget and pay rates aside, along with the specifics of a pursuit (like the deadline), here is a list of things I’d like to know before taking on a gig as a proposal manager. Are you responsible for winning or just submitting what you’re given? If you’re responsible for winning, you need a say in everything that goes into what it will take to win right down to the bid/no bid decision. You also need to be involved in developing the pursuit strategies and the efforts that begin before the RFP is even released. If you’re just a part of a winning team, then you need to know, and only be responsible for, your part. This is an important discussion that should not go unspoken. And it should take place not only between the proposal manager and his or her supervisor, but between all of the executives because it relates to how the organization wins. Are you supposed to lead, write, run the process, or produce the document? Should you take ownership? And if so, of what? The document, the process, or the win? And how many hats can you reasonably be expected to wear? Should a leader also take a writing assignment? Or should the person responsible for winning to also be responsible for editing? Where should a proposal manager focus and how should they prioritize things?This decision should be made while considering the impact on your win rate and ROI. Are expectations clear? You need to know what is expected of you, and your team needs to know what you expect of them. This applies to everyone involved. And it also should not go unspoken. Most of the conflicts in proposal development come about as a result of differing expectations that go unresolved. Who is responsible for achieving and validating RFP compliance? The writers, the proposal manager, or the review team? If the proposal is rejected or scores low because of a non-compliance, is someone to blame or is everyone to blame? You’d be surprised how much some companies' win rates are held back because their proposal teams are afraid of doing something wrong. Are you a process administrator or a process creator? Are you supposed to follow and implement a process (that exists), or are you supposed to (invent if necessary and) put in place a process? Are you supposed to invent and implement a process while producing a proposal? If you are supposed to implement a process, what about training (who is responsible for it and how will it be carried out?)? If you are just supposed to follow a process, what about the (inevitable) gaps? Who is responsible for the offering design? This is more complicated than you might think. If you are responsible for compliance, then what do you do about an offering that is non-compliant? Are those responsible for offering design also responsible for reading and understanding the RFP? What about the evaluation criteria and developing and implementing pursuit and pricing strategies? If you are responsible for winning, can you achieve that without being deeply involved in each of these? Are you responsible for production? Things need to move quickly at the end of a proposal. If you’re trying to process last-minute change iterations when you should be providing quality assurance, guess what you won’t be doing? If you are the bottleneck, then forget about accelerating the process by doing more than one thing at a time. Everything is a trade-off. But trade-offs should be made with everyone’s eyes open. See also “Are expectations clear?” above. Who is responsible for wording and editing? If you are responsible for editing, do you have the authority to make changes? If you are responsible for compliance or winning, do you have the authority to fix problems? Or are you only responsible for submitting what you are given? Do you really want to make subtle distinctions between proofreading and copyediting, which will inevitably lead to conflicts within the team? Settle who owns the words before you start. Are you responsible for identifying the staff to work on the proposal? This starts with the budget, because that limits the number of people involved. But once that’s settled, who is responsible for finding the right staff, deciding between employees and consultants, taking them away from other work, onboarding them to the proposal, and overseeing their performance once it starts? Since every proposal is always understaffed, it would be good to know. Are you responsible for filling gaps? No matter what your answers are to the above, there are going to be gaps. Sometimes it’s because an expectation went unfulfilled. Sometimes it’s because of a change. Or a curveball delivered by Murphy’s Law. Who is responsible for filling the gaps? In content, proposal staffing/assignments, process, reviews, information, etc.? Is the proposal manager responsible for getting the job done and the gap filler of last resort? Does the proposal manager have the authority to go with that responsibility? Who defines proposal quality? Is it the proposal manager, the review team, the executive sponsor, or someone else? Will whoever defines proposal quality also be responsible for articulating proposal quality criteria? Who is responsible for fulfillment? And how will proposal quality be validated? Not addressing this leads to the worst sin in proposal development. Who makes customer contacts? If additional information is needed, are you responsible for or permitted to pick up the phone and talk to the customer? If not you, then who? Who owns the customer relationship? Is the person responsible for making customer contact also responsible for obtaining the information needed to win? What are your responsibilities for the teaming process? Who identifies teaming partners? Negotiates with them? Interacts with them? Makes sure they fulfill their proposal assignments? Replaces them when necessary? See also “Are expectations clear?” Are you responsible for review administration, leadership, and training? Are you responsible for planning proposal reviews? Defining the review process? Conducting reviews? Coordinating them? Will someone else be the review team leader? Who trains the reviewers? Defines the quality criteria they should validate? Since in many ways the review process often essentially is the proposal process and how proposal quality is defined, validated, and enforced, you don’t really know what you are doing until this is addressed. Who can compel proposal contributors to work late? Sometimes it’s necessary. Who decides? And who has the authority to order food for people working late? PropLIBRARY helps companies become winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.
  18. For single users, you can browse and find information related to where you are in the pursuit process and what you are trying to do and learn how to do it better. You can get our process recommendations and use them to fill gaps in your existing process or implement a pursuit process from scratch. You can get immediate online training. You can improve your proposal writing by using our recipes. PropLIBRARY is so flexible because people arrive here at different points in time, play different roles, and have different needs. Everything from process documentation, articles, proposal recipes, and files to online training courses is cross-referenced so that from any key topic you can get to all of our content. PropLIBRARY is a tool for increasing your win rate and maximizing your ROI. For organizational development, we offer Corporate Subscriptions that bring all of the above to up to 50 users. A Corporate Subscription turns PropLIBRARY into an organization-wide process support and training tool. PropLIBRARY enables a company to implement internal certification and skills development programs. It enables small companies to compete against giants with a pursuit process just as sophisticated as theirs. It enables large companies to get everyone on the same page and continuously improve their win rate and ROI. Having a Corporate Subscription to PropLIBRARY gives you a competitive advantage over other organizations. For the most ambitious companies, we can customize the content and training and turn PropLIBRARY into an organizational development platform. We can convert lessons learned into just-in-time online training that you can painlessly embed into your pursuit process. We have shared hundreds of free content items covering every part of PropLIBRARY, which you may browse to assess the value for you and your organization. They explain the theory and foundation behind our recommendations. A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks the premium content that gives you all the details you need to immediately implement those recommendations and our MustWin Process. We can drill down into more detail if you share what your areas of interest are. Use the button below to start a conversation. Click here to ask us a question
  19. Are you trying to win all of your future proposals, or just the one on your desk? Are you thinking short-term or long-term? Are you trying to do a proposal and get back to your other work, or are you trying to develop an organization? Some of the things that drive how many people are needed to win a proposal are fairly obvious: The amount that needs to be written The schedule The size of the production effort But some of them are less obvious, and these tend to be the ones that impact your ability to win the most: The range of subject matters that need to be covered. This is not just a technical concern. Do you have someone involved who knows how to create a detailed transition plan for this type of project? What about the staffing plan, quality control plan, etc.? Who knows your company’s projects well enough to select, edit, and update your past performance project descriptions? How many people do you need contributions from in order to address all the required topics? The difficulty of designing the offering. Can one person decide what to offer and describe it for the proposal? Or do you need a cross-functional team? Layers of involvement. How many people must be involved in reviews, approvals, and decision making? Do you need section or volume leaders? The availability of information. If you know the customer’s preferences and your bid strategies proposal writing is straightforward. If you don’t, you’ll have to add research, deliberations, meetings, etc. to decide what to say in the absence of the information you need. The maturity of your proposal process. Are you making it all up as you go along? Is your process well-defined and efficient? What will it take to administer the process or invent it on the spot? Then there are organizational strategies and productivity concerns Should subject matter experts deliver finished writing, or should they be paired with writers who are specialists? Should you hire junior staff and train them, or hire experts? Should you use consultants? There is no answer to these questions that is right for everybody. But you will usually find a mixture of proposal specialists and non-specialists involved. And it shows the importance of productivity. The number of people varies with their productivity, and how productive someone is going to be at proposal writing is extremely difficult to predict. How many hats can one person wear? There are a number of roles that the business opportunity pursuit process is typically broken down into. In large companies, each role may be staffed by a single person. In small startups, each person typically has to wear multiple hats. Defining roles is important, even when one person fulfills multiple roles, because it prepares the organization for growth. It begins the process of defining tasks by roles instead of by people. Small businesses often make the mistake of building their process around the people they have instead of how the process should work. Proposal staffing is an ROI decision The money a company spends on proposals should not be treated like it’s an expense. It is an investment. The amount you spend depends on how much you can invest, and what return you are seeking on your investment. The way you staff the proposal function should be based on how much you can invest in it, and you should do it in a way that maximizes the return on your investment. You’ll make better decisions if you track your ROI. If you are seeing a high rate of return, you might decide to increase your investment until the return levels off. Everything you do in proposal development should be correlated with your win rate in order to achieve a continuously improving ROI. As an example, understaffing the proposal function does not save you any money if it reduces your win rate. There are ways to do proposals with fewer people, but they often come at the expense of a lower win rate. A small difference in win rate can cover the cost of a lot of proposal effort. Learn to do the math. On the other hand, if adding staff isn’t increasing your win rate, the additional staff are hurting your ROI and you need to give attention to something other than the amount of resources if you want to increase it. Learn to track performance of the proposal function against win rate in order to know how to maximize your ROI. Your goal should be to continuously increase your win rate, since this has a direct correlation with the ROI of your proposal function. You should be able to assess how everything correlates with your win rate. Sometimes winning isn't just about staffing a proposal. Sometimes winning requires organizational change. Which has the greater impact? Process changes New staff Proposal tools and software Training Availability of information Review scores Status of offering design Teaming When you start the proposal Etc. If you are reading this, I challenge you to quantify how these things correlate with your win rate. If you can’t, you’re only guessing at what to do next to boost your win rate. Budgets are a necessary evil Regardless of your win rate, it’s important that the cost of the proposal function not increase in proportion to your company’s revenue. This is because the proposal function is usually overhead, and if the company has to increase the percentage of overhead used during pricing, it can become uncompetitive. This is where budgets come into play. One of the things a budget does for a company is that it tells people how much overhead they can spend before it negatively impacts their competitiveness. The good news is that you can increase the total amount spent on overhead (and by the proposal function, although it competes with other priorities) by increasing the amount of revenue. And the proposal function can increase the amount of revenue by increasing the win rate. If you know what correlates with your company's win rate, then you are in a much better position to make informed decisions regarding how to budget the proposal function. Instead of zero-based staffing, try ROI-based staffing Trying to calculate the number of people needed to produce the number of pages to submit is at best a scientific guessing game. And it is rarely that scientific. The amount of time spent to craft a small page-limited proposal can be the same as what it takes to produce a much larger proposal. It depends on the RFP. But fitting a large RFP into a small page limit makes the time per page go way up. Then there’s the complexity of the RFP instructions and evaluation criteria, the complexity of the subject matter, the amount of time until the deadline, the amount of pre-RFP preparation, your familiarity with the customer and offering, and more that will impact the time per page. Averages aren’t. There’s too much variance. Instead of trying to calculate the workload, try basing the budget on the desired ROI. What are you willing to invest to get the win? How many pursuits do you have to spread that investment across, and at what win rate? Your business development pipeline can provide valuable clues regarding how many resources you need. If you don’t know your win rate, you’ll have to guess. But you can refine your guess over your next few proposals. When you consider what you can spend while keeping a competitive overhead rate, depending on your market, you might end up with a budget of 1-2% of projected revenue for the pre-RFP pursuit, and another 1-2% for the proposal. You can convert these numbers into how many people you can afford to have work on the proposal. This defines what you can afford to invest and not necessarily what the proposal should cost. It could be more than what the proposal could be created for, if done on the cheap (but that might not achieve the best ROI). It could be less that what the proposal should cost based on the workload. But it reflects what you can afford to invest. If you can’t afford to invest what it will take to win and thrive off a positive ROI, you might be in the wrong business, undercapitalized, or doing the wrong things to reach a positive ROI. When a proposal is with a familiar customer or offering, it will take less time and cost less to produce. When the RFP is simple and well written, the proposal will take less time and cost less to produce. Other things that can impact proposal cost include the availability of internal staff, use of consultants, competitive environment, time until the deadline, and more. But you can calculate an overall average to invest and divide it among your pursuits. You should manage the proposal function to maximize ROI, instead of trying to guess what the lowest head count is you can get away with and still make submissions. PropLIBRARY helps companies become winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.
  20. At most companies, the proposal management role is not well defined. What you are managing is not well defined. Who you are managing is not well defined. The resources at your disposal are not well defined, and they're usually minimal. Your responsibilities are all-encompassing. In larger companies, there are multiple roles (business development, capture, subject matter experts, writers, proposal specialists, etc.). But sometimes that just means more cats to herd. In small companies, you have the opposite problem. Writing a proposal sounds like a single thing, so it’s often given to a single person. That person is usually not a proposal specialist and is often a stuckee low on the org chart. That’s okay. It creates an opportunity, since proposals are competitive. You can beat companies who don’t take proposal development seriously and try to slack their way through them. But you might have to transform your entire company to do it. It often falls to the proposal manager to see the need, define what needs to be done, and become the change agent. Proposal managers are often the tail that wags the dog. Most of the issues below will appear unsolvable if you just try to resolve them with improved procedures. They require change at the organizational level. This is often above the pay-grade of a proposal manager. But if you build the right types of communication into your process, you can make it clearer to The Powers That Be what needs to be done to increase your win rate. Create reports that show the performance of the handoffs that occur in your process, the flow of information, and how they impact the return on investment. Make your process speak for itself regarding what should be done to maximize win rate and return on investment. Some of these issues are not exclusive to proposal management. However, for proposal managers these issues can almost be inherent in the role, even though they shouldn’t be. You’re closing someone else’s sale. Someone else found and chased the lead. And yet, it doesn’t close until the proposal is accepted. If they aren’t part of closing the sale, is it really their sale? Are they responsible for putting lines in the water, or reeling them in? Regardless of how you allocate your sales resources, design your process to effectively close and not just produce leads. If you are on the receiving end of someone else’s lead, you should be able to articulate what you need from them to close the sale, while they are still pursuing it and able to get it for you. You should be able to show the correlation between whether you start with what you need and your win rate. You have all the responsibility, with none of the authority. No one on your team actually reports to you. You don’t even control the proposal budget. Proposal managers are often called on to manage their own bosses and even their bosses’ bosses. Is it any surprise that people often fail in their proposal assignments without being held accountable? It’s hard to manage expectations when you are not in charge of the expectations. Building expectation management into your process helps change it from a chain of command issue and instead make it a natural part of the collaboration. You don’t get to decide who’s on your team. You get what you get as far as resources go, and you’re expected to take it from there. And win. If you want more resources, you need to be able to prove the ROI. Expect them to not have any training, their experience to be from at least five years ago, and you may not know if they’re any good until it’s too late to do anything about it. This is one reason why building training into your process and making it part of performance instead of something separate can help so much. You are responsible for the information you’re not given. You are supposed to win. Not being given sufficient insight into the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment is not an acceptable excuse. If you are expected to win, design your process to clearly identify what information you need to write a winning proposal, and put it in the hands of people who interface with the customer early enough to be able to get it. Your process will break. Every time. One reason people usually have more of a way of doing things than an actual proposal process is that the customer will do things that break your process. If you have to reinvent your process every time, why bother to write it down? Most proposal managers do not have the ability to design a process that is sufficiently adaptable, and if they do, they won’t be given enough time to write it down. Build your process around your information needs instead of steps. You can predict what information each participant needs to play their role, regardless of whatever wackiness the customer throws into the RFP. You’re supposed to be able to write, present, manage staff, implement processes, design offerings, read the customer’s mind, provide quality assurance, and understand the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), DCAA compliant pricing, graphics, and publishing. And yes, you’re not only expected to supervise, you’re supposed to participate personally in doing all those things well enough to beat any potential competitor. It’s usually a mistake to give your proposal manager writing assignments, but it happens all the time. Overloading the proposal manager usually results from simply not sufficiently defining the role. Making an accurate, on time, within budget, and defect-free submission is not good enough. Did it win? You have no control over other people changing their minds. You’re outranked. It’s hard to give people a voice in the process and an opportunity to make or participate in decisions, when they randomly change their minds later. It’s one thing when the customer does that to you. It’s another when it’s people in your own organization. Everyone thinks they are more qualified than you, but no one wants to do your job. Or follow your instructions. Look at how most writing roles are staffed. It’s like people assume that anyone can write, at least well enough. If you allow it to happen, you’ll be positioned as the pusher of paper that no one else wants to push. That’s an asset, but not much of one. You are not indispensable just because no one else can push paper as well as you do. If you are going to be responsible for winning, then show your organization what it needs to do to win. If you are going to be responsible for the process, then become the organizational developer who implements it, the trainer who shows people how, and the indispensable helper who makes their lives better than they would be without you. Everyone resents that they have to work on your project. No one wants to work on proposals. If you’re not a proposal specialist, it’s a distraction from your real job and a secondary source of deadlines. The more you can do to link participating in the proposal with their aspirations for making a difference on the project, the company, the customer, their career, and more, the better. Growth happens through proposals. The world changes through proposals. PropLIBRARY helps companies become winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription.
  21. Uncertainty works against creating a winning culture because it breeds trust issues. But the solution is counter-intuitive. To fix the trust issues related to uncertainty, you should build a proposal process that does not trust anyone ever. You need to eliminate the need for trust. When your process functions without trust, then trust will flourish. I told you it's counter-intuitive. It's not that your people aren't trustworthy. Or that they are fallible. But they have multiple competing priorities, and probably have limited experience and training. Even experts have difficulty making accurate estimates and predicting the future. And we're all working with less information than we'd like to have. So to maximize your win rate, build your proposal systems and processes so they expect people to fail. Build systems that make failure difficult. A system that resists failure is a system that does not trust easily. The result can be an environment in which people failures are rare. And that ends up being a great way to increase trust. Here are 15 ways you shouldn't trust people working on proposals: When your process doesn't require trust, your people will perform as a stronger team Don't trust people to figure out what to write on their own. Implement an approach to planning what should be written that provides enough detail that you don’t have to trust anyone to figure it out on their own in isolation. Implement an approach to validating your plans before you start writing so you don’t have to trust people to get the plan right on the first attempt. Then you can trust that they know what is expected and you can validate what they deliver against it. Don’t trust that a decision to bid will be made promptly. Deciding whether to bid and incur the costs of a proposal can be difficult when you don’t have a clear understanding of your chances of winning. Unfortunately, this is most of the time. Time can be lost just finding an available slot on everyone’s calendar to discuss it. The problem is you’ve waited too long to decide, and it’s a symptom that all you have to go on is the RFP. There shouldn’t be a single bid decision. The decision to pursue should be made early and revisited frequently along the way during the pre-RFP pursuit. People should be poised to start immediately upon RFP release. The bid decision after the RFP is released should simply be about whether the RFP contained any surprises. When you do this, you can trust that people know what to expect at RFP release and aren’t losing time waiting for a decision because it’s already been made. It’s easier to stand down quickly than it is to start up late. Don't trust people to design the right offering and then write about it. What is the best thing to offer? Is it the most expensive? Best performing? Least expensive? Don’t trust people to write about it until you have systematically considered it. Only start writing when you have consensus regarding what the offering design should be. Then you can trust that you won’t have late stage “do overs” from people waiting until the proposal is fully written to change the offering. Don’t trust your project manager’s opinion about customer satisfaction. While it’s true that project managers may not want to report that their customer isn’t particularly impressed by your company, they also may not know. How many vendors have you had that, while you didn’t complain, you didn’t really like either? In addition, how many people does your project manager interact with? On many projects, it’s a fairly small number. They may not see the whole picture. You need multiple opinions from multiple sources to understand what your customer thinks. When you create procedures, prepare for your recompetes, and involve other people to collect this information, not only will you develop a better understanding of the customer, but you can trust that your project managers will have more opportunities to set expectations with the customer and improve performance, leading to better past performance assessments and higher win rates. Don’t trust your sales people to provide the information needed to win the proposal. Though they’ll never admit it, they probably don’t know what that is. The questions you need answers to won’t come up naturally in conversation. Tell your sales people what information you need. Itemize it. Help them build their sales process around it. They’ll never be able to get all of it. But you can trust that they’ll begin trying and put you in a better position for being able to write a great proposal. Don't trust that you’ll get resources based on what you need. Budgets are about what the company thinks it can afford, not what the people doing the work think they need. Instead of basing your budget requests on need, try basing them on Return on Investment (ROI). Things that impact your win rate, whether they raise it or lower it, directly impact the company’s ROI. If you care about budgets, then track your ROI and what correlates with your win rate. Learn to do the math that shows what a change in win rate means to the company’s finances. For example, learn to show the impact of staffing on your win rates, and by how much that change in win rate exceeds the cost of adding the staff. No other argument will be nearly as compelling. Focus less on your needs and more on delivering ROI and you can trust that people will want you to have the resources needed to achieve those ROIs. Don’t trust your customer. Assume they prefer someone else. Assume they will change or cancel the bid. Assume the RFP was written by a competitor. Assume they will misinterpret everything you say. Assume they will be looking for excuses to throw your proposal out. Assume they will contradict themselves. Assume the people you have talked to will not participate in the evaluation, and that the evaluators will have a different agenda. Gain all the insight you possibly can, but it will never be enough to trust that you really know them and what they’re up to. Build your pursuit process to dig deeper than the intel you think you have and contact others at your customer’s organization. Don’t trust your proposal assignments. If you get a proposal assignment without a set of quality criteria that have been validated and will be used during proposal reviews, or without a validated offering design, then there is a high risk that you’ll have a lot of rework coming after the proposal reviews. Participate in discussions about proposal quality, ask for written quality criteria, and separate offering design from writing and you’ll be able to trust that the reviewers are looking for how to improve the message and not changing the offering or strategies late in the game. Don't trust people to pass the review. What’s the point of getting to the review and then finding out it’s wrong? Running out the clock is the most popular way to sandbag the review. Instead of trusting them with all that time, try giving proposal writers the review criteria up front, and measure progress by how many of the criteria have been met. Then you can trust that they’ll know what they need to do to pass their proposal reviews. Don’t trust people to show up prepared. They will not have read the RFP. The proposal is not their only assignment. When they make time for the proposal you can’t trust that they’ll also make time to prepare for the proposal. You should embed preparing into the assignment. You should schedule preparation completion deadlines and make them accountable. And since RFPs are sometimes open to interpretation, there is some value, even though it may seem time-consuming, to reading the RFP as a group and talking through the issues. You do not increase the burden by making sure people do something they have to do anyway, like reading the RFP. All you are doing is preventing them from skipping it while telling themselves they are just cutting corners a little to manage their schedule overload. Make it so they can’t show up unprepared and you’ll be able to trust that they know what is required. Don't trust proposal reviewers to know what to review. If it is left up to them individually, you’ll get random and conflicting feedback that may even run counter to what it will take to win. Effective proposal reviews need review team leadership, training, procedures, and quality criteria. If a review is worth having, it’s worth doing right. Don’t leave it up to them to figure it out and simply “have reviews.” Make reviews about what you need to validate and not just showing up, and you’ll be able to trust that the reviewers will give you the feedback you need. Don't trust anyone to know what proposal quality is. If they can't articulate what proposal quality is, they don't know what proposal quality is. If it's not measurable, they don't know. In practice, this means that if you don’t have written proposal quality criteria that have been validated and agreed to, then no one knows what proposal quality is and it comes down to whims, authority, and last-minute revisions. Get everyone on the same page regarding what proposal quality means and you’ll be able to trust that they are all trying to achieve the same thing. Don't trust your executives to enforce your proposal process. They are often the ones most likely to ignore it. The only counter to this is to create a process that people want to follow and build into it the guidance that they need to be able to follow it. Make your process revolve around setting expectations. This turns your process into a tool that the executives can use to know what to expect and to inform people about their own expectations. This gives them a reason to be involved in the process and to ensure that everyone achieves what is expected. Do all this and you can trust that people will follow the process. Don’t trust your price proposal to support your technical approach, and vice-versa. Don’t let the people responsible for the proposal's pricing work in isolation. Do those bid strategies you’ve written about lowering prices and risk impact your numbers? Do your numbers support your approaches? What about those claims about what it will take to do the work? Does your pricing volume say the same things about price realism? If you document your Proposal Content Plans and offering design prior to writing, then you can identify the points of coordination without having to read the full narrative. This makes it possible for you to trust that your strategies, approaches, and prices are presented properly in both volumes. Don’t trust your production staff. Don’t let them do their own quality assurance. I’ve seen proposals with hundreds of pages get tossed because someone left a one-page form out of a proposal by mistake. Don’t wait until final production to start thinking about how you’ll know if any mistakes have been made. Don't make your production staff take all the risks. Work through it all at the beginning so they’ll know someone is standing by them at the end. Then you can both trust each other. When your systems don’t require trust, it's easier for your people to trust each other. When your process doesn't require trust, your people will perform as a stronger team. When your systems permit failure, people don’t trust each other and this works its way into your organization's culture. If you want better teamwork, stop trusting your people to do whatever they think is right in that moment and put in place the checks and tracking systems that enable them to work in a coordinated manner. Teamwork is what you need to win proposals that are bigger than one person. But I still think it’s fascinating how building systems that don’t trust people is what is needed to develop trust in an organization. PropLIBRARY helps companies becoming winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription. Get access to our free forum for discussing organizational development. This forum is not just about how to win proposals, but is a place for discussing and sharing practical insight into organizational change that leads to increasing win rates. Initially, we're focusing on the needs of U.S. Government contractors. If you are a U.S. Government contractor, you can request access to our new organizational development forum by clicking the button below. Include your name, email address, and a little about your firm. Request access to the Organizational Development Forum
  22. monthly_2017_08/599db6079b75e_Exercise-Optimizingyourwordingtomatchtheevaluationcriteria_docx.6cec3e8c5a54c99057f276021839658c
  23. Exercise - Using RFP keywords

  24. Wording RFP responses

  25. One of my favorite techniques for writing proposals is the “who, what, where, how, when, and why” approach. It helps you answer all the customer’s questions, including the ones they forgot to ask. It helps you exceed the RFP’s requirements, often without adding any cost. It’s easy to memorize and repeat like a mantra. But it can be used for more than just improving your writing. It turns out to be a powerful proposal management technique as well. Expectation management One of the biggest challenges in proposal management is managing expectations, both yours and others. In fact, managing expectations is the secret to winning proposals that are bigger than yourself. Proposal Managers task out assignments, but their expectations are often unmet when the assignments come in late or with low quality. But the person receiving the assignment had expectations as well. Maybe they didn’t think it was realistic to be given an assignment of that size while also working full-time on their billable project. They both had expectations, and both probably needed adjusting. Too often that doesn’t happen. Expectations need to be communicated and managed. When they aren’t, problems occur that could have been avoided. On a typical proposal, conflicts in expectations probably occur over a hundred times. I kid you not. Try counting them. This makes expectation management an important aspect of proposal management. And brings us back to “who, what, where, how, when, and why.” Every assignment given, every assignment received, and every progress check-in, should ask these questions. Make "who, what, where, how, when, and why" your new mantra... Who is involved or impacted? What are they expected to accomplish? Where should should work on it, where can they get help, and where should they submit it? How should they do it, by what procedure, using what inputs, and according to what standards? When should they check in and when should they complete their efforts? Why is the assignment important and why should they do it the way you’ve described? But wait, there’s the person receiving the assignment’s point of view to consider: Who might be a better candidate? Who do I need to help? What do I need to accomplish the assignment? What conflicts do I have? What don’t I understand? Where do I have to be? How do I learn what I need to know? When can I work on it? When can I complete it? Why can’t I follow the process, meet the schedule, or fulfill the expectations? If you don’t encourage the person receiving an assignment to voice these questions, you won’t know about the issues until it’s too late. People often do not voluntarily admit that they are going to fail before they get started. Both sets of expectations need to be communicated and any issues resolved if the expectation of creating a winning proposal is to be met. Writing a winning proposal requires an unbroken flow of information When people complete their proposal assignments on time, it’s a huge accomplishment. But that alone is not enough to win. The best competitive advantage for winning proposals is an information advantage. Whoever has the most information about the customer and can make use of it in their proposal has a huge advantage. It’s hard enough to get an information advantage, but transforming it into the right black ink on paper is even harder. It must be assessed, articulated, and delivered through a series of handoffs to the right people. It requires an unbroken flow of information. Having a meeting with the lead salesperson to talk about “what you know about the customer” is not the same thing as an unbroken flow of information leading to an information advantage in your proposals. To win consistently, you’ll need to identify what information you need, where it will come from, how it will be assessed, who will articulate it, and how handoffs will be accomplished. Most companies think they do a better job of this than their proposal development performance actually indicates. You can improve your ability to discover, assess, and articulate your information by using the “who, what, where, how, when, and why” approach. Who has information relevant to win strategies and offering design? Who needs information to support the pursuit? What information should be sought? What format would make that information useful? What information can each participant in the pursuit use? Where can relevant information be gathered? How should the information be assessed? How should it be articulated? When is it needed? Why does the information we have matter? You can use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to do a better job of flowing information. And doing this means you can do a better job of building an information advantage that leads to a winning proposal. Filling your process void Do you have a process, or just a way of doing things? Do people follow the process you think you have? Winning consistently depends on having a well-developed process. But winning the RFP on your desk depends on doing the most with what you have. At every handoff, meeting, or step, ask yourself “who, what, where, how, when, and why.” It’s almost as good as actually having a process. Before the proposal starts, think about the flow of information and ask yourself “who, what, where, how, when, and why.” When you start the proposal and begin issuing assignments use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to set expectations. When you receive an assignment use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to ensure that you are communicating your expectations. When you sit down to write, use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to do a better job and write more comprehensive responses. Combine them all and you get a higher win rate, without doing anything cumbersome or complicated. Make it your new mantra. PropLIBRARY helps companies becoming winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription. Get access to our free forum for discussing organizational development. This forum is not just about how to win proposals, but is a place for discussing and sharing practical insight into organizational change that leads to increasing win rates. Initially, we're focusing on the needs of U.S. Government contractors. If you are a U.S. Government contractor, you can request access to our new organizational development forum by clicking the button below. Include your name, email address, and a little about your firm. Request access to the Organizational Development Forum
  26. Most corporate cultures are a mixed bag. No real attention is given to it. As a result, it is defined as much by the personalities of key staff as it is by intent. If you are in charge, the odds are that your corporate culture is not what you think it is. The reality is different from your aspirations. And yet your corporate culture is as important to your company’s ability to grow as the steps in your business and proposal development processes. Is the reality of your corporate culture different from your aspirations? So what do you do about it? How do you go about changing a culture? It’s not just about speeches. It’s not just about how people treat each other. It’s about changing behaviors. But behaviors don’t change just because someone says they should. It helps to model behaviors. People tend to emulate their leaders. It also helps to synchronize how people do things with the results you want to achieve. Here are eight examples of things you can do to change the culture in your organization to one that encourages behaviors that support winning: Require all levels to focus on ROI. The economics of resource allocation and priority setting should be based on ROI and not cost control. That should become part of the culture, encouraging people to track ROI and make decisions accordingly. Focusing on ROI shifts the debate from what is the least expensive way to win contracts to what is the most effective way to win contracts. This is where I like to start with companies, since understanding their pipeline and how to calculate the ROI of BD and proposal efforts drives so many other decisions. Focusing on ROI helps companies pay more attention to their win rate. Require achieving top performance measures. For Federal contractors, having a top past performance score is critical for being competitive. Instead of making "the highest levels of customer satisfaction" a "value," I recommend making it a mandate. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top score, the company's expectation should be that projects will score a 5. Scoring below a 5 shows a disconnect between the customer and the company, and should require corrective action. This makes project managers advocate for the customer and helps focus them on understanding the customer’s expectations. Make evidence based decisions. Bid/no bid decisions should be evidence based, with the burden of proof on why leads are worth bidding based on ROI. Having the evidence means tracking metrics and measurements. Arguments should be over what the data means and how to get more of it, instead of about opinions. A company focused on evidence of performance and quantifying ROI will make better decisions. Validate quality. Quality should be validated and not simply claimed. If your company values "the highest levels of quality" no one will pay it any attention. But if it values the validation of quality, then action is required. And validating quality will start by defining it. Making this part of your culture means that everything people do should be checked to make sure it got done in the correct way. It means every assignment should be defined and have a means to verify that it was properly completed. When this is part of your culture, it becomes simply the way people work. And it is a much better way of working than trying to satisfy whims. Cherish customer insight. The best competitive advantage is an information advantage. Gaining an information advantage requires customer insight. If growth is your top priority, then every single customer interaction by every single person who has customer contact should be part of a coordinated effort to gain customer insight. This should not simply be a standard operation procedure, it should be part of your culture. Gaining customer insight should be part of what you do, at all levels and in all departments. This is a key step toward ensuring that all of your proposals reflect customer insight. It takes more than a salesperson or a capture manager. Throw the whole organization behind it to become a winning organization. Value perspective. Your entire proposal should be written from the customer's perspective and not your own. You need to train the organization to see things through your customer's eyes. When you achieve that, your staff will also be able to see things through each other's eyes, and better understand how to work together. When winning is determined by someone else, perspective becomes a key ingredient. Perspective avoids the stovepipe mentality, departmental walls, and excessive bureaucracy. Perspective facilitates teamwork and collaboration. Perspective across the organization is needed for being a winning organization. Advocate creative destruction. You can claim to value "innovation" all day long, but how do you actually make innovation happen within a company? When you advocate creative destruction, you encourage looking for ways to obsolete the status quo. It informs staff looking for what offerings to develop or solutions to propose. It directly contradicts people who have a fear of doing something new that might cannibalize an existing business line. It sets the stage for disruptive marketing. It's about competing by changing the rules, instead of following the pack and trying to work your way to the front. Institutionalize clarity of expectations. Failure to manage expectations leads to friction. Sometimes lots of friction. Win rate killing friction. Assignments that shouldn't have been accepted go unfulfilled. People meet deadlines with substandard work. People are asked to complete assignments without being told how or by what definition of quality until they hand in their completed assignment and find out it's wrong. Achieving clarity of expectations works in both directions. Not only must assignments be clear, but availability, capability, and progress must be made clear. Expectations should be discussed, reviewed, verified, and confirmed by all parties. When expectations flow in both directions we get collaboration instead of rework and substandard submissions. The difference between tasking and culture Mandating reports to track performance is not the same thing as building a culture based on evidence based decisions. When you mandate reports, people will do what is required. When you have an evidence based culture, people will think differently. Complaining about quality is different from having a culture that prevents quality issues by validating everything out of habit. Making understanding the customer the salesperson’s job puts all your eggs in one basket and doesn’t ensure that insight makes it into the document that closes the sale. Why Because you want people to do these things without being told to. Because your corporate culture is as important to increasing your win rate as steps in your process. Because win rate is critical for growth. And growth is the source of all opportunity. PropLIBRARY helps companies becoming winning organizations through a combination of process guidance and training materials that are ready for immediate implementation. PropLIBRARY has off-the-shelf procedures for addressing the issues above, along with hours of online training to boost the skills of all your staff and get everyone on the same page. It is a tool for implementing organizational change and doing so less expensively than any other option. You can start with a single user subscription and upgrade to a corporate subscription. Get access to our free forum for discussing organizational development. This forum is not just about how to win proposals, but is a place for discussing and sharing practical insight into organizational change that leads to increasing win rates. Initially, we're focusing on the needs of U.S. Government contractors. If you are a U.S. Government contractor, you can request access to our new organizational development forum by clicking the button below. Include your name, email address, and a little about your firm. Request access to the Organizational Development Forum
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