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  1. Last week
  2. A lot of proposal writing follows common patterns. When we review proposals for companies we see new examples of the mistakes below all the time. If you take a step back from the details, the patterns are quite simple. If you learn to recognize the patterns, you can avoid writing like this: See also: Great Proposals First I’m going to tell you what you need. Then I’m going to say that I’ll provide it. Before example: XYZ agency needs to update its website. Our approach to building websites is based on compliance with the latest standards. Do you like salespeople to tell you what you need? Me neither. Why do companies behave like this in writing? Most of the time, it’s not even necessary. You can delete that sentence and nothing will be missed. If the second sentence delivers what they need, you don’t need the first to tell them that they need it. They already know that. After example: We will not only bring your website into compliance with the latest standards, we’ll build a foundation that will give you more and better options in the future. We’re great. Here’s what we’ll do. Before example: ABC Corp is a highly experienced, top quality, premier provider. We will… All those unsubstantiated claims to greatness do nothing to add value to what you’ll actually do for the customer. They do nothing to improve your proposal evaluation score. In fact, they get in the way because they are noise. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. That’s not what you want to read. You want to read about what you're going to get if you accept the proposal. Don’t tell them how great you are. Tell they what they’ll get by selecting you. After example: We will leverage our experience to… (achieve a better outcome). Our approach to quality will reduce defects and improve results while we… This is a great truth that can’t be denied. Now here’s what we’re going to do. Before example: Quality is critical to the success of this project. We’ll ensure success by… The first sentence is universally true, applies to all vendors, does nothing to improve your win probability, and adds no value. It can be deleted. Lots of proposal paragraphs start off with great indisputable truths this way, as if the author needed a chance to warm up before saying something substantive. Instead of a great truth, try saying what you’ll do about it. After example: We’ll ensure success by… (eliminating defects… improving results… ) We have years of experience. Before example: ABC Corp brings 17 years of specialized experience to this program. Which is better, a company with 16 years of experience, 17 years, or one with a credible approach to doing the work? Did they perform well or accomplish anything over all those years? How can you tell? Experience does not deliver value. Unless it has an impact. The impact of any experience you might have is what you should talk about. After example: ABC Corp will deliver better results at lower risk by applying our 17 years of specialized experience to anticipating potential problems like… We do this. We do that. And if you’re still reading, here’s a benefit. Before example: ABC Corp will complete the required report. Then we will perform quality control. Finally, we will submit the report. The result will be accurate data that enables you to track progress toward a successful completion. I call it building to the finish. That’s when you put the good stuff at the end. I blame it on the way we’re taught to write the conclusion last in school. In a proposal, you want the conclusion first followed by the substantiation. That way when they skim your proposal and skip parts, they see what matters. That way they get your point and can choose whether to read the proof. If you’ve got this bad habit, try reversing the order of your sentences. After example: ABC Corp will enable you to track progress toward a successful completion by submitting the required report. We will complete the report (by…) and perform quality control (how…) prior to submission. We’re growing fast (You should be a part of our growth)! Before example: ABC Corp is the fastest growing company in our sector. This fails the “So what?” test. Why should the customer care about that? Do you think they should be proud to let you do work for them? If there is some benefit to them that results from your growth, talk about that and not in a way that makes you feel better about yourself. After example: ABC Corp’s growth enables us to bring additional resources and respond faster as your needs change over time. See the graphic. Here’s what’s in it. Before example: See Exhibit X for a description of our process. In step 1 we… In step 2 we… In step 3 we… Don’t make the graphic and the text redundant. Use the graphic to replace text. Show the details in the graphic, and discuss what matters about them in the text. For example, use the graphic to identify the steps and use the text to explain why those steps are important. After example: Exhibit X shows how the steps in our process deliver the data you need to ensure informed decision making. We promise. Before example: We are committed to… We promise to… We intend to… Don’t promise. Do. Don’t offer an intention. Deliver. Any time you want to express an intention, simply do what it was you were about to promise. Adding commitment does not make it stronger. It makes it weaker because it says you will merely try instead of deliver. After example: We do it. Reliably and verifiably. You deserve us. Before example: XYZ agency deserves the best solution possible. This will not impact your score or make the customer prefer you. It’s just noise. Flattery will get you nowhere. If something is important, if it matters, then talk about what you will do about it. If the customer needs something, don’t talk about the need or how justified it is, talk about what you will do to fulfill it. Be the solution. Not the noise. After example: XYZ agency will get the best solution possible because we… We are proud to support you (if you pay us enough). Before example: ABC Corp is proud to support the XYZ agency. Your feeling of pride does not add value. Actually, it is a bit self-serving and the customer knows it. Instead of pride or commitment, provide proof. If you are so proud, then you must be willing to do something better. Talk about that. Don’t talk about trying harder or intending more. Talk about delivering better results. A better offering is something the customer will be pleased to receive. After example: ABC Corp will bring better results to the XYZ agency by…. The common thread running through most of these is passing the “So what?” test. Don’t talk around what the customer will get. Focus on what the customer will get. That’s what you’d want to see if you were them. Don’t try to sound in any particular way or like the business-speak you’ve been exposed to. Don’t try to win with magic words. Don’t try to claim to be great. Instead, offer something that is great and focus on why.
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  4. When a pursuit starts before RFP release and you have time to gather intelligence, what do you do with what you’ve learned? How does it impact the proposal needed to close the sale and capture the win? When a pursuit starts at RFP release, how do you quickly assess what you know and what you don’t know? And how does that impact the proposal needed to close the sale and capture the win? If you are like most companies, you talk about it. A lot. And somehow very little of that talking makes it onto paper. You can't map a conversation to the relevant places in the proposal, let alone identify what words to put there all while simultaneously matching the RFP instructions and evaluation criteria. Some of the talk is relevant, but most of it isn’t. And a lot of time gets spent on it. In the past we’ve recommended using proposal input forms as a way to: See also: Pre-RFP Questions Aggregate what you know in a form that is relevant to what will go into the proposal Quickly assess what you know and what you don’t know so you can finalize how you will articulate your win strategies Drive your intelligence into the proposal so that your insights and information advantage can increase your chances of winning In practice, proposal input forms become a gateway. When the RFP is released, they are one of the first action items to be completed. They provide vital information about what to say about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment in the proposal. Proposal input forms enable proposal writers to combine what you propose to do with why it matters, and do it in a way that is optimized to win. You can do this on paper, and in the past we have recommended that. After we created the online compliance matrix and content planning tools for MustWin Now, we created a Pursuit Capture Form tool. It provides a quick and easy way to implement Readiness Reviews and what amounts to an online capture plan. But it also enables us to make proposal input forms easier to implement. Instead of just a paper reference, you get something that’s not only an easier way to collect information, but it also provides better guidance to proposal writers. We started off by created seven forms, each with a number of questions (61 in total) that cover everything we’d like to know when we sit down to write. They provide a bridge from pre-RFP intelligence gathering to proposal writing. Here are the topics we built our forms around: See also: Pre-RFP Readiness Reviews Insight about what matters. You can't write a proposal that matters if you don’t know what that is. It’s important to write about why your features, approaches, qualifications, etc. matter. As a proposal writer you can respond to the RFP requirements, but you need insight about the subject matter if you’re going to write about what matters. Proposal sections and approaches. Writing before the RFP is released is problematical. But there are some section specific things you can do to prepare. With proposal input forms you’re not trying to pre-write each section. But you can start identifying what will go into them and how you will need to present things. Change. It really helps to know what has changed and what is going to change when you are writing the proposal. In the proposal you might want to support, manage, or adapt to change. Data calls. The sooner you know what data you will be needing, the sooner you can get it. Graphics. Graphics and text can be co-dependent. Sometimes the graphics should come before the text. Early identification of some of the graphics you know you will need and what your approach to developing them will be can help expedite the writing as well as the production. Just simply knowing what messages will be delivered by the graphics vs the text can be helpful. Teaming. Ideally the team will be in place before the RFP is released. But this is often only partially the case. So at the start of the proposal you need to find out exactly what the status of your teaming efforts is. Transition. What you have to do to successfully accomplish the project transition can potentially impact your proposal in lots of ways. You need to know what they potentially might be at the beginning so you can put things in the right context. We know that some of the questions will not get answered. But the ones that have answers we turn into instructions. It’s a simple step where we display the answer and enable the user to create instructions based on it. We do this just before RFP release is anticipated, or immediately after. The result is great. In less time than it takes to talk about it, you get substantive material out of people that you can use in the proposal. If only a few of the questions gets useful answers, you start the proposal better off than you were. Once you have some answers in your proposal input forms, you are ready for the really cool part. When the RFP is released, you build the compliance matrix and proposal outline using MustWin Now. Then MustWin Now automatically sets up the content plan shell for you using the proposal outline, and it pre-loads all the RFP requirements from the compliance matrix. Then the very next step is to map the instructions from the proposal input forms to the proposal outline. This works the same way that MustWin Now links the RFP requirements to the outline when building the compliance matrix. With simple drag and drop motions the instructions from the proposal input forms show up in the relevant proposal sections as instructions for proposal writers. This is the bridge. It directly connects your pre-proposal intelligence and strategy development with the specific places in the document where you should talk about them, while also providing guidance on how to talk about them. Your insights about what matters and what it will take to win become guidance for your proposal writers. It makes it easy for the proposal writers to know what context to put their response to the RFP requirements in, and what points to make while doing it. And that context is the difference between being merely RFP compliant and winning.
  5. If you are a proposal specialist, then you probably understand the reasons why planning before you write your proposal is vital. You probably start with an idea of what should go into your Proposal Content Plan. But if you are not a proposal specialist, it’s not at all straightforward. If you struggle with how to articulate the words that should go into a proposal, being told to write instructions for what to put in the proposal might also seem like a struggle. The good news is that the words you use in the Proposal Content Plan don’t matter nearly as much as those you use in the proposal. Preparing a Proposal Content Plan can be as simple as creating a list of reminders. Here are five key things you want to put in your Proposal Content Plan: See also: Content Planning Box What are your selling points and differentiators? What do you want to remember when you sit down to write the words that will go into the proposal? What things you do still need to figure out? It’s okay to put questions into your Proposal Content Plan? What options are under consideration or what would you like to suggest for optional consideration? What are your insights about the customer, offering, competitive environment, technology, and anything else that matters? There is a lot more that could go into your Proposal Content Plan. When you get some more experience with Proposal Content Planning you can add to the list above. But it will not do anyone any good to get overwhelmed by trying to focus on too many things at once. If you just address these you will make the writer’s job so much easier and improve the quality of the proposal that gets created. Imagine what you’d like to know if you are the person doing the writing, and then put that into the plan. Imagine how much easier the proposal will be to write if you get a plan with all five of these topics addressed in each section. The two most important goals when creating a Proposal Content Plan are: To make it clear to the proposal writer what should go into their section and how it should be presented. To create a set of specifications for the proposal that people can examine and decide if that’s the proposal they want before it gets written. These two considerations are what determine how many instructions you need, how detailed they should be, and when you’ve succeeded with your contributions to the plan. The single most important thing for you to do when preparing a Proposal Content Plan is to think things through. Don’t rush. You need to think through what the proposal will be before it gets written. The best way to accomplish this is not by writing and rewriting until you run out of time. The best way to accomplish this is to think it through deliberately. And then pause and consider if that will produce the right proposal. All you need to do is pass on some information that will help the writers. You don’t have to write the proposal. In fact, writing the proposal would be bad. Just think it through and jot down some notes so you don’t forget anything important. The proposal writers will thank you for it. Even if you are the proposal writer. See also: About the tool If you are using MustWin Now, it’s even easier. Simply click your way through the proposal outline, and in each section click the “Add Instruction” button as many times as is needed. You don't have to worry about formatting or anything else. Just type in what you want to remember or what could be helpful. Take your time. Think it through. You’ll be surprised how quickly it goes. And if everyone on your proposal team does this, you’ll accumulate all of your team’s insights and expectations regarding what should go in the proposal and how it should be presented. If there’s any disagreement over the instructions, you’ll surface them before the writing even starts! You can then resolve the disagreements and only have to write the proposal once to meet everyone’s expectations. Here’s what a Proposal Content Plan looks like when you create it using MustWin Now.
  6. I learned some important lessons this week about proposals, capture, and business development by talking to some artists and people who know nothing about business. I got dragged to a cocktail party in a quaint little historic district populated by galleries and boutiques. I love the area, but when it unsolicited I usually don’t engage in talks about business with little retail startup businesses, especially boutiques that I believe are mostly doomed to fail. See also: Winning But I do listen. I listened to them describe what they make and sell, how they’ve had to change over time, and how customers only want certain things. I withheld talking about how making and selling things is easy, but finding customers is hard. And how you should start with figuring out how to get customers and not what to sell. As they talked, I listened. And I realized that they are artists. They have a creative vision and make what they make. And then hope people will come in and buy it. I realized that lots of people start there. The business failures are the ones who stay there. What does this have to do with Burt's Bees? I listened to a story about the founder of Burt’s Bees. I don’t even know if the story is true. I listened to how the founder started selling Burt’s Bees on the side of the road. And stuck with it. Day after day. And now look where the company is. At first, I thought it was a dumb story. Perseverance might be a good trait. But it is not the secret to business success. The founder of Burt’s Bees might have gotten lucky. Buying lottery tickets every day is not a smart business strategy. If they ever did, I'm sure that Burt’s Bees doesn’t follow the same strategy today. Today, they know who their customers are and have designed a product line that intentionally targets each group of them. Somewhere along the line they switched from “I like it, I hope somebody buys it” to “I know how to find my customers and what they want to buy.” Then I realized that it’s okay to start off as an artist who has the desire to start a business. But your success will be determined by whether you make the switch to focusing on where to get your customers quickly enough. Where to find, how to get in front of, and how to hold your customer’s attention is at least important as what they want to buy. And far more important than what you want to sell. Most retail stores are counting on their location and signage to find their customers for them. You don’t have to be a business expert to succeed. You don’t have to be a sales person. But you do need customer empathy, the ability to find them in sufficient numbers, and some creativity about how you earn their attention. PS: The real story of Burt's Bees is a lot more interesting. And maybe even a little sad. Try Googling it. I did and found this. What does this have to do with government contracting and winning major proposals? See also: Information Advantage If you’re a small government contractor startup, it’s okay if you sell what you’ve got in terms of capability. But you probably won’t grow until you start focusing on finding out what the agencies are interested in buying and building the relationships you need to get in front of them. And if you write hundred million dollar proposals that take a month to prepare using a team of writers, customer empathy is just as vital to your success. And you can't just imagine customer empathy. You have to discover it through relationship marketing. But maybe it can be okay if you do your best to add value in proposals that are written to customers you don’t know. Today. But if you want to be successful, you have to make the transition to already having customer insight and an information advantage when you start your proposals. Your success will depend on how quickly you can make that transition. If you try to function like a retail business, and all you ever do is look for RFPs on the street that you can bid, you will doom your company to being a low cost provider of whatever you can scrounge up. Everyone has to start somewhere. Maybe it’s okay to sell what you’ve got today, so long as you develop your focus tomorrow. I see a lot of companies struggling because tomorrow never came. But it’s not the starving artists and business startups you want to learn from. It’s the ones who found their customers and changed their business to focus on them. It’s the ones who learned how to find more customers, what to offer them, and how to close enough sales that you want to learn from. Perseverance will help. But what you really need is empathy and the ability to find new customers.
  7. Creating proposal graphics can be thought of in two parts. My friend Mike Parkinson of the 24hr Company refers to them as: • Conceptualization. Figuring out what to communicate visually and what the graphic needs to communicate. • Rendering. Drawing the graphic. Rendering is where all the artistic skills are required. But conceptualization is where you figure out what should go into the graphic and what the graphic should accomplish. Conceptualization does not require any artistic abilities. Conceptualization can include drawing a rough sketch or PowerPoint, but it doesn’t have to. You can conceptualize a graphic using nothing but text. Many artists, while capable of doing the rendering, are not capable of doing the conceptualization. Conceptualization requires subject matter expertise, knowledge of the intended offering, awareness of your bid strategies, and insight into your audience. Conceptualization does not require the ability to draw or use Adobe Illustrator. Conceptualization also requires identifying what topics in your proposal would be best communicated graphically instead of with words. But this turns out to be incredibly easy. The following things commonly appear in writing, and are always potential graphics: See also: Winning Processes and approaches Lists Comparisons Relationships But it’s really even easier than this. Rather than looking at a section and trying to picture it, instead simply look for bullets. Anything that can be written as bullets is a potential graphic. The reason is that most proposal graphics illustrate a relationship or a process. Bullets often contain a series of steps, a list of ingredients, or a list of examples. The best graphics are ones that reduce the word count. If you can provide a graphic of a process instead of explaining every single step with words in a narrative, the customer will more quickly understand your process. And it probably won’t take up any more space in a page-limited proposal. Start with a placeholder Sometimes all you need to do is to recognize when something would be better communicated with a graphic. Here’s a hint: If you’re having trouble figuring out what your approach is, so will your customer. Maybe you would be better off creating the graphic first. Or maybe, you don’t even need to. Maybe all you need to do is insert a placeholder saying that a graphic should go there. If you are working with others, conceptualizing the graphic could be a collaborative exercise. Moving beyond the placeholder So you’ve decided to have a graphic. Now what? There are things an artist will need to know to render your graphic. What’s going to be in it? What details should be shown. What's the point? What are you trying to communicate? What questions should the graphic answer? What is important about the subject matter? What do you want the reader to conclude after seeing the graphic? Who is the reader? What is their culture? What are the proposal evaluation criteria? What are your bid strategies? Write down these questions and the answers. Maybe throw in a hand-drawn wire frame or a PowerPoint mock-up. Then let your artist figure out the best way to visually communicate it all. An example of specifying a graphic using text Take a look at the instructions and evaluation criteria for this proposal section on Recruiting and Retention in MustWin Now. Notice in the instructions it says, "Explain the methods..." and "how your recruiting and placement plan will..." They want to know your approach. Your process. All processes can be graphics. Now look at the evaluation criteria. Notice "illustrated capability..." Do you think they might prefer to see your process than read about it? In just a few seconds, we can create a quick placeholder simply by typing an instruction like this: But the RFP gives us some clues about what needs to be in your recruiting process. From the instructions we know they want a process that results in "full coverage." And that it should have "verification procedures" of the qualifications and certifications of potential staff. They want tracking of credentials and a clear accounting of qualifications by labor category. They want to see how it will meet required time frames, and for you to prove you can handle "difficult labor markets and undesirable geographic locations." Recruiting connects to onboarding, and since they want "procedures for ensuring new employees are provided with required training and meet pre-employment screen requirements" they probably want to see that. The references to "pre-employment screen requirements" is a pre-employment step. So at a minimum we have: Before recruiting even starts, account for all required qualifications, certifications, and other credentials for each labor category. Pre-screen applicants against this list. Recruiting on schedule. Select candidate(s). Verify candidates meet the credentialing requirements. Store and track credentials. Maybe add expiration monitoring as a value added. Onboarding that includes training. Your recruiting process can add steps and detail, but it must address these items, using the terminology of the RFP. We can go beyond a simple placeholder by creating an instruction more like this: There, that took me about a minute. Now I can have my recruiter, a subject matter expert, take a look at it later and advise how the process could be improved. I could even get some images. Maybe a photograph to go with each step. I can attach them to the instruction. Then I can get a PowerPoint wiz or a graphic artist to render the actual graphic. You could also add the graphic title, caption, exhibit number, etc., since whoever makes the graphic will probably ask for that information. In MustWin Now you can go through each section in your proposal outline, and look for the processes, lists, comparisons, and relationships. Then just take a couple of seconds to insert a placeholder. Keep in mind that one of the instruction types in MustWin Now is "Things to consider." You can make a recommendation to consider a graphic, and if they find it problematical, they can decide not to produce it. But doing this will get people thinking about using graphics. Thinking about the graphics can drive figuring out what your offering should be and how to present it.
  8. Getting input from subject matter experts is vital for winning proposals. However, the instincts of the people who do the work are often all wrong. Writing documents for proposals is different from writing project documents. See also: Reuse It’s easy to get fooled. RFPs ask for documents related to projects in the proposals. They ask for things like: Quality control plans Risk mitigation plans Staffing plans Project management plans Security plans Safety plans Implementation plans Transition plans And more... Projects often require deliverables with the same titles. However, what goes into a proposal is different than what you would submit as a project deliverable. In fact, submitting something based on the project deliverable in a proposal can cause the proposal to lose. This can be true even when they say the document is to be used on the project. How can this be? The proposal and the project have a different audience with different needs. The evaluator of the proposal is not reviewing the document to determine if it is a good document for use on the project. They are evaluating the document to score it against the evaluation criteria and select a vendor based on that score. To serve this purpose, a document for the proposal must be easy to score. This generally means that it is organized per the RFP instructions and that it is optimized to fulfill the evaluation criteria. Doing this is more important than reflecting good project management practices. If you are lucky, the instructions and evaluation criteria will not be too far different from what a project document would typically consist of. However, you should organize, sequence, and use the terminology of the RFP and not organize it or articulate it according to your personal or industry preferences. In addition, a proposal is primarily used to make a selection and the plans or specifications it contains are secondary in function and importance. This means the first priority for proposal contributions is to explain why your approach is the best. The first priority is to differentiate your approach and not to explain your approach. The benefits of your approach are more important than the details of your approach. Why you have selected that approach may be more important than what your approach is. This remains true even when the RFP asks you to describe your approach, because of the way the evaluator uses the information. All contributions to a proposal are contributions to how the proposal scores. The evaluators do not score your contribution based on whether it is a good quality control plan or a good project management plan. They score it based on the evaluation criteria. Whether or not your contribution is any good depends on how well it scores. Scoring well is not some mysterious black art Proposal scores are only partially subjective. Actually, proposal evaluation is a fairly mechanical, forms-driven process. You should study the evaluation criteria and prepare a contribution that stacks up well against them. You should try to envision the forms they use to do their evaluation scoring and make it easy for them to do so. Don’t write something primarily based on your expertise doing the work. Don’t write something based exclusively on the statement of work. But please, oh please, bring all your experience and expertise doing the work to improve how the proposal stacks up against the evaluation criteria. The evaluation criteria will typically ask you to demonstrate that you know what you are doing, but the words they use to do that are critically important. The RFP may also ask you to demonstrate that you’re innovative, without risk, full of strengths and without weaknesses, compliant, responsive, prepared, flexible, or any other attribute or qualification. And when this is the case, the purpose of your contribution is to prove that you are the customer’s best alternative for achieving the attributes or criteria they are looking for, whether you are contributing a quality control plan, a communication plan, or something else. The difference between an approach that demonstrates risk mitigation vs availability of resources vs flexibility and does so using techniques that differentiate you from the competition to enable the customer to itemize your strengths while also reflecting this customer's preferences, establishing RFP compliance, and not providing any weaknesses vs a plan that serves the needs of a project are huge. Form follows function. The function of your proposal contribution is different from the function of your project documentation. When you realize this, your experience and expertise can make you a hero by providing the insight and details needed for the proposal to prove that your company really is the customer’s best alternative.
  9. What matters about products and commodities is different from what matters about complex services and solutions. What matters about your offering also depends on whether the customer has told you exactly what to bid or whether you have to figure that out. In both cases, figuring out what to offer by writing about it leads to the proposal death spiral. It’s best not to go there. Figuring out what to offer should be done separately from writing about it. Once you have validated that you’ve got the right offering, then you can move on to presentation. Only then is it safe to merge your offering design with proposal writing. MustWin Now makes that integration much easier. You can do content planning manually, but most companies do it poorly or not at all. Why write a content plan when you could be writing the proposal? Never mind that’s what causes the death spiral. By moving content planning online and using software, MustWin Now greatly lowers the effort of content planning and makes it seem natural to get your thoughts together before you start writing. Figuring out what to offer depends on the nature of what you sell When you sell solutions, you need to architect a solution in order to be able to write about it. If you sell complex services, you need to know the elements of your approaches. So first, figure out what you should offer and why. Don’t worry about how to articulate it in writing. Just architect your solution. Then: See also: About the tool Prepare a list that summarizes the features or components of what you’ll offer. Extra credit if you prepare graphics to illustrate your solution. Add instructions in MustWin Now that guide your proposal writers regarding not only what to describe or explain about your offering, but also how to present it and how to make it add up to being the customer’s best alternative. Commodities are a little different. Commodities can be products, productized services, or when the customer specifies exactly what you are to do or provide. With commodities, which vendor provides things doesn’t matter so long as the specifications are fulfilled. For commodities: Offering design is simplified when you sell commodities, but not eliminated. First, before you start writing, figure out any product selections, options, approaches, etc. Since pricing is more important when you sell a commodity, you should also figure out your pricing strategies early. Make note of why you made the choices you did. They may be your only differentiators. Add instructions in MustWin Now that tell the proposal writers which options you have selected, what your approaches are, why you chose what you did and how that differentiates you, how to establish credibility that you will meet the specifications, etc. In both cases: You should resist the temptation to write about what you are planning. You should just insert placeholders, suggestions, considerations, guidance, and itemize ingredients you don’t want left out. You are thinking it through. Thinking it through is hard but worth it, and better done with lists than with a lengthy narrative. Writing a proposal without thinking it through is a big, fat, ugly mistake. Entering instructions and quality criteria in MustWin Now while you’re thinking it through goes remarkably quickly. Add instructions in MustWin Now that guide proposal writers on how to explain what the customer will get, what the results will be, what value you have added, how the customer will benefit from your offering, what makes your solution the customer’s best alternative, etc. Add quality criteria in MustWin Now so that writers and reviewers can tell if the draft proposal fulfills everyone’s expectations. You don’t have enough graphics in your proposal. No one does. So insert instructions to drive the proposal to become more visual. You don’t even have to draw the graphic at this stage --- just insert an instruction identifying what graphic needs to be created. Instructions can either identify what to write, or what needs to be figured out. If the person preparing the content plan does not know something, like what your differentiators are, they can insert instructions for those who do know to identify them. Here's an example of an online Proposal Content Plan. Click on the image to expand it. You can see that not only can the proposal writer see all the relevant RFP requirements, but also what to do about those requirements, any pursuit intelligence you've collected, your proposal win strategies, and other guidance. Each instruction and quality criterion took one click and less than a minute to type, so maybe 15 minutes for this section. Those 15 minutes may save hours of thinking, talking, reviewing, and rewriting. The proposal writer has a fighting chance of getting it all right in the first draft. Winning your proposal depends on whether the customer concludes that you are their best alternative and gives you the highest evaluation score. A little time spent dropping instructions into the MustWin Now content plan tool can make a huge difference in how your proposal scores. This is especially true if your writers are not proposal specialists. But proposal specialists need input too, and MustWin Now can help get everyone on the same page. It’s not the writing that wins proposals. It’s the thinking that goes before the writing. Use MustWin Now to connect your winning thoughts to what gets put in writing.
  10. Proposal software that focuses on assembling documents from reusable parts may just help you to lose faster. Instead, proposal software should help you discover what it will take to win and build a proposal around that. Proposal automation will get a bad proposal done more quickly, but you will achieve a better ROI by winning more of what you bid than you will by taking shortcuts to complete your proposals. Win more of what you bid by using proposal software to better understand the RFP MustWin Now is an online RFP tool that enables you to make sense of the requirements so you can focus on winning your proposals. Instead of spending hours page flipping through the RFP and clicking on hundreds of spreadsheet cells while you look for where to put the RFP requirements to build your compliance matrix, MustWin Now enables you to build your compliance matrix online using drag and drop. See also: Proposal Software The RFP tools in MustWin Now enable you to: Build a proposal outline with all the RFP requirements where the customer expects to find them Quickly cross-reference RFP requirements to your proposal outline Add, delete, and move things by clicking buttons or just dragging and dropping them. No more RFP page flipping or constantly clicking cursor keys Split long requirements into pieces that can be separately mapped to your proposal outline See any requirements that haven’t been linked to the proposal outline Categorize RFP requirements by type Take notes regarding issues Validate your compliance matrix quickly with a checklist-driven interface Proposal contributors often don’t know how to read and use a compliance matrix, and sometimes simply ignore it. Even if they do, the compliance matrix is a spreadsheet — all the proposal writing is done in Word and has to be cross-checked. With the RFP tools in MustWin Now, the relevant RFP requirements just show up in the proposal content plan sections, so proposal contributors might never have to see the matrix. Without having to study the arrangement of cells in the compliance matrix, MustWin Now simply tells you which requirements are relevant. You can still download the matrix as a spreadsheet if you want, but you might not need to anymore. Win more of what you bid by using proposal software to figure out what you should say in your proposal Once you’ve got the RFP requirements linked to your outline, the next thing MustWin Now does is make it easy to capture what to do about the RFP by entering instructions for your proposal writers. In the same way you can put the RFP requirements in front of proposal contributors while they write, you can put in all of your ideas, strategies, and ingredients for winning the proposal. Instead of waiting for a draft of the proposal and then trying to edit and rewrite your proposal over and over until you run out of time and submit what you’ve got, you can shape the proposal before the writing even starts. And then you can see whether any reuse material you have is still applicable, and how it needs to be tailored. MustWin Now saves you time because people spend far more time thinking about a proposal than actually writing it. When people jump into proposal writing or start from something already written, they spend all of the time available working furiously to try to turn it into what it will take to win. MustWin Now reverses that so you start knowing what it will take to win and can nail your proposal on the first draft. Although most of you will spend some time making it even better. The point is that MustWin Now helps you win more of what you bid, which is what you need to make the effort worthwhile.
  11. Implementing a proposal process can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Not only is it the xtreme sports version of herding cats, but there are a huge number of details to work out and then everyone needs to be trained. And maybe some will follow it. Doing all that at once and trying to get it all right on the next proposal introduces a huge amount of risk that can be avoided. I prefer to phase in a new process, especially at companies with no previous process implementation experience. It also helps to implement a goal-driven process instead of one based on steps. Within the goals that drive your process you can identify the questions that need to be answered to achieve the goals. These questions in turn drive your process. An example of 6 goals with a total of 46 questions that you can use to assess your proposal process needs is below: Goal 1: Discover what it will take to win See also: Process Implementation How will leads be qualified? How will you itemize what it will take to win? How will you track and report progress towards being ready to win at RFP release? What gates or milestones do you need to prepare for? What do you anticipate needing to know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment in order to prepare the winning proposal? How will you accumulate an information advantage for use in the proposal? What format should information be kept in for use in the proposal? How will the pursuit budget be managed? Who will be involved and in what capacities? How will you make bid/no bid decisions? Goal 2: Design the offering based on what it will take to win How will you determine what to offer? Who will need to be involved? What form will your pre-RFP offering design take? How will your offering design be documented for use in the proposal? What will differentiate your offering? How should your offering be positioned? How will you assess its competitiveness? How will you assess the price to win? How will you validate that you have the right offering? Goal 3: Prepare a proposal content plan that defines quality and addresses what it will take to win Will you use a compliance matrix to create your proposal outline? If not, then what? How do you define proposal quality? What are your proposal quality criteria? Are there criteria specific to each bid? What do you need to be able to articulate before the proposal writers start writing? What must be accomplished in between having an outline and being prepared to start writing? If the writers follow the instructions you are giving them and fulfill the quality criteria, will it produce a proposal that meets everyone’s expectations? What do you expect the proposal writers to figure out on their own, and what do you need to provide them? How will you communicate and document not only what to write, but how to present it? How will the writers know if they have properly completed their assignments, before they turn in their assignments? Goal 4: Write to fulfill the instructions and quality criteria in the Proposal Content Plan How will you track and report progress during proposal development, and in particular during proposal writing? How will you identify and resolve issues encountered during proposal development, and in particular during proposal writing? How will writers self-assess whether they’ve written a section that reflects what it will take to win? How will proposal files be managed? How will stakeholder expectations be coordinated and managed? How will access control be managed? (Don’t forget your teammates!) Goal 5: Validate that the draft reflects your quality criteria How will you use the instructions given to proposal writers and the quality criteria you have defined during proposal reviews for proposal quality validation? How many reviews do you need to validate all of your proposal quality criteria? When should they be scheduled? How will you monitor review readiness and schedule? How should each of these reviews be conducted? Which will be formal and which will be informal? Who will participate in these reviews? What orientation and training should be provided to reviewers? What is the production impact, if any, of each review? Goal 6: Produce a final copy without any defects for an on-time submission How will you manage and track proposal completion? How will the submission copy be prepared? When and how will you inspect the final copy for defects prior to submission? How will the submission be conducted? Who will perform the submission?
  12. It's great to have a relationship with the customer before the RFP comes out. But that only makes a difference if it leads to having an information advantage. And an information advantage only matters if it impacts what you say in the proposal. If the sale closes through the award of a proposal, then a customer relationship needs to enable you to write a better proposal in order to matter. During the pre-RFP pursuit, it's not enough to simply fish for information about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. You have to anticipate the questions that proposal writers will have in each of their individual sections in order to impact what goes in the proposal. When proposal writers ask what the customer prefers, or whether to make this choice or that choice, you need to have anticipated that and have the answer. In the paper-based version of the MustWin Process we did this with lists of questions. We even built the Readiness Review methodology around them. In MustWin Now, the online version of Readiness Reviews is a lot more flexible and the answers can be directly mapped to the proposal outline. MustWin Now uses pursuit capture question and answer forms for various aspects of pre-RFP pursuit to gather information based on those questions. They are part of the Pursuit Capture Form tool, and you can select which forms you want to use. You can use the Pursuit Capture Forms tool to guide your efforts and collect the information that proposal writers will need. You can measure your progress towards being ready to win at RFP release by setting up reviews. In the MustWin Readiness Review methodology we recommend four reviews. But with MustWin Now online you can set up as many reviews as you want, and use them to match the milestones in your existing business development and capture process. You can even drag and drop the questions to the review that focuses on that topic. If you schedule your reviews, then your business development and capture managers can see the questions organized according to the review schedule: Ok, but what if you start after RFP release? One of my favorite features is that it's even easier than the paper-based process to convert the questions into proposal input forms for use after RFP release. Simply start answering the questions when you start the proposal. Why? Because of what comes after you answer the questions... What happens after you answer the questions? To really begin proposal planning, you need the proposal outline. But you can't create the proposal outline until the RFP is released. But what you can do is take what you've learned about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment to make decisions about the proposal. When you've completed answering questions, MustWin Now will prompt you to convert them into instructions for proposal writers. Here's an example where we took some competitive intelligence and used it to decide how to position what we say in the proposal. When the RFP comes out, you use MustWin Now to create your compliance matrix, proposal outline, and proposal content plan. The first step in creating the proposal content plan is to link any answers from the pursuit capture forms to your outline, which enables you to convert the intelligence you've gathered into instructions for proposal writers. After you drop it into a proposal section, it becomes part of the content plan for that section. As part of the content planning phase, you can add as many instructions as you wish to inform the proposal writers about not only what to write, but how to best present it. MustWin Now enables you to connect what you learned about what it will take to win directly to how the proposal gets written. Just don't call it a CRM MustWin Now is not a sales funnel or contact management tool. If anything it is something to use with a CRM. And any CRM vendors reading this who want to integrate with us as a way to enable your CRM to better impact the proposal and the close of all those leads you are tracking should reach out to us. One additional thing that MustWin Now does is help guide your business development and capture staff. Instead of fishing for random intel, they have specific questions to try to answer. The results See also: MustWin Now The impact of business development on the proposal should not be random. A traditional paper-based process gets you better information, but getting it into the proposal is still a challenge. And most paper-based processes are really just all talk. Talk about what should go into the proposal, most of which never has much impact on proposal assignments. When you move online, all the information carries forward and transforms from raw intelligence into instructions for how to use it to win the proposal. At the same time, MustWin Now: Provides some guidance to your business development and capture managers regarding what information to collect Streamlines how you store relevant information and does it in a way that's easier to carry forward into the proposal Enables you to track your progress towards developing an information advantage Provides a much improved way to review what you've collected and take action on it Enables you to quickly assess and make the most of what you do know when you start a proposal at RFP release When the proposal starts, MustWin Now informs your proposal writers on what to do with the things you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. It also enables you to validate that the draft proposal reflects your full awareness. You can literally click back from the proposal to what you discovered about what it will take to win. MustWin Now enables you to provide your proposal writers with: One click access to the full text of the RFP requirements that are relevant to their sections Quality criteria that tell them when they've done things correctly Instructions for not only what to write about, but how to present it Access to all of the questions you were able to answer, enabling them to go beyond mere RFP compliance
  13. Sometimes you have all the advantages. Sometimes a proposal is yours to lose. And while you can easily lose if you make mistakes, you can’t win if you only play defense. Playing defense in a proposal means compliance. It means giving the customer exactly what they asked for. It requires understanding the RFP and not making mistakes. I have seen proposals lose after spending a great deal of time scrutinizing the text, only to accidentally leave out a copy of one form from the submission copy. A simple oversight, right where you weren’t expecting one can ruin all the care you put into everything else. It’s enough to make a production manager paranoid. But compliance also means addressing everything the customer expects to see, in the language they expect to see it in. Compliance means mentioning everything, even when the RFP is 300 pages and the proposal is limited to 25 pages. That’s enough to make a proposal manager paranoid. You need detailed, disciplined quality assurance procedures to ensure compliance: See also: ROI You need to make sure that everything the customer requires has a place in your proposal, and make sure that place is where the customer expects to find it. Your best guide for this is the RFP. However, RFPs can get complicated. Creating a compliance matrix is crucial. Just make sure that your compliance matrix is valid. When we built the compliance matrix tool for MustWin Now, we created the means to validate your compliance matrix because it can take as much effort to validate your compliance matrix as it did to create it and a mistake here can ruin your proposal. You also need to create a production checklist. A compliance matrix is not enough. While the issues are similar from RFP to RFP, you can’t recycle this checklist. It must reflect the particular RFP precisely. Every document that must be included should be itemized. Every production requirement for every document should be detailed. It should be impossible to overlook anything if you follow your production checklist. Don’t forget to validate your production checklist. Don’t forget to prepare a production checklist for the pricing and business volume. Last minute pricing changes happen. If you don’t already have the checklist to accelerate quality assurance, mistakes can happen. Mistakes in the pricing volume have a very high risk of proposal failure. For the written portion of the proposal, to avoid mistakes you need quality validation instead of subjective reviews. You need to validate against defined quality criteria instead of relying on opinions. Be careful to construct your quality criteria to prevent mistakes in the writing. You should also review more than just the document. You should also review your decisions. You make dozens, if not hundreds, of judgment calls and trade-off decisions in preparing a proposal. If you’re playing defense and trying to avoid mistakes, each and every one of them should be double checked. But wait, there's more... You can avoid losing due to mistakes. But that may not be enough to win. Compliance alone is not enough to win. If an opportunity is yours to lose, you need to turn your advantages into the highest score in writing. If the opportunity is yours to lose, that’s only true if your advantages make it into the proposal. If you can’t articulate your advantages in the proposal in a way that maximizes your evaluation score, then no matter how important you think they are, your advantages literally don’t matter. If you only play defense, you can end up with a fully compliant proposal with no mistakes and lose because someone else scored better. If an opportunity is yours to lose, you need to turn your advantages into the highest score in writing. The good news is that if your advantages are real, this should be relatively straightforward. If you are bidding at a disadvantage you might have to take risks in order to achieve the highest score. But if the opportunity is yours to lose, your strategy might be to avoid risks while articulating your advantages without making any mistakes. This is how you avoid losing. Everyone else will be taking risks to overcome your advantages. If they make a mistake, well, the odds were against them anyway. So even if you're writing a low risk, defensive proposal, with a high win probability you might need a way to defend against high risk attempts to steal your win away from you. In the end, there is very little difference between bidding to not lose and bidding to win. The difference is the amount of risk you're willing to embrace and where you put your focus. The nature of risk is that it can’t be eliminated. It can only be managed. All proposals have risk. Even the ones that you think are yours to lose.
  14. THIS. This is what proposal content planning is all about. Shaping the proposal. Designing it before it is written. Creating a set of specifications for the document so that writers know what they are supposed to accomplish and reviewers have something to validate the draft against. This is how you win before it is written and succeed on your first draft. This is what got me excited when developing MustWin Now. I'm going to walk through a simple example of what is normally an extremely dry and boring proposal section, and show just how much of a difference you can make. I'm going to pick the key personnel section from a real RFP. The first thing I did was build an RFP compliance matrix. I walked through the RFP instructions, evaluation criteria, and performance requirements to build my proposal outline. BTW, you don't have to hurt yourself trying to read the tiny type, I'll expand the key parts below. What the screenshot shows is the RFP headings on the far left, the proposal outline next to it, and the RFP text in the main column. All cross-referenced and linked. From this, MustWin Now automagically generates the proposal content plan shell, complete with RFP references already loaded. You can see the RFP requirement headings in colored banners under the section name. With a single click, we can see the full text of every relevant requirement in the RFP, right from inside the content plan. No page flipping of the RFP needed to find it. Hey, this part looks important. If you can't read this one, the text below explains it. For more information about MustWin Now, see also: MustWin Now After seeing this in the RFP, maybe I should add a quality criterion to my content plan saying that "Resume must include all content showing in Section L, Appendix L4." Maybe I should also include an instruction to create a summary table based on leadership, education, technical expertise, and relevant experience for my key personnel. And maybe another table matching how the experience of the key personnel maps to the contract scope and "the individual's capability to function effectively." I should probably add another quality criterion to my content plan to specify that "Resumes shall not exceed four (4) pages in length, including the commitment statement." I can add as many instructions and quality criteria as needed to tell the proposal writers what we need to do to win. These are just a few examples. Oh, and I'd better look up what the clause in "Section I entitled, DEAR" is. Even if it's an external reference, I could copy and paste the key part into MustWin Now and cross-reference it to my outline. Then it will show up just like the RFP requirements. When I say "I" what I really mean is our whole team. I can use MustWin Now as a single user, but it really shines when I have the whole proposal team using it. Then subject matter experts, proposal contributors, executives, and others can add instructions and quality criteria related to win strategies, offering design, themes, customer intelligence, and more. Everyone you need to make a contribution can get at the part of the proposal they need to contribute to. There are more RFP requirements than just the blurb above in this section. I can turn all the relevant requirements into quality criteria and instructions. I'm designing the proposal not only to be RFP compliant, but also to be easy to evaluate and maximize our evaluation score. The instructions you enter can draw the proposal writers' attention to the key words that the evaluators are looking for. Speaking of which, let's look at the RFP evaluation criteria (click). For more information about Proposal Content Planning, see also: Content Planning Box There's an oral presentation required. But right now, I'm working on the proposal. I can also use MustWin Now to plan the oral presentation. But what I'm looking for in this moment is what's important to the customer's evaluation. I see key phrases like: Roles in the accomplishment of the PWS Whether these qualifications and roles bring value to the customer Whether these qualifications and roles will have positive impacts on the offer's ability to overcome barriers and challenges affecting accomplishment of the work Length of commitment to the contract Consistency with the oral presentation How the leadership team, as a unit and as an organization, will enhance the ability to overcome barriers and challenges affecting accomplishment of the PWS So if I want to get the top score in this section, I'm not simply going to talk about how great my key personnel or their qualifications are. Simply describing them will not be competitive. Everything in this section needs to be in the context of overcoming barriers and challenges affecting accomplishment of the work/PWS. If you want to win, you'll know what those barriers and challenges are, and you won't merely talk about your capabilities to overcome them, you'll offer a comprehensive solution that defeats all challenges with complete assurance. After all, the incumbent will. So it turns out, this section isn't simply a resume section after all. It's a solution section. It's providing a solution to overcoming specific barriers and challenges using key personnel as the primary resource. That will teach me to think that the "resume" section is boring. I'm sure everyone who bids and makes the competitive range will have qualified personnel and will submit resumes that score well. The evaluation criteria tell you that the winner will be the one that offers key personnel that add up to a solution to the barriers and challenges that the customer is concerned about. You can use MustWin Now to turn this insight into a combination of instructions and quality criteria. Your instructions should cover not only what to write, but how to present it. Your quality criteria should let the writers know what they need to accomplish to create a section that reflects what it will take to win, and let the reviewers know what to look for when reading the draft. All those key words you see in the RFP should drive your instructions and quality criteria. What excites me about MustWin Now is how easy it is to create a content plan that does these things. MustWin Now automagically creates the content plan shell. Then go to each section and click the instructions button. Type things like "Explain how the qualifications of our key personnel bring value to the customer." Click the quality criteria button and type things like "Do we cite the length of commitment for each of our key personnel and does it add up to something competitive?" In just a few minutes you can create a set of specifications that defines what the winning section will be. When you are done, your writers will see everything they need to know to make a top-scoring contribution to this proposal. They'll have this in one window guiding what they write in Microsoft Word in another window. You can do this on paper and without MustWin Now. But hardly anyone does, because doing it on paper is such a major pain. Most companies just hand an outline to their proposal writers, sometimes with a few annotations. MustWin Now eliminates all the administrivia so that as you read and begin to understand the RFP, you can quickly insert instructions and quality criteria that tell your proposal writers what to do to win. If your competitors are just using an outline, it will be very difficult for them to create a proposal that scores better than yours does. And if you're going to take down an incumbent, you'd better bring your best proposal.
  15. Proposal specialists talk a lot about the importance of planning before you write your proposal. Then reality sets in: See also: MustWin Now If the RFP forces you into it, you complete a compliance matrix in a complicated spreadsheet so that you can create the proposal outline that the customer expects. You make judgment calls to create the outline because RFPs are inconsistent, ambiguous, and contradictory. Once you have the outline and assignments, writing starts. The compliance matrix and outline never get validated. Because there are judgment calls, other people start taking exception to the outline and making changes to it. Unanticipated re-writing cycles begin to remap things to the outline changes. The more struggles there are over the outline, the more delays and re-writing. When the draft is produced, ready or not, it gets reviewed. Nobody reviews it against the compliance matrix. They review it to see whether it sounds good. Whatever that means. They make more changes to the outline because it no longer matches the RFP. Instead of a great proposal, they submit whatever they have when they run out of time rewriting the proposal. In 2004 I created the MustWin Process and published it as a workbook. It provided innovations that addressed these issues. It was a huge improvement over the way things were being done. But it was still a document-based approach to the proposal process. Documenting a proposal content plan seems like work and people conclude they might as well be writing. They also incorrectly conclude that recycling proposal text would be a faster way of planning and writing the proposal. Over the last year, my primary focus has been on what amounts to a huge research and development project. It started out as experimental tools that move parts of the MustWin Process online. It became MustWin Now. The biggest thing I have learned from all this R&D is that an online process is very different from a document-based process. It’s like the difference between having a big complicated spreadsheet to maintain, and having a relational database with linked forms to fill in. Only instead of building the proposal text, it helps you do what you need to do to win. And then something surprising happened... The R&D we did started with seeing if we could build a web-based drag and drop compliance matrix. We did. But as cool as that is, what blew me away was the impact on the content plan. It just happened. Click a button after you build your compliance matrix and the shell for your content plan magically appears. And it's pre-loaded with the RFP requirements. That's several steps that just disappear. But not only that, dropping instructions into your content plan just requires a click and some typing. All the resistance that goes along with creating a plan as document evaporates. Here's what it looks like when you move your process online: You create a compliance matrix using drag and drop. As you step through the RFP, you create a matching outline. It may not be faster, but it is more intuitive. You flag your judgment calls with a click. Before you publish your outline, you validate it. This is checklist-driven and very much accelerated. You can resolve your judgment calls before you publish the outline. Publishing the outline automagically gets up your proposal content plan. You click on proposal sections and simply drop in everything you want to talk about and how you want things to be addressed. The RFP requirements are linked back to the full text. You’ve got one super-convenient place to go to figure out what to write and plan your proposal. All of your stakeholders can contribute to your content plan and review it to make sure it reflects what you want your proposal to end up being. It’s not like asking them to create a plan. It’s more like asking for ideas and comments. It goes as quickly as you can think through what it will take to win. There is no paper to produce or formatting to be done. At the same time you’re adding to your content plan, you’re dropping in quality criteria that reviews will use to assess what gets written. When writing starts, it’s with MS Word open in one window and MustWin Now open in another. Writers see the instructions and quality criteria in MustWin Now, and write something to fulfill them in the other window. The instructions give guidance so they know not only what to write about, but how it should be presented. While you can still have people sit around a table and render subjective opinions about the draft proposal, you can also have people quickly scan what was in the content plan to validate that it all made it into the draft. You can validate against quality criteria and skip subjective reviews altogether. Arguments go from being about what people like to what the proposal quality criteria should be and whether they’ve been fulfilled. Reviews are much more effective. You get to the review with a draft that mostly fulfills the quality criteria everyone agreed to. You spend the time remaining making improvements to get the maximum score. Process isn’t really a thing. The tool is the thing. People follow the process without realizing it. They still complain. Only it’s about improvements they’d like made to the user interface. Winning proposals result. The point here isn’t that MustWin Now is great and you should subscribe to PropLIBRARY so you can use it. The point is that when you move the process online, the process disappears. People start doing what they need to do to win without thinking about it. You just have to avoid recreating a document-based process or proposal assembly tool. It’s something that I don’t think I could have created on purpose. It took a lot of experimenting to see what could be done and how things might work. And the R&D may never end. Because once we’re done with the whole compliance matrix, outline, content plan, and quality validation workflow, we’ll add pursuit capture information collection, customizable recipes and content options, and expanded and more granular training options. Just about every new article I write triggers new experiments for how to implement the recommendations in the article as part of MustWin Now. If you want to try your next proposal using MustWin Now, let me know.
  16. People think proposal management is a thing, but it’s not. Proposals are not even a thing. Proposals at different companies have more differences than similarities, even though we tell ourselves otherwise. Proposal managers come in many different types. Some are a better for a given company than others. When you see a type that’s the opposite of yours, you might think it’s wrong for proposal management. But there is an environment out there where that style is a better fit than yours. So don’t judge. See also: Proposal Management The owner of the win. You think it’s your job to win above all else. You drive the development of the win strategies and themes. Your top goal is to submit the highest possible scoring proposal. Depending on your management style you might lead, beg, borrow, steal, or bully your way to a proposal that meets your standards. You may be filling a void or stepping into capture manager territory. The producer of what people give you. Your goal is to turn what people do into a ready to submit document. You apply your document expertise to making sure that all the parts come together well. You are constantly confounded by people not submitting what you need or not having enough of the right people. You may have played a support role in a past life. The leader who works through others to get what is needed. You’re the conductor of the orchestra. You provide the guidance and coordination that people need to work as a team to create the proposal. Process and tools are good and fine, but it’s people that get things done, so you work to get the most out of the people. The hands-on manager. You’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and write what needs to be written or do what it takes to create the proposal. You may have come up through the ranks, have some skills, and have difficulty letting go. The technician. You see yourself as best supporting the people working on the proposal by refining the process and improving the tools. You manage people by process instead of relationships. You find this works best in the highly stressful environment of proposals, where people can be difficult but process is reliable. You may have been an introverted techie who worked in isolation in a past life. You might still be. The perfectionist. The idea of submitting a proposal with any kind of defect runs counter to the way the world should work. You demand time for proper editing. You focus on the reviews and double checking more than you do on coaching the writers or defining the message. You just want to make sure that what gets submitted is perfect. You may have been an editor in a past life. You also may be at risk of overemphasizing CYA. The pleaser. You are a people person who defines successful support as pleasing The Powers That Be. You derive your concept of proposal quality from what will please the reviewers. After all, they have the experience. If they are happy, the proposal must be in good shape. You may have been an administrative support specialist in a past life. The know-it-all. You handle the stress of getting everyone on the same page regarding the proposal, by force of will based on your expertise. You define the standards and expectations and make everyone else conform to them. Without this, you fear chaos will reign. You may have been an only child in a past life. The artist. Proposals are a form of creative expression. Process fails. Your creativity enhances the work of the subject matter experts and results in a proposal that is far better than they could achieve on their own. Proposal quality can’t be defined. Art rules. You may have actually been an artist in a past life. But now you are an artist with a job. The improvisationist. There is no time “in between” proposals, so you make it up as you go along. You’ve got an idea of how it should go. So you improvise. You don’t build. You create. You flit around like a butterfly. Or a busy bee. You are always so busy. It’s lucky you are so good at improvising or things would never get done or done as well. You may have played jazz in a past life. The enforcer. The chaos of proposals requires a firm hand. Rules must be made. And enforced. Most proposal failures are a result of people not following the rules. If you don’t have actual authority, you may get by on your force of will. Or just complain a lot. You may have been a policy supervisor in a past life. Or are you a blend? Speaking for myself, I’m a “1” with some “5” in me and maybe some “8” that I’m in denial about. Luckily I can usually channel the others when needed. Over time, I’ve become much better at recognizing which environments I’m a match for, and which I’m not. Over time, I’ve met all of these. And often been critical of them as being The Wrong Way to go about things, when it was just the circumstance. If you are a blend, you are easier to work with. If you are an archetype of one of them, if you are in your element you’ll flourish. Outside of that, your lack of perspective will create friction that will impact your proposals. Which ones are you? Which ones are you in denial about? What does your company need? How readily do you switch points of view based on the circumstances? Have fun with this, but give it some real thought…
  17. A compliance matrix helps you untangle a complicated RFP and build a proposal outline that meets your customer’s expectations. But RFPs are inconsistent. This is a polite way of saying that sometimes they are broken and it can be very difficult to figure out what the customer expects. Sometimes you have to make judgment calls. Unfortunately, it’s critically important that the proposal outline and compliance matrix be reliable. You really don’t want to have to change them after writing starts. Changing the outline and compliance matrix after proposal writing has started will at least be disruptive and may even be disastrous. To help you ensure that your outline and compliance matrix are reliable, MustWin Now walks you through the steps needed to validate your outline and compliance matrix. Traditionally, this takes as long as it did to create the compliance matrix in the first place, and often companies cave in to the pressure to start writing without validating their matrix. MustWin Now makes it go as quickly as you can diligently click. And it guides you through the steps. The first step is a self-assessment. Before you turn your matrix over to others who will review it, MustWin Now prompts you with a list of things to double check. This is an informal review to encourage you to check your own work. MustWin Now has reports that can help you make sure that you have not overlooked anything when building your compliance matrix. These include: Unlinked RFP Requirements. Are there any RFP requirements that are not linked to a proposal section? This might be okay. Or it might mean that an RFP requirement has been overlooked. Unlinked Proposal Sections. Are there any proposal sections that are not linked to any RFP requirements? Again, this might be okay. You can have proposal sections that go beyond what’s required by the RFP. But it could also mean that a proposal section that should have been linked to an RFP requirement got overlooked. Items with no written response required. MustWin Now lets you flag items in the RFP that do not require a written response. Sometimes RFP items are just informative. But you might want to double check this… To go beyond self-assessment, MustWin Now enables you to assign one or more reviewers from the pursuit dashboard. This provides a fresh set of eyes to more formally review your outline and compliance matrix. MustWin Now handles this in two steps. The first is to validate the RFP requirement cross-referencing, and the second is to validate your proposal outline. For each of these steps, MustWin Now asks a set of questions for each and every item. To validate your matrix, MustWin Now brings you to each RFP item one at a time, and asks you to click through the checklist. If anything fails or is a concern, it prompts you to explain why. Click, click, click, you work your way through the RFP. Then it does the same thing to validate the proposal outline, with a different checklist. Click, click, click, you validate your proposal outline. If you do this with diligence, every single item in your outline and compliance matrix will be double checked by at least one other person. You can have as many reviewers as you deem appropriate. Once you work through the formal reviews, MustWin Now will prompt you to incorporate the review comments and finalize any changes needed. MustWin Now will display any concerns the reviewers had as a list and you can work through it as a process of elimination. When you’ve made your final changes, MustWin Now will prompt you to do one last check. One last probably unnecessary but just to be super careful last check. Yeah, making sure your outline and compliance matrix is reliable is important enough to build in a pause to reflect on it one more time before publishing it for use. There are nine steps in the MustWin Now compliance matrix tool. The draft matrix is complete after the third step. The rest is the quality validation before publishing that many companies skip, resulting in many unnecessarily lost proposals. We want to help yours to win.
  18. You can use MustWin Now to follow the classical method of building your compliance matrix by following the RFP instructions, and then incorporating the evaluation criteria and other sections. Once the RFP has been entered into MustWin Now and is online, you can click on each instruction in the RFP and decide what to do with it. You can add a new proposal section for it in the proposal outline column, or if you have an existing outline item that is relevant you can add a new section under it. You can decide whether to create a single outline item to address that part of the RFP, or break it into several proposal sections. As you click through the RFP instructions, you can build a fully compliant proposal outline. When you are done with the instructions, you can move on to the evaluation criteria. As you click through the evaluation criteria, you can decide whether your outline already has an appropriate place to address each item that will impact your evaluation score. You can link each evaluation criterion to an existing proposal section, or you can add a new proposal section to provide a place to address it. You can craft your proposal outline to maximize your evaluation score. Finally, you can do the same thing with the RFP performance requirements. You should also review the rest of the RFP to determine whether it contains any requirements that should also be addressed in your proposal outline. Remember, you can always add items to your proposal outline that go beyond what the RFP has asked for. You can also add subsections. You can start building your proposal outline by focusing on RFP compliance, and then expand on it to meet your preferences and strategic goals. This makes cross-referencing the RFP almost as simple as clicking through the RFP and building your outline as you go. Once you’ve clicked through the RFP, you should also click through your proposal outline to ensure that each proposal section links to all of the relevant RFP requirements. What you should end up with is a proposal outline that provides a place for everything in the RFP, right where the customer expects to find it. When your outline is complete, you can decide whether to export your compliance matrix as a Microsoft Excel file and whether to take the next step and automagically convert it into a proposal content plan, complete with full text RFP references. But before you do that, you should validate your compliance matrix.
  19. We're inching closer to the public launch of MustWin Now, our new proposal software. We're using it internally already. PropLIBRARY Subscribers are taking training in it. We're ready to put it to work. So if your company becomes a Corporate Subscriber, we'll use it to create a compliance matrix and proposal outline for you. We'll use it to help you create a Proposal Content Plan. You'll get our expert help getting your proposal off to a great start! We'll create them for you. Or you can take the lead and we'll show you how to do it using MustWin Now, back you up, and provide quality assurance. It's your choice. You're essentially getting the subscription free of charge, since the cost is what you could expect to spend on having a professional consultant prepare your compliance matrix, proposal outline, and proposal content plan. Actually it's a bit less than what we would normally charge. A Corporate Subscription costs $6,000 for up to 50 users. If you are already a single user subscriber to PropLIBRARY, you'll get double credit for the cost of your subscription and save $1,000 automatically at checkout. All your users will get full access to PropLIBRARY including the online training, access to the MustWin Process, and access to MustWin Now. More information about our subscription offerings is available here. Click to purchase a Corporate Subscription to PropLIBRARY If you want to see it in action or discuss it first, then here's our calendar so we can talk and do a demo. Click here to ask us a question
  20. We created the MustWin Now proposal software to make it easier to implement the MustWin Process. Both the MustWin Process and MustWin Now come with a PropLIBRARY Subscription. We also offer online training to help PropLIBRARY Subscribers learn how to best use MustWin Now.
  21. This is just to provide a quick link into MustWin Now. URL:
  22. It would be so nice to be able to predict the probability of winning a bid. It would so help with resource allocation. But there are just two problems: See also: Information Advantage None of the algorithms that make the attempt to calculate your percentage chance of winning have statistically significant data to base their calculations on. They have no basis to claim accuracy. How many leads, comparing apples to apples, have you run through your algorithm and correlated with winning? Dozens? It’s probably not enough to establish statistical significance for a single variable let alone all the factors that could impact award. You can get more data by considering more companies, but then you also decrease the likelihood of having an apples to apples comparison. Even within the same company it’s hard to compare apples to apples when the customer, offering, evaluation criteria, and other circumstances can be so different. You don’t have enough data for it to average out. Garbage in, garbage out. All algorithms that make the attempt to calculate a percentage are guesses piled on top of guesses. Since the chances of the customer accepting your proposal are not numerically calculable, we use proxies. Instead of quantified events we use indicators and guess at some numerical value. Some of these indicators are quite subjective. What is your level of customer intimacy? What past performance score will you get? What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you try to quantify these, you at best have guesses. But what weight will you give each of them? How much do your indicators matter when compared to each other? Which will impact the customer's decision more? Converting the indicator into a number with a guess and using a guess for the weight means multiplying your guesses as well as your margin of error. Garbage in, exponential garbage out. See also: Bid/No Bid Decisions Combine a statistically unreliable result with a huge margin of error and you get something not worth considering. Using guesses as input for guesses with no statistical significance can’t be made scientific. Even if you use the word “probability” and assign it a number. Does anyone ever go back and compare their predicted win probability with their win rate to see if it’s accurate? By expressing win probability as a percentage, you may actually reduce your ability to guess your win probability accurately. It’s not just that you have a fake probability. You potentially have a misleading probability. You really don’t need a number. Sure, it’s nice to allocate your resources by percentages. And maybe a guess is the only way to do that. But when it comes to making decisions, you don’t need win probability to be expressed as a percentage. What you need are the indicators. You need good quality indicators, so that when you guess it’s based on the best quality input possible. What things impact your win rate the most? See also: Pre-RFP Questions Start with what you think impacts the likelihood of winning. Go ahead and guess. Guess a lot. Collect as many potential indicators as you can manage. Then track them over all of your bids. You might not have enough bids to achieve statistical significance, but using some data to test your beliefs about indicators is better than just your beliefs alone. And over time you might approach statistical significance if you control your variables. Just use the data to establish the correlations between potential indicators and winning instead of calculating a probability percentage. Knowing what actions correlate with winning is more valuable than being able to claim a percentage as your “win probability.” Just don’t trust people who say they know what it takes to win. Rules of thumb aren’t. Your customers, your relationship with them, the nature of your offering, your ability to turn information into a winning proposal, and your circumstances, add up to a unique context. I have seen the way hundreds of companies conduct their pursuits. Most of them are guessing. Some have convinced themselves that they are experts even though they are guessing. Be data driven. Put effort into finding indicators that are objective, so that the results aren’t as influenced by wishful thinking, misapplied incentives, and the convenience of the moment. And use a little logic. Knowing the customer for a long time has no impact on your likelihood of winning something new. But having an information advantage, calculated by the number of questions you can answer, is a potential indicator. In fact, if you only had to choose one indicator, having an information advantage would be a great guess. But still, confirm that by correlating with your win rate. Just look out for apples, oranges, and statistical significance. And laugh at win probability numbers. PS: I considered the following alternatives for the title for this article: The ugly truth about win probability that no one talks about Lies, damn lies, and win probability Your carefully calculated win probability is wrong Calculating win probability is like intentionally following a mirage Your win probability comes with certainty of being wrong Don't count on your win probability What are the chances that your win probability is correct?
  23. If your bids win or lose depending on how well your proposals help the customer determine how to reach their decision, the best competitive advantage is often an information advantage. How will they make their decision? What matters to them? What do they need to see in the proposal? When this is the case, relationship marketing becomes key to the sales process. However, the relationship is not your real goal. Your goal is the result of the relationship. And that should be an information advantage. You can measure the strength of your customer relationship based on how well it helps you develop an information advantage. The extent of your information advantage can be measured by your ability to answer the questions that proposal writers have when trying to write a winning proposal. An ordinary proposal is self-descriptive and can get by without a lot of insight. An ordinary proposal is not competitive. A great proposal, however, requires insight to provide what the customer needs to see to reach a decision in your favor. Creating an insightful proposal requires an information advantage. The key here is that an information advantage can be measured by its ability to answer your questions. Now, you just need to know what questions you need answers to in order to write a great proposal. On your next bid, try answering questions like these: To learn more about developing an information advantage, see also: Information Advantage What will it take to win this pursuit? What are the customer’s preferences? What are their goals? What is their management style? What matters to the customer? What is the price required to win? What should you offer? Do you have any gaps in your offering? How should you handle the inevitable tradeoffs? What will make you a better alternative than your competitors? How does the customer make decisions? What information do proposal writers need to close the sale? The answers to these questions determine: Whether you should bid What you should offer How you should position, differentiate, and present your offering What your win strategies should be What points you should make in your proposal paragraphs How to get the best evaluation score How you should price your offering How to make bid and tradeoff decisions The secret to consistently winning competitive bids is to know these things. Discovering the answers requires a customer who is willing to discuss them with you. This means that you need a relationship in which the customer feels comfortable talking to you. And this in turn means developing that relationship before the customer’s acquisition process reaches the point where they limit communications. You will never get all the answers you want and you should consider far more questions than you will ever be able to answer. If you can learn more than your competitors and turn that into a better proposal, you have turned an information advantage into a competitive advantage. Bidding without an information advantage means you are either gambling on your ability to guess better than your competitors, or you are betting that all you need is to offer the lowest price. Overconfidence in either of these will result in a low win rate as well as low profit margins. We added pre-RFP Readiness Reviews to the MustWin Process that is available to PropLIBRARY Subscribers to provide a structure for developing an information advantage. It includes our method for quantifying the answers to questions that you can use to quantify the strength of your customer relationships, correlate answers with your win rate, and identify trends in the effectiveness of your business development efforts. Not only can you measure the strength of your customer relationships by how well they produce an information advantage, you can measure the profitability of relationship marketing by how well it improves your win rate. An improvement to your win rate means increasing your revenue without having to chase more leads. And when you do the math, you’ll find that it’s worth the effort to build customer relationships that provide the information advantage you need to win. Companies that consistently win and generate positive returns know what the “I” in ROI stands for…
  24. Congratulations. You have a good proposal. Too bad you’re probably going to lose. If you want to win, you need to submit a great proposal. The good news is that you may not have to rewrite the entire thing to get there. If you have a good proposal, here are some things you can do to improve it and make it great: See also: Great Proposals Have you maximized your evaluation score? If your customer will have a formal proposal evaluation, then the place to start is whether you have maximized your evaluation score. When proposals are scored and not read, an ordinary proposal might score well, but a great proposal is designed to achieve the highest possible score. Can you make it easier for the customer to complete their scoring sheets by using the same words that they use in the evaluation criteria? When you assess your proposal against those criteria, is it clear that you will not simply score well, but that you will get a great score? Can you better guide the customer to the reasons they can use to justify giving you the highest score? Is your proposal easy to navigate and easy to evaluate? Can you include references to the evaluation criteria in the text? Can you use tables that show how you stack up against the evaluation criteria? Have you shown real insight? Or did you just copy some text from the customer’s website? Have you talked about what matters and what impacts success? Can you go beyond what’s in the RFP? Can you show a depth of knowledge that makes you an asset to the customer? Instead of merely claiming to be innovative, have you shown ideas that are perceptive and clever? Have you explained the reasons why you do things? Have you incorporated all the intelligence you’ve gathered about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment? Have you differentiated? Have you claimed the same things that everyone else will claim? Have you proposed the same approaches, but only a little bit better? Or can you offer something different and better? You can’t produce a great proposal if it’s the same as everyone else’s, or even if it’s just a little better. Can you change the rules? Can you give the customer a real alternative to choose from? What do you do that’s special? Why do you do things the way you do? What does it add up to that’s different? Have you taken risks? If you don’t take risks, you can’t be exceptional. If you aren’t exceptional, you can’t be great. A great proposal is not normal. It is not safe. Competition is not safe. A great proposal may lose. But the odds of losing with a good proposal that plays it safe are actually worse. A good proposal can become great by taking strategic risks to differentiate or show insight that no one else would ever dream of. This is how you become the only alternative the customer even considers. Have you written your proposal from the customer’s perspective? You do not decide whether your proposal is worthy of winning. The customer does. Your attributes do not matter. What the customer gets as a result of your attributes matters. A great proposal is not about you. It is about the customer. A great proposal is not you telling your story. A great proposal is the customer reading your proposal and getting excited about their future. Can you read your proposal the way the customer will and say things that reflect the customer’s perspective instead of your own? Can you make the proposal about the customer and make them excited about what they will get if they select you? Did you get the context right? An ordinary proposal has all the right details. A great proposal puts the details in context. Putting things in context brings meaning to them. Can you explain to the customer what it all adds up to? Can you show insight about why the details matter? Can you make it clear why your proposal is the customer’s best alternative? To do these properly, every item above requires doing your homework before the proposal even starts. If you don’t start already having the information you need, you may not be able to achieve it during the proposal. Proposals writers can’t make up greatness. They can’t fake it. But you can make sure that you’ve fully leveraged all that you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. In the rush to get to a draft, companies often fall back on descriptive writing and sticking to the RFP. Often, the people with knowledge about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment aren’t the ones doing the writing. So if you can achieve a good proposal with some time remaining before your deadline, you might be able to turn it into a great proposal. And if not this one, maybe the next one…
  25. Understanding how to set your priorities is key to winning proposals. There are far too many things you want to do before the deadline than are possible to achieve. If you do not have the right priorities, you will waste time and effort on things that have a lesser impact on your probability of winning. Ideally, your priorities will perfectly match the impact of each item on your win probability. But calculating win probability is not always possible. That’s where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes in. When applied to proposals, it provides a framework of considerations that you can use to better guide your priorities. It also helps you be decisive by informing you what you must do, and what you should sacrifice. Because sometimes sacrifices are necessary in order to submit by the deadline. Sometimes proposal management is as much about what you’re not going to do as it is about what you are going to do. See also: Maslow's Hierarchy When applied to proposals, the base level of consideration is RFP compliance. If you are preparing a US Government proposal, RFP compliance is absolutely necessary to even get considered. It is the foundation that everything else can be built on. It is not enough to win. But without it you are not even in the game. If you are not preparing a US Government proposal, then RFP compliance is still the foundation of your proposal strategies and offering design. If your RFP contains evaluation criteria, then the very next consideration is how to achieve the maximum score. In a formal evaluation, this is the only path to winning. In an informal evaluation, it informs your win strategies. The next level of consideration is your implementation of your win strategies. Once you have thought through the RFP compliance and evaluation criteria considerations, how well you choose and implement your win strategies will have the biggest impact on your win probability. Before you put effort into any of the higher levels of consideration, you need a base that addresses these three areas. Another way to say this is that you can’t rely on the higher levels to win the proposal for you if you don’t have this base underneath them. Once you have this base, you can consider visual communication and presentation. If you aren’t compliant with the RFP, don’t score the highest against the evaluation criteria, and have inadequate or poorly implemented win strategies, great visuals and presentation aren’t going to win it for you. On the other hand, if you do have those things, you are well positioned to create great visuals and know not only what to present, but what your presentation needs to achieve. Beyond these considerations comes editing and proofreading. While a proposal full of typos can lose, a typographically perfect proposal is not enough to win. Most customers will tolerate some typos. It’s a risk. But is it better to take the risk of typos or the risk that your bid strategies are inadequate? The highest level is style. Proposals against tight deadlines rarely make it to this level. You might want your proposals with multiple writers to read like there was one author. But is that the first thing to discuss or build your plans around? Or should it come up after you’ve successfully achieved the other levels? We want to achieve all the levels. But we do not want to achieve a low impact item at the expense of a high impact item. We want to eliminate all risks. But we don’t want to play it so safe we end up losing. You don’t have to give up on creating the perfect proposal. Maybe you’ll have the time and resources to address all the levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of (proposal) Needs. The priorities you choose to focus on directly impact your win rate. If you have the time and resources to address the things that impact your win probability the most, then go for perfection. Proposals are a competitive sport. If you are competing against companies that will submit compliant, high scoring, proposals based on sound win strategies, then the higher levels might become the difference between winning and losing. But first you need to achieve a compliant, high scoring, and competitive proposal.
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