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  1. Last week
  2. 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
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  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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…
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
  11. 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.
  12. This is just to provide a quick link into MustWin Now. URL:
  13. 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?
  14. 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…
  15. 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…
  16. 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.
  17. Most proposal assignments come with failure built in. They are a plea for proposal writers to figure out how to win the proposal on their own. This is not a winning strategy. To avoid this, you need to give proposal assignments that are less about tasking and more about guidance. Start by giving better instructions For better proposal assignments, see also: Assignments Proposal assignments should cover not just what to write, but also how to write it. And all proposal assignments should come with quality criteria that let the writer know when they have completed the assignment correctly. Is that too much to ask? Quality criteria can be simple checklists, as long as they are reliable. Following your instructions and passing the quality criteria should not result in negative proposal reviews. Writers need to know how to fulfill expectations before they start writing. You should also supplement your proposal assignments with helpful suggestions, things to consider, and questions writers need to answer. Good instructions save people time and point them in the right direction. If your proposal assignments don’t address your win strategies and the points you want proposal writers to make, what do you think the impact will be on your win probability? If on the other hand, you provide assignments that explain what to write, how to write it, what points to make, and criteria they can use to assess when they’ve completed their assignment successfully what do you think the impact of that will be on your win probability? Focus on goals instead of steps It is far more important that proposal writers achieve your goals than it is to submit something on time that won’t win. So what are your proposal writing goals? These should shape your proposal assignments. Proposal assignments are not simply fulfilling outline items. They are fulfilling a vision based on what it will take to win. If you goal is to win, then can proposal writers realistically achieve that on their own? If your goal is RFP compliance, that is an achievable goal. But is it enough? And do your quality criteria enable writers to know when they’ve achieved it? The same applies to any particular style, results, or preferences regarding the proposal. Without proposal quality criteria defining success, you are assuming the writers know what you are thinking and waiting until after they’ve completed their drafts and the deadline is near to find out whether that is true. This is very risky. This is another reason why I prefer to do a thorough job of Proposal Content Planning. It makes the goal fulfilling the plan. And that is measurable. A Proposal Content Plan helps in many ways, by informing writers, accelerating writing, and giving you a way to measure progress and results. Get your priorities straight I have seen too many proposal kickoff meetings focus on writers complying with a 30 plus page style manual that will smooth out production but not only have little or no impact on winning, they can actually reduce your win probability by taking attention away from other things with a greater impact. If you are under resourced, as most proposals are, you should very carefully focus writers' attention on the things that will impact winning the most. Think in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs applied to proposals. Sure, you want everything on your wish list. But what are your must haves vs nice to haves? What are your priorities? The instructions and assignments you give set the priorities. Do so wisely. What’s in your writers' packages? What are you giving your proposal writers other than a section title and a copy of the RFP? Is it what they need to be successful? Is it even based on what it will take to win? Does it explain to your writers what the customer needs to make a decision in your favor, or are the writers supposed to figure that out? What you give to your proposal writers has a direct impact on your win rate. If you prepare a Proposal Content Plan, it essentially is your writers' package. It’s a tool for achieving all these goals.
  18. The MustWin Process was developed in 2004 by thinking about how to discover what it will take to win a proposal and then create a proposal around it. It was goal-driven in nature, focusing on what has to happen in order to win and less on how you do things. This makes it very flexible in implementation. MustWin Now is an online tool that started off tackling just one part of the process: Proposal Content Planning. How you figure out what should go into your proposal is the crux of the problem. It's also the foundation for quality validation. And it defines the needs for the entire pre-RFP pursuit. What we've discovered is that moving your proposal planning online changes things. Potentially everything. It makes it easier to do the things you know you should be doing, but find problematical using traditional approaches. This course is about exploring that. But in order to explore Proposal Content Planning, we need an outline. In order to have an outline, we need to build a compliance matrix. So that is where we'll start. And we'll use MustWin Now to create them. Read the instructions contained in the course items below. View the videos to see how MustWin Now works. Participate in the office hour sessions to ask any questions you have. Or just email them to: We'll enter the RFP, create the proposal outline based on it, cross-reference and link the RFP to the outline to create a compliance matrix, then we'll start content planning. One step per week. After all the questions are answered during the office hour sessions, we'll look at how to use these features to achieve your proposal management goals.
  19. Obsessing over the deadline and resource pressure that defines most proposal efforts can make you forget about other important things and limit your ability to maximize your win rate. It’s a curious dilemma, but obsessing over getting your proposal done can help you lose. So take a moment and put away your deadline and resource pressures. Take a moment to think about the purpose of it all. Because the purpose is more than making your deadlines and surviving the experience. It’s more than simply winning. Proposal writing should have meaning. Purposeful proposal writing For more information about creating great proposals: Great Proposals Do you write to fulfill, complete, and comply, or do you write with a purpose that gives what you are writing meaning? If so, what is that purpose? Do you write proposals to solve problems? Do you write proposals to help people? Do you write proposals to achieve growth for you, your company, and your customer? Do you write proposals to achieve a mission? Do you write proposals to make your tiny part of the world better off? If so, then how do you do that? How do you write proposals with a purpose? The answer is one sentence at a time. One paragraph at a time. One section, one solution, one proposal at a time. But start with a sentence. What is the point of that sentence? Is your goal in writing that sentence simply to comply and complete? Is that all your customer wants? Or do you write to make a point that supports your broader purpose? Even if your purpose is simply to win, writing to make a meaningful point can make your proposal far more compelling. The opposite of writing to make a point is to literally write something that is pointless. It is entirely possible to write a fully compliant proposal that is completely pointless. The only way you are likely to win by writing a proposal like that is if all the customer cares about is the price. Writing with purpose is part of competing on something other than price. So start writing with the intention of making a point. Then another. Then another. And make them add up to something that matters to the customer. Does it matter? If you choose a shallow purpose, you will make points that do not matter. For example, you might make the point that your company specializes in something. But this does not matter. It is a claim with no impact on the customer. If it does have an impact, that is what the point should be. The amount of impact your point has determines how much it matters. Is your purpose to write proposals that matter? Then propose having a major impact. Oh, but what impact should you have? If you don’t know what major impact would interest the customer, you’ve got a problem. Most companies water their impact down if they think there might be any risk at all in it. And when they do this, they water down their purpose until they do not matter. Finding meaning What do you do that has an impact? What matters? Now and in the future. How will all of the stakeholders be impacted? Having an impact brings meaning to a proposal. It brings meaning and purpose for your company. It brings meaning and purpose for the staff who will work on their project. It brings meaning and impact for the customer and their stakeholders. It brings meaning and impact for each individual proposal writer. Proposal writing is not just fulfillment, compliance, and a search for the magic words that can persuade. Proposal writing is about meaning something. Proposal writing with a team of contributors is about finding meaning for everyone involved. Proposal writing is not just talking about what matters. It is a chance to matter.
  20. First, create your pursuit if you have not already done so by clicking on the “Add a new pursuit” button and completing the form. Make sure you check the “RFP has been released” button and ignore the RFP Version Number. Give “Carl Dickson (Administrator)” access to your pursuit. This will enable me to see your coursework and to help you during screen sharing sessions. If you skip this step, I will not be able to see what you see or access your pursuit. Download the ORISE RFP from the course page. Upload the file to the MustWin Now Dashboard. You don't strictly need to do this, but it's a good idea. It's a convenience feature to make the original RFP available to other users. When your pursuit has been created and added to the dashboard, open the RFP and Compliance Matrix tool by clicking on the arrow to the right of the banner. Then click on the link for the current RFP. We will only have a single version of the RFP. MustWin Now can handle customer issued amendments that update or replace the RFP, and keep track of previous iterations. Only certain sections of the RFP will be used in this course. You only need to copy and paste the RFP sections into MustWin Now identified below. In addition, you can skip the strikethrough portions. • Section C- Description / Specifications/ Statement of Work • L.30, Proposal Preparation Instructions • Section M -Evaluation Factors for Award Once you have entered the portions of Section C, Section L, and Section M that we will be using, this module is complete and you can move on to the module for "Creating your proposal outline."
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