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  2. Companies that want to get better at doing proposals often struggle with their proposal process. They struggle with the steps. They struggle meeting deadlines. They struggle with time management. But mostly, they just struggle. Part of the reason for the all the struggles is their process. It’s not that it needs improvement. It needs replacing. And it’s not just the process that needs replacing. It’s the whole way you look at the proposal process. Proposals are not completed in steps It would be more accurate to describe proposals as a flow of information. Information flows from the customer to people in your company where it gets transformed, travels through the RFP, gets filtered into sections according to the outline, and ultimately put on paper. But the information does not flow in a straight line. It meanders. It flows back on itself. It goes in circles. It builds. It changes. The proposal “process” should not be thought of as steps. That’s how you end up with one step called “writing” that never ends, and another step called “reviewing” that endlessly repeats. The proposal “process” is really a collection of things you do to guide an unpredictable amount of information, from unpredictable sources, in unpredictable forms, from whatever it is at the beginning to what it needs to become in order to win the proposal. Here are five alternative ways to look at the proposal process that can help you find more success at channeling and guiding this information into what it needs to become: See also: Steps Training. If you work with different people on every proposal, then you can think of the entire effort as training. The final exam is the proposal. Or maybe it’s better to think of the proposal as a dissertation with a team of authors. Each thing that you need people to do is an assignment. Sometimes you need to teach how to complete the assignment. You should have rubrics that tell people what is required for successful assignment completion. Tutoring should be available for people who fall behind. You’re showing them how to win a proposal instead of mandating a process for them to follow. Questions and answers. Questions are a great way to gather the information you need. Questions can also be used to inquire whether the information is in the right format or whether it’s been transformed in the way needed. Questions can make suggestions or offer considerations. You can script the entire “process” as a series of questions. If you do, there will be a lot of questions. A whole lot of questions. But if you set them up as checklists, they aren’t perceived as a burden. Picture a checklist of questions to determine whether you are ready to start something. Another checklist of questions for what you need to consider when doing it. And another checklist of questions for how to tell when you’ve completed it successfully. Questions can do a lot more to help people contribute to the flow of information than a process diagram. Goals. A goal-driven proposal process can leave the steps up to the participants to figure out. A goal-driven process can also improve people’s willingness to follow the process, by giving them an easy way to achieve their goals. After all, following something called The Proposal Process really isn’t important. It’s fulfilling the goals that lead to winning that’s important. Quality validation. Can you define success? Can you define success for every activity? Then why not give contributors the success criteria at the beginning? When each activity is wrapped with success criteria, it’s as good as having a “process.” Thinking through and being able to put your success criteria in writing may do more to achieve the desired results than have a “process.” Issue tracking. Everything is an issue. Literally. A proposal assignment is an issue to be resolved. A lack of information or resources is an issue. Show stoppers are issues. But so are simple questions. Accounting for what needs to be written and writing to incorporate all of the ingredients that need to go into the section are also issues. Instead of tasking assignments and then dealing with the issues that come up, just track issues. A contributor’s role on the proposal is not to write something that crosses off an item on the outline. A contributor’s role on the proposal is to resolve issues. Individuals can have issues directed to them. But as a team, the goal is to resolve all of the issues that might get in the way of submitting a winning proposal. Here’s a bonus item that combines them all: MustWin Now Our new proposal tool is built around gathering information, transforming it, and validating the results. It is structured around accomplishing key goals like being ready to win at RFP release, creating an outline that meets the customer’s expectation, and discovering what it will take to win and building your proposal around it. Before the proposal starts, it uses questions and answers to gather the information proposal writers need. During the proposal it wraps the workspace with training and guidance to help contributors with completing their assignments. When people use it, the process disappears, and people simply do the work using the tool. I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by how it’s completely changed the way I view the proposal process.
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  6. Your proposal process is broken. But don’t feel bad. Everyone’s proposal process is broken. And while it might be easier to accept that the proposal process can always be improved, it's better to be honest about just how broken it is. I have worked on countless proposals at a few hundred different companies. Some proposal process implementations are better than others. But all of them have serious defects and people are usually in denial about it. This doesn’t get their proposal process fixed. In fact, it makes their proposal win rates lower than they could be. This might be the single biggest thing keeping companies from maximizing their win rate. When people don’t know how to fix their proposal process, they sometimes conclude that it’s the environment that’s broken and not the process. The truth is they’re both broken, and while you might not be able to change the environment, you can change the process. And maybe fixing your process will improve the environment. When problems appear unsolvable, people stop paying attention to them. They stop thinking of them as problems. Many of the issues on this list are tolerated by most companies, because they don’t believe they can fix them. Rather than evangelize about our process recommendations, this article is about how to recognize when your proposal process is broken but solvable. See also: Proposal Management People talk about the proposal instead of creating a tangible plan for the proposal People bring information to the proposal instead of what to do about it Any research done before the RFP is released doesn’t end up being useful for preparing the proposal Intelligence gathering is based on whatever people are able to find instead of discovering what it will take to win The top reasons given for bidding include “we can do the work,” “we have the experience” or “the opportunity is perfect for us” The compliance matrix isn’t validated before proposal writing starts The proposal outline is reviewed at Red Team The top goal after receiving the RFP is to start writing People think it’s easier to skip the process than follow it Proposal writers don’t know what the reviewers expect Self-assessment tools aren’t provided to proposal writers Proposal writing starts from copy recycled from a past proposal Proposal writers can’t tell you how to achieve RFP compliance Proposal writers can’t tell you how their sections will be scored or what they need to do to achieve a top score Proposal writers either don’t start from the points they are trying to prove, or don’t know what points they should be proving Proposal writers have questions that could have been answered, but no one asked the questions Win strategies are developed after proposal writing starts Win strategies aren’t validated until the Red Team Your plan for what to say in your proposal doesn’t go any further than a compliance matrix, outline, and occasionally some attachments like a list of themes People figure out what to propose by writing about it Key documents don’t make it to the proposal writers Key documents are ignored by the proposal writers The highest priority for proposal writers is completing their assignments and not getting the top score The highest priority for proposal writers is their other work Single points of failure Color team labels are used and no two people define them the same way Reviewers arrive without having read the RFP Reviewers decide what to look for on their own No two reviewers define proposal quality the same way Reviews don’t start until the proposal is in finished form or “the way the customer will see it” The most important person changes everything when they finally get around to looking at it There are no written proposal quality criteria Priorities and decisions aren’t based on the potential impact to the score of the proposal Decisions are based on what you think, instead of what the customer thinks Someone thinks there’s a better way than what it says in the RFP How many of these occurred during your last proposal? Rather than trying to solve them one at a time, look for common root causes. If you solve the root cause, you can fix many problems at once. For example, most of the items related to the proposal review process are a result of not defining proposal quality or having written proposal quality criteria. Many of the items related to proposal writing are a result of giving up on finding a way to plan the proposal before you start writing it. Solving some of them will require you to look at things differently. The proposal process is not about paper. Sure, it ends up on paper, but how it gets there is the result of a flow of information. Information must be sought, recorded, transformed, validated, and guided into a winning proposal. If you start by asking yourself how to create the document, you’ll end up with problems like those above. However, if you start by asking what information you need, where it comes from, and what guidance the other people you work with need to gather, then record, transform, and validate that information, you will see much better results. Our first transformative moment came in 2001, when we used this way of looking at things to create the MustWin Process. That’s how we know the problems above are solvable. We not only wrote the process, but we’ve had nearly two decades to test it in practice. See also: About MustWin Now The MustWin Process, however, is still document-based. Working with teams of people to create a document is like herding cats, even with a well-documented process. In 2018, we had our second transformative moment when we did some proposal software research and development based on information gathering, transformation, and validation and tripped across a completely different way of doing things. The result was MustWin Now. Instead of focusing on document assembly, MustWin Now focuses on solving problems like those above. It's not a tool for automation, it's a tool for winning. Along the way, we discovered a curious thing. Instead of thinking about the process, people using MustWin Now think about working with the information in front of them as it becomes the proposal. They stop trying to jump straight into writing. They do proposal content planning without thinking much about it, because they don't have to create a document called a "plan" before they create the document that is the proposal. Content planning in MustWin Now feels more like getting ready to write. And when they do start proposal writing, they have specifications to self-assess against. When proposal reviewers look at the draft, they have the same specifications to work with instead of making it up as they go along. It’s as if the “process” disappears and people just start working on the proposal using the tool. Whatever approach you take, and whether you take it online or offline, the problems above are solvable. Don’t stop trying. But also, don’t keep doing the same things and expect them to suddenly start working. Feel free to reach out to us with your questions, or to get our hands-on help on implementing the solutions we’ve discovered.
  7. Growth is the source of all opportunity for a contractor. Prices are locked in for the duration of the contract. Even when you account for pricing escalations, that usually just covers inflation, and not promotions, new hires, new tools, etc. Without growth, most contractors can’t even tread water for very long. Without growth, rising costs will force them to cut overhead expenses. Investing for the future almost always comes from growth. Everybody in the company benefits from its growth. If you got a raise and it wasn’t offset by cutting somewhere else, it came from growth. If you’re sitting on a new chair, it was probably paid for by growth. If you can’t get a new chair approved, there probably isn’t enough growth. If you want a promotion, you need the company to grow enough to grant it. A growing company is a happy place. A company that is treading water can be stifling. A contractor that is shrinking is a fearful place. The same, by the way, is true of people. People need growth to prosper. Most growth for a contractor comes through winning proposals. You don’t have to work on proposals. You get to work on proposals. You get to grow. You get to bring growth to the others you work with. Whatever you think your job or corporate mission is, it's really about growth. Growth Hack #1 Proposals are an investment and not an expense. People minimize expenses. When an investment is paying off, you go all in. But you have to know when an investment is generating a positive return. Win rate is a proxy for ROI. Carefully track what things are impacting your win rate (it can be counterintuitive and rules of thumb aren’t). If you want to grow by winning proposals, then instead of minimizing your proposal efforts you should invest in doing your proposals better. Growth Hack #2 Growth comes from winning and not from chasing leads. At a 30% win rate, a 10% increase is mathematically the same as adding 30% more leads. How much would a company invest in gaining 30% more leads? But increasing your win rate is better because you don’t have to chase 30% more leads to achieve it. Increasing your win rate is also more profitable than chasing more leads. On top of all that, increasing your win rate will pay off again next year, but you'll have to find new leads to chase. So invest as much as you would in getting 30% more leads into increasing your win rate and you’ll be better off. Hoping for more leads is not the same as winning. It's time to get serious about winning business. Growth Hack #3 Winning easily pays for more winning. What is 1% of your proposal submissions last year? Now multiply that by 10. That is what a 10% win rate improvement would have returned. It’s typically many times what it would cost to do your proposals well. Doesn’t that make the effort a worthwhile investment? Shouldn't you respond to RFPs like you're trying to get good at it? Growth Hack #4 Shortcuts kill your ability to grow. Do you think that it’s too hard to get ahead of the RFP? Or that you can’t make your subject matter experts available to adequately support proposals? Or that executives are too important to read the RFP before participating in a proposal review? Or that it makes financial sense to stretch the people trying to win as thinly as possible? Shortcuts like these reduce your win rate, and the cost of them is far more than it saves. It’s penny wise and pound foolish. See Growth Hack #3 and run the numbers in the other direction. Is it worth a few hours of cost reduction if it produces a 1% reduction in win rate? A reduction in win rate typically costs you far more than the “cost savings” of trying to get by on the cheap. Most companies lose before they even start their proposals. Growth Hack #5 Growth requires everyone to participate. Proposals need subject matter expertise. They need customer awareness. They need competitive intelligence. They need a price to win. They need appropriate terms and conditions. They need staffing. They need facilities. They absolutely depend on having great past performance. Not only does everyone in the company benefit from growth, but everyone in the company has something to contribute to achieving that growth. If you want to do proposals bigger than yourself, you've got to make contributing to growth the normal routine and not an exception. Growth Hack #6 Beware the hand-offs. Now that you’ve got everyone contributing, you’ve got a problem. Are people worked in silos, or are their efforts integrated? Is sales delivering the information needed to write a winning proposal to the people writing the proposal? Is sales even participating in the proposal? Are the project staff who have customer contact providing insight? What about the hand-off to pricing? Is pricing working in isolation from your win strategies? Is pricing introducing strategies that aren’t reflected in your proposal narrative? Every hand-off is a chance for things to get watered down. Here's a list of 90 things someone needs to do to win proposals and who is usually responsible. Growth Hack #7 Work backwards from the goal. What will it take to win? How do know whether the draft proposal reflects it? How do you build your proposal around it? How do you discover what it will take to win? The goal that you are trying to achieve informs each prior step required to fulfill it. Your proposal process shouldn’t start from a blank sheet of paper. It should start from a winning proposal and reverse engineer it. Your proposal process should be goal-driven and not steps that people can ignore or skip. Growth Hack #8 Small companies can’t put off growth. You’re pulled in many different directions. You wear many hats. The only thing that will make it better is growth. Prioritize what you must do to achieve that growth. Only bid what you can win, and do what it takes to win what you bid. Growth Hack #9 Don’t be afraid of losing. One thing that holds companies back from investing in improving their win rate is that they worry about not actually achieving an increase in their win rate. This is partially a result of not knowing how to improve their win rate. It's also partially because they still view proposals as creative expression based on people just trying hard, instead of a deliberate process based on quality validation. But it’s funny how they never avoid investing in sales just because it might not bring in the business or they haven’t already identified the leads they intend to pursue. Growth Hack #10 If you can’t follow your proposal process, you have the wrong proposal process. Most companies don’t follow their own proposal process. It’s usually not because they aren’t capable or dedicated. Or because the process isn't enforced. It’s because their proposal process is based on common but flawed ideas. Don’t beat your head against a wall. Throw your broken process out and start over. It's worth the investment. Proposals can be a lot of work, but they shouldn’t be a struggle every time. If you accept that a chaotic train wreck is normal for proposals, then you will never achieve the highest win rate possible for your organization. Growth Hack #11 Healthy growth requires developing and maintaining an information advantage. Maximizing your proposal win rate requires having an information advantage about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. When writing proposals, an information advantage is a competitive advantage. All of your customer interactions, whether sales, technical, or otherwise, should be part of developing and maintaining your information advantage.
  8. Winning government contracts requires knowing how to succeed at every step throughout a ridiculously long sales cycle. Winning government contracts requires attention and doing your homework. The good news is that most companies really aren’t that good at it. Most companies who are registered to do business with the government end up doing little or none. And most established companies merely do well enough. Most government contractors lose more contract bids than they win. They are vulnerable and can be beat by anyone who puts more focus and effort into accomplishing the things on this list. Government contractors with experience should already know every one of the steps below. And yet on any given pursuit they’ll fail to accomplish nearly half of them. If you have experience with winning government contracts, you should read this list with two goals: Be honest with yourself. Your first reaction may be denial. But knowing about something and achieving it are two different things. Trying and accomplishing are also two different things. Be honest with yourself about what you actually accomplish. Figure out how to accomplish all of them. It will involve working through other people. It will likely involve systematizing or institutionalizing how you accomplish them. That in turn involves pushing against organizational inertia. Being a big company only makes this harder. If you are new to government contracts: This is a list of what to accomplish. It is not enough to know how to accomplish each step. This is where you start understanding how to win government contracts, but not where you should stop. There is plenty more information on PropLIBRARY for each one and of course other sources of information about them. Your growth and competitiveness will depend on whether you can accomplish all of them better than your competitors. Quit telling yourself that you don’t have enough people to do what you should. What must be done has nothing to do with your head count. How much time you spend on each might. Put at least some attention into all of them. Don’t just pick the easy ones. Whether you are experienced or not, accomplishing these 14 steps will make you more competitive: Discover who buys what you sell. There is a ton of historical data about what government agencies buy, and it’s available from many sources. Some are even free. Essentially all government contract actions are recorded. This can help you understand where in the government they have the most interest in what you sell. It will help you realize who to reach out to, build relationships with, and learn more about. Understand the procurement process. Government procurement can be a very long process. It is governed by lots of complex rules. And yet, once you learn them, those rules can help you navigate the system. At any moment, you should know what the next step the customer must take, what their decisions will be based on, and be prepared to provide information that can help them. To do that, you need to know their procurement process. Since it’s all publicly available, there’s really no excuse not to. Understand the roles government staff play in a procurement. When you reach out to contact government staff, be aware that different people play different roles and bring different perspectives to the procurement. Contract officers, contracting officer's technical representatives, agency executives, and program staff all have different interests and involvement in the procurement process. If you understand their roles it will help you figure out who is capable, or at least interested, in answering your questions. Pro tip: Make contact with the people playing each of these roles, but do it in ways that are relevant to their roles to gain the full picture of a procurement. Understand the realities of teaming. There are companies that do a lot of business through subcontracting instead of prime contracting. There are many more companies that only get a small portion of what they thought had been agreed to as a subcontractor. There are many other issues. Learn everything you can about the realities of teaming if you want to be successful. Network and build relationships. Networking is important for finding teaming partners who are trustworthy. It’s also important for gaining customer, opportunity, and competitive insight. You can also network to meet customer staff. The larger you network, the more opportunities you'll have to practice relationship marketing. Be seen as a helpful, credible asset. When you land customer meetings, don’t be the vendor that nobody wants to spend time with. Be the vendor with useful information that helps them do their job even before they start working with you. Be the vendor that helps them understand and inspires them about future possibilities. And above all, be credible. Nobody wants to work with a vendor who is not credible. Most vendors wouldn't even accept their own proposals. If you want follow-up meetings, be seen as an asset and not a needy salesperson. Show up qualified. You think you’re qualified. But are you? Do you have the past performance, registrations, certifications, insurance, size standards, locations, and anything else that will be required to bid? It makes no sense to bid if they can’t award to you. So learn what qualifications will be required and show up with them all covered. Show up on the right contract vehicles. Government customers have different ways to buy things. They call them contract vehicles. Sometimes you respond to RFPs. Sometimes you respond to task orders. And sometimes they can put it on the equivalent of a government credit card. Each way they buy things has very specific rules and limits. Each agency will have preferences regarding how they buy things. Learn what their preferences are and make sure you are registered with or accepted on their preferred contract vehicles before you start selling to them, or else you may not be able to close any sales. Initiate, inspire, and define. Instead of waiting for public solicitation announcements, try initiating procurements. Get ahead of the RFP. Help potential government customers recognize and define their needs. Along the way, develop deep insight into their needs. Think in terms of initiating procurements instead of finding them. Help potential customers recognize their needs and what to do about them. Gain some influence over the RFP. Establish your credibility and insight before they even see your proposal. Understand how the customer will score your proposal. If your sales close with a proposal, then understand your customer's evaluation process. Learn to read your proposals like they do. If the highest scoring proposal will win, then discover how their scoring process works so instead of writing a proposal that you think sounds good, you can write a proposal that gets the highest score. Reading the evaluation criteria in the RFP is often not enough to be able to interpret how their scoring process will be applied. Anticipate the questions that proposal writers will have. If your sales close with a proposal, learn to anticipate the questions your proposal writers will have. Show up with the answers. When the RFP comes out and proposal writers start asking whether the customer would prefer this or that, or they should position something this way or that way, it’s too late to get the answers. Develop an information advantage. In services proposals, the best competitive advantage is often an information advantage. If you know more about what matters about the customer, opportunity, and competitive advantage, you can write a proposal that matters more than your competitors. Build your proposals around what it will take to win. Simple to say. Hard to do. It’s not the proposal writing that’s hard. It’s discovering what it will take to win. Hint: You need more than the RFP to puzzle it out. Perform. Hooray! You won a contract. Now what? There’s this thing call “past performance.” Look it up. If you blow it in performance, this could also be your last contract. Going forward, having exceptional performance can also be a huge advantage for winning more contracts. It's worth the investment. I have seen bad performance cause contractors to crash and burn. Even a slip to a neutral rating is the kiss of death because you can’t be competitive. Do whatever it takes to have exceptional performance. Plus a bonus tip: Getting ahead of the RFP is not easy, but here’s a hint: target recompetes. You can be aware of them five years in advance. If you are not ahead of the RFP and don’t go into the recompetes you target with a customer relationship that produces real insight, then you’re just not trying. What you do to capture recompete contracts is good way to catch what you’ve given up on and stopped trying to achieve.
  9. The products and services we offer give you flexible options for supporting the growth of your company and improving your win rate. PropLIBRARY. You're on PropLIBRARY right now. Take a look around. PropLIBRARY is self-service, subscription based, and something you can get started with in minutes. MustWin Now. MustWin Now is our new proposal software. It comes with a PropLIBRARY subscription at no extra charge. Here's what MustWin Now does at a glance. Training and consulting services. If you need help winning contracts and growing your business, let's talk about what we can do to help. Tell us about the size, scope, complexity, and deadline for what you have in mind so we have enough information to make estimates. We provide strategic consulting, can offer hands-on help, deliver training, and do public speaking. We can work at your site or remotely. The MustWin Federal Growth Program. This highly strategic program comes in a version that is scaled for small businesses and a version for companies that need to reengineer how they win new business. Both are based on achieving a quantifiable return on investment. Both have a fixed quarterly price. When you combine these, you get a combination of options that provide a tailored solution for your needs. Click here to ask us a question For a demo or a conversation about the challenges you face growing your business, grab any date/time on the calendar below:
  10. The customer is more than one person. And different people have different perspectives. Developing a reliable relationship with the customer means interacting with as many levels and stakeholders as you possibly can. Here are some areas to focus on. Who to reach out to Each of these requires a different strategy. Each has different needs, priorities, and expectations. Each has a different perspective and can be a source for different information. All are worth contacting and getting to know. Executive level. If you can’t get face time, then pay attention to what they say when giving presentations and talking to the media. Your customer's leaders can be a good source for learning about the long-term trends impacting their organization and what might be pressuring them to change. Contracting officers (COs). COs are concerned with following proper procurement procedures. They are not there to help you. They also may not understand what they are buying and probably don’t need to. But they are the authority on how the customer buys. Understanding their needs can help you interact with the procurement process that they will implement. Contracting Officer's Technical Representatives (COTRs): COTRs often play a key role in writing the statement of work. After award they play a key role in monitoring performance and compliance. Make their life easier. Help them with their paperwork. Help them translate technical issues into the requirements language they will need to resolve those issues and fulfill their organization's needs. Operations staff. The end users who need what is being procured are only one group of people involved in the procurement. They tend to be mission oriented and care the most about the technical requirements. They often don't understand their organization's procurement procedures, and they may or may not play a role in proposal evaluation. They may control the budget that will be used to make the purchase. The recognition of needs and initiation of the procurement process often starts with them. Internal stakeholders (other departments that interact with your targets). The group that is doing the buying may not be the only ones at the customer impacted by the procurement. Internal stakeholders may or may not have a competing agenda. They may or may not be collaborative. But they probably have another perspective if you can get them to share. External stakeholders (outside groups or organizations impacted by or interacting with your targets). Your customer might serve, collaborate with, or get input from outside organizations and people. The happiness of external stakeholders may or may not be critical to the buyer. While they probably won’t have insider insight, you never know… Ways to research and make contact Finding out who to contact is a solvable problem. Actually making contact is hard. Remember, it's not about your needs. It's about their needs. So reach out in a way that's helpful to them and you have a better chance of holding their attention. Here are some ways you can try to reach out to them. Telephone. Cold calling is sometimes worth it. Warm calling, where you have an introduction or are following up on something relevant, is even better. Make it worth their time to talk to you. Or at least return your call. Email. It's a great way to share info of value to your customers. Try sharing highly relevant and useful website links. LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides multiple ways to research and contact people, including groups and direct messaging. You may be able to gain an understanding of the customer's organization just from studying their LinkedIn profiles. In his 2019 LinkedIn Federal Employee Census, Mark Amtower reports there are over 2 million civilian Federal Government and DoD members on LinkedIn. Conferences. Conferences are a great way to meet and greet, present, watch, etc. They are a great chance to quickly show some depth beyond selling. Make your outreach of value to them, instead of the other way around like most vendors so they’ll respond back to you in the future. Don't go in blind or fish for random contacts. It's worth putting some effort into learning which conferences your potential customers attend so you can get in front of them. Meetings. Can you land a meeting? The odds go up if you make them about the customer and not about yourself.
  11. What you need to win a proposal depends on what happened before the RFP was released and the proposal effort kicked off. This means that winning proposals can depend on what you did before the proposal even started. So let’s take a look at what happens before the proposal starts: What the customer does before the RFP is released This is what the customer has to do, starting from RFP release and working backwards: See also: Pre-RFP Pursuit The RFP is released. But before that: The customer announces there will be an RFP. But before that: The customer decides what will go in the RFP. But before that: The customer decides whether to release an RFP. But before that: The customer decides they have a need and can allocate funds to fulfill that need. You might want to know the exact steps your customer follows, and all of the little details that fall in between these generalizations. What you do before the RFP is released This is what you do, or at least should do, working backwards from RFP release: The RFP is released. You are ready to bid at a high win probability because you have an information advantage. But before that: You find out there’s an RFP coming and begin preparing. But before that: You (should) help the customer figure out what should go in the RFP. But before that: You (should) help the customer determine whether to release an RFP. But before that: You (should) help the customer determine what they need and how much it will cost to fulfill that need. But before that: You (should) have developed a relationship with the customer. But before that: You decide which potential customers to target. Most companies aren’t able to complete the “shoulds” because they never formed a relationship with the customer, which is critical to gaining the information advantage. They are left trying to win by being a little better at responding to the RFP requirements. They are at a serious disadvantage to anyone bidding with an information advantage. What comes before targeting customers for relationship marketing and prospecting? There are things you need to do before you even have customer targets. So starting from customer targeting and working backwards: You begin reaching out to your customer targets. But before that: You must identify points of contact at each. But before that: You must determine which customers buy what you sell. But before that: You need strategic planning to identify what to offer, how to position it, and what markets to explore. If you find yourself looking for RFPs to bid, it’s because you haven’t been reaching out to enough of the right customer targets to fill your pipeline. You’ve gone from bad (no information advantage at RFP release) to worse (no customer insight at all against competitors who do have it). You’re trying to fill your pipeline anonymously because you don’t have the targets and contacts you need. You’re trying to make up the deficit at the back end instead of fixing it from the front end. And your win probability will suffer as a result. Play it all back in reverse Start from the bottom of each list and work your way up. That’s what you need to do to achieve a high win probability. Judy Bradt of Summit Insight says that “People who start from databases and websites are starting in the middle and at a disadvantage.” The key is knowing who buys what you sell so you can form relationships with potential customers and fill your pipeline with high win probability leads. Judy shows companies how to get into position to explore their customers’ needs and gain an information advantage as they work towards releasing an RFP. Do this before the proposal starts and the proposal becomes a simple exercise of turning your information advantage into a competitive advantage by having the right win strategies and driving them into the text. This makes figuring out what to write in your proposal a solvable problem and leads to a high proposal win rate. If you don’t know what your win strategies should be, what to say in your proposals, or have a low proposal win rate, making sure that you are starting with an information advantage is the first thing you should improve.
  12. The best competitive advantage in service proposals is an information advantage. An information advantage enables you to write a better proposal, even though everyone is responding to the same RFP. You don't achieve an information advantage by randomly fishing for information. You gain an information advantage by knowing what information to seek, gaining more of it than your competitors, and then doing the best job of converting what you learned into a better proposal. MustWin Now guides you to the right information, how to best make use of it in your proposal, and then builds it into your proposal section plans. Pursuit Capture Forms for when you start before the RFP is released MustWin Now uses Pursuit Capture Forms to collect information before the RFP is released. For each topic, MustWin Now has a simple question and answer form to complete. This prompts you to seek the information and provides a place to collect the answers. Pursuit Capture Form Topics Topic for building an information advantage MustWin Now Pursuit Capture Form What customer insights do you have? Customer: Insight (5) What are the steps customer’s procurement process? Customer: Procurement Process (13) What do you know about the opportunity? Opportunity: Awareness (14) What will it take to design the winning offering? Opportunity: Offering Design (14) What is the competitive environment? Competitive: Environment (7) Is there an incumbent? Competitive: Incumbent Contract (4) What will it take to design the winning offering? Competitive: Teaming (3) The number of questions on each form is shown in parenthesis. There are a total of 60 questions. You will never get all of the answers you'd like to have. That is not the point. The point is that the answers you do get form the basis of your information advantage. The forms and the questions asked can be customized, so you can make them reflect the specifics of your business. You accumulate answers in the Pursuit Capture Forms until the RFP is released. Proposal Input Forms for when you start at RFP release If you are starting at RFP release, there is a separate set of forms to use to collect proposal input. They are different because instead of initiating research, they are designed to assess what you already know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. The proposal input forms enable you to document what you know so you can map it to the proposal. The topics for the proposal input forms include: Proposal Input: Change (5) Proposal Input: Data Calls (6) Proposal Input: Graphics (12) Proposal Input: Insight about what matters (11) Proposal Input: Proposal sections and approaches (8) Proposal Input: Teaming (7) Proposal Input: Transition (12) Self-Awareness (6) You know stuff. So what? Once you have answers to the questions on the forms, you are ready to assess: How does what you know impact what it will take to win? How does what you know impact what you should say in the proposal? MustWin Now makes this easy by providing a quick way to turn the answers in the Pursuit Capture Forms into instructions for proposal writers. Once the RFP is released, you map the instructions to the proposal outline, just like you cross-reference the RFP requirements to the outline. The result is that you not only have an outline with all the relevant RFP requirements mapped to it, you also have instructions for proposal writers that are based on what you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. So first MustWin Now guides you to develop an information advantage. Then it prompts you to assess the impact of what you know on the proposal and convert your raw intelligence into instructions for proposal writers. The result is that it helps you drive your information advantage into the proposal where it must end up if it's going to help you win.
  13. MustWin Now is a toolbox with a lot of depth and breadth and many options. It streamlines the process while providing both inspiration and guidance for participants. All of the online training and helpful information in PropLIBRARY is just-in-time linked to the steps within MustWin Now. This helps people who are new to proposals as well as experienced professionals. MustWin Now supports both the pre-RFP and proposal phases of pursuit with these tools: See also: About MustWin Now Pursuit Capture Forms. Can be used to provide a little bit of structure for the pre-RFP phase and to ensure you gather the information you will need to win. If you elect not to use it during the pre-RFP phase, you can still use it at RFP release as a way to assess what you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. You can use it to drive your win strategies into the proposal. RFP Compliance Matrix Builder. Cross-references the RFP requirements and enables you to build a proposal outline based on what the customer expects and how they perform proposal evaluation. This greatly streamlines creating the shell for the Proposal Content Plan and automatically puts only the relevant RFP requirements in front of proposal writers. Proposal Content Planning. The fastest tool in existence for creating a proposal writer's instruction package that addresses what to write and how to present it, and also provides quality criteria so they can tell when they've done a good job. This improves the quality of the very first draft so much that proposal reviews can become an opportunity to improve the proposal instead of focusing on finding all the defects and figuring out what to do about them in the time remaining. If you use the Pursuit Capture Forms, then MustWin Now enables you to drive your win strategies based on pre-RFP intelligence about what it will take to win to the proposal document.
  14. The difference between marketing, business development, sales, and capture has nothing to do with titles. The difference is purely functional and it matters. People misuse the labels all the time because there is a lot of overlap and they prefer one title over the other. But you need some of each, even if you are short staffed and the titles people have don’t match. See also: Roles The goal of marketing is to attract customers so that you can sell to them. There are many approaches to attracting customers. Some involve outreach. Some involve making your company and its offerings more attractive. Outbound vs. inbound, push vs. pull. Some involve technology and some involve relationships. The more the complexity and pricing of your offering goes up, the more important having a relationship with your customers will become. The more your offering resembles a commodity, the less important relationships will be and the more important outreach will become. The goal of business development is to open new markets or to expand existing ones, either by developing new solutions or through partnerships. If you want to develop a solution that reaches new customers, expand an existing customer relationship into new areas, or combine your offering with someone else’s offering to reach new customers, that’s business development. Business development and product management are closely related, with product managers tending to focus more on creating the offering and business developers focusing more on what offering to have, where to market it, and how to sell it. The goal of sales is to qualify and pursue as many leads as possible. Sales can get its leads from marketing, business development, or find them on their own. They shepherd those leads to the closing process. They may overlap with marketing when they develop relationships with potential customers. They may overlap with business development when they open new territories. They may overlap with capture management if they participate in closing the sale. Capture management provides dedicated attention to closing a sale. Capture management is usually only required by complex or highly priced offerings. Having dedicated capture management means sales focuses on identifying and qualifying the maximum number of leads. Capture closes the sales, typically with a written proposal. Overlapping confusion Expectation management, role definitions, and of course clarity of incentives are critical to getting the right mix of these important functions. Marketing overlaps with everything because it comes first and sets the stage. Who is responsible for positioning? Who is responsible for identifying potential markets and customers? Who determines which new markets to enter? Business development overlaps with everything because it is cross-functional. It overlaps with marketing before, during, and after opening a new market. If it is successful, it results in sales. And if those sales are long lead, complex, and high value, it likely overlaps with capture management. Sales overlaps with everything because it sits smack in the middle of it all. Where does lead identification end and lead qualification begin? And who is responsible for each? Where does lead qualification end and closing begin? And who is responsible for each? Capture management overlaps with everything because it closes the sales. It depends on everything that came before. But it also adapts, changes, and finalizes everything that came before. Where does lead qualification end and closing begin? Who determines when, where, and how to close the sale? GovCon marketing expert Mark Amtower says, "These functions merge under what is now called social selling. Leveraging social media to find key influencers, get on their radar, share information and otherwise remind them of your presence at key points in the procurement process." He explains this in an article in Washington Technology. Marketing uses social media as a key messaging platform. Business development, sales, and capture management all use it for both research and relationship building. One person can do marketing, develop business, sell, and capture. One person probably can’t do all four well. In a small business, people wear multiple hats. In a large business there can be a department for each of these, with handoffs, confusion, and gaps the result. Every one of your sales will require elements of each of these areas. Very few companies do all of them well. Most companies ignore at least one of them. Which one does your company ignore? What are the consequences? Which require specialists? And perhaps most importantly, when do you want to go from having the problems that small businesses have covering everything to having the problems large businesses have with flawed handoffs, confusion, and gaps?
  15. We're hosting an online meeting to discuss new options for how we can work together and partner. The combination of MustWin Now and our new pricing model creates new opportunities. We want to enable you to use MustWin Now as a platform for differentiating your services. You can now have a pool of MustWin Now users that you allocate across your engagements. You can charge your customers for using MustWin Now or make it a value added that customers get by working with you. You decide. You keep the proceeds. We're not after a percentage of your business. Under our new pricing model, we invoice you. When, where, how, and how much you invoice your customers is your business. If you've ever thought about developing content for your customers to use, whether training oriented, process, or reuse, we have secure ways to deliver it. You can essentially build content libraries within MustWin Now that only your customers will be able to access. And again, you can charge for the use of your content or not. We're interested in three things: More users for MustWin Now A better experience for users of MustWin Now through personalized support Innovative solutions developed by partners that broaden the appeal of MustWin Now You can think of it as a reseller or value added reseller relationship. We don't typically develop industry specific content or features. But you might. If you do AEC, healthcare, or financial proposals, you could develop industry specific content and approaches using MustWin Now. If you have innovating but proprietary ways of doing things that can benefit from using MustWin Now, we want to support that. Let's discuss the options On Thursday, October 10th, at 11am we're going to host an online meeting to network and discuss some of the possibilities. We'd love for you to join us. The meeting will be limited to 25 participants, so please use the button below to let me know of your interest and I will send you the access details. If you're interested but can't make it, let us know. Click here to reserve a seat at the table
  16. MustWin Now is a cloud app. We can add new features without you having to install or do anything. And we take requests. We currently have 49 tasks in our development queue, including some amazing things I wish I could discuss... September 2019 change log: Single users: Can now skip steps that require multiple users. Navigation: Made MustWin Now accessible via the PropLIBRARY main menu. This is much faster and more convenient since it’s visible from anywhere on the site. Navigation: Added buttons to advance to the next tool. Saves you a couple of clicks and keeps you in the workflow. Every click counts. User interface: Added the MustWin Now banner and changed the view to focus on the current proposal. Support: Added a setting so you can allow Tech Support to see your pursuits. We can’t see your proposals unless you invite us in. Added new payment method. Makes it easier to add users for companies that want to get the most out of MustWin Now. See the subscription page for details. We can migrate current subscribers, but we have to do it manually. It only makes sense to migrate if you want to add users, but we'll be glad to do it if you send a request. User request: Added feature to clone pursuits. Set up a baseline RFP, compliance matrix, and even content plan and now you can clone it. It’s useful for training and possibly proposals that always start from the same point. Content planning tool: Modified first step to show “No answers provided” when no Pursuit Capture Form input is received. This is better than a blank screen. Content planning tool: Added links from RFP text back to the Compliance Matrix tool. This is rarely needed but nice to have. Content planning tool: Made the instruction entry field wider so you can see more. Content planning tool: Changed the RFP full text expanding banners default so that they open displayed instead of hidden. RFP entry: Allow RFP heading numbers to duplicate when they are different requirement types. Fixed bug: Removed message "Validate this section is entered and linked correctly:" from appearing in content plans when not on a validation step.
  17. Each of these will be similar to the way we do our webinars. Only we’re going straight to the recording because going through registration and being available at the right day and time is becoming more and more difficult. And unnecessary. So these will be recorded. But they’ll also take advantage of other features in our online training capability. They’ll have exercises and quizzes. They’ll reference content from our library. You’ll earn points for taking them and they’ll show up on your transcript. Each course will be 2-3 hours in length. These are real online courses and not just recorded webinars. Click on the Training menu at the top of the page to see some of our other courses. These courses will only be available to PropLIBRARY Subscribers. If you are a current PropLIBRARY subscriber when they are released, they will be free of charge. You can get a subscription for as little as $295 plus $20/mo. For 4 courses adding up to 10-12 hours, that’s a pretty good value. When you add in the additional 23 hours of existing online courses, over 500 premium content items, and MustWin Now, it becomes an incredible value. We plan to start rolling them out in the next week or two… Developing an information advantage What you need to know to develop an information advantage Converting intel into an information advantage How an information advantage impacts your proposals and your win rate Bringing structure to the pre-RFP pursuit Introduction to question and answer driven business development Readiness Reviews How to build your proposal around what it will take to win Identifying what it will take to win Building what it will take to win into each section of the proposal Driving quality into your proposals Defining quality Building quality into proposal writing Validating quality after proposal writing
  18. This program is for people who want to build organizations that reliably win contracts. No. Let me rephrase. This program is for people who want to build their entire company around reliably winning contracts. This program is for people who want to grow by capturing the leads they chase, instead of chasing as many leads as they possibly can until they win something. This program is for people who are willing to invest because that’s necessary to achieve the highest levels of return. This program is for people who want to track their return on investment and bail on anything that’s not positive. So what is this program? It’s actually two programs. One is aimed at small businesses and is scaled to what they can afford. The other is aimed at established enterprises who need to reengineer their growth. It requires a larger investment but also produces a much better return. Both programs are limited to US Federal Government contractors. The MustWin Growth Program for Small Businesses. Helps you build the right foundation by helping you develop your staff and processes. If you do this after you've grown it will be like herding cats. This program is about laying the right foundation so that as your company grows, it grows healthy and without developing the bad habits that most established companies have. This version of the MustWin Growth Program costs about half as much as the one designed for larger enterprises that are reengineering their ability to win contracts. It’s the same ideas, only with our level of effort scaled down a bit, customer staff participation scaled up a bit, and tighter limits on the scope. The other version is designed to maximize return on investment. This version balances return on investment with the program cost. The MustWin Reengineering for Growth Program. For established companies that realize it’s time to reengineer their business development, capture, and proposal processes to get better at winning their pursuits. This happens from time to time at companies of every size. Sometimes it’s the result of turnover, and sometimes it’s a lack of process maturity catching up with it. This program is for companies that realize that it’s past the time to make improvements here or there, time to look at the broader picture of how they win new business, and time to get everyone on the same page regarding how to grow. In both programs You can expect that: We'll use all the resources of PropLIBRARY, including the MustWin Process and MustWin Now software to streamline the implementation and get everyone on the same page. We'll recommend processes for both the pre-RFP pursuit phase and the proposal phase to maximize your win rate. We'll have frequent teleconferences and online meetings to maintain progress to work with key stakeholders involved in business development, capture, and proposals. We'll support pursuit and proposal planning and quality assurance to get everyone on the same page and keep them there. We’ll help the staff you have become experts at winning. We’ll work with your executives to create a growth-oriented culture. We’ll help you phase in the processes you need instead of suddenly overwhelming people with burdensome structure. The processes we do implement will be innovative, highly practical, and take advantage of the streamlining that our online tool, MustWin Now, enables. We'll conduct a pipeline assessment to set targets and ROI goals for tracking, so we know exactly what numbers we need to hit for this program to be profitable. We intend to run it like a profit center and not as an expense. We'll provide lots of guidance and training to orient and guide staff through the process. We'll also provide forms, checklists, and templates for you to customize and brand as we implement the process. Every day we’ll make a little progress. Over the course of a year or so we’ll transform your company in a way that will have a lasting impact. What we don’t do is find your leads for you and interact directly with your customers. If you need it, a partner of ours offers a lead identification and sales plan program. If you need us to put pen to paper or provide hands-on help, we’ll provide it based on our hourly rate. We’re also willing to travel to provide training and onsite support, but in addition to reimbursement for travel and lodging, we charge by the day for this. We would rather develop your staff than burn billable hours, so you may not need our hands-on or onsite support. But we’re here for you if you need to fill gaps. Results matter When taken to its conclusion, the result of this program will be: A sustainable improvement in your win rate that more than covers the cost of the program. And then some. Improved business development, capture, and proposal processes. Staff who know how to execute those processes and are not dependent on us to keep them going. A corporate culture that recognizes growth as the source of all opportunity, and how each person supporting a pursuit can contribute to that growth. Let's discuss the details Use the button to start a conversation by email: Click here to send me a question Or use the widget below to get on my calendar for a telephone conversation so we can discuss whether we're a match.
  19. Proposal writing like these examples can turn a great proposal into one that is merely ordinary. You might not get fired for sounding just like everyone else, but it's also no way to win your proposals. I see these issues so frequently when I review proposals for companies that they are like clichés. The good news is that the opposite is also true. Learning how not to write like this can turn your good proposals into great proposals. Correcting bad habits like these can help your proposals stand out from the pack. More importantly, correcting bad habits like these can help you win. See also: Great Proposals Instead of reading my proposal, first read what’s going to be in my proposal. Before example: The following section discusses… It is followed by… And in conclusion… Just say what you have to say. Don’t redundantly say what you are going say, say it, and then say what you told them. It's annoyingly not helpful if you’re the proposal evaluator. Remember, people don’t read proposals, they score them. They want to go to one place to score what they are evaluating. Not three places that overlap. Focus on making sure you put things where the customer expects to find them. After example: ABC Corp brings [results] to [customer] by [proof]. We do exactly what’s required. You should pick us. Before example: ABC Corp is fully compliant with all RFP requirements. Here is how we meet each one… Doing the minimum does not make you the customer’s best alternative. Even in a low price, technically acceptable evaluation. If the customer picks you, it will not be because you were compliant with the RFP. If the customer picks you it will be because in addition to RFP compliance you offered more of what they want than your competitors, and did it in a way that translated into a higher proposal score. So being compliant, while required, is nothing to brag about. And definitely not all you should offer. After example: In addition to fully meeting all RFP requirements, ABC Corp… We exceed RFP compliance. Before example: ABC Corp exceeds the RFP requirements. Your claim to exceeding RFP compliance will not impact your proposal evaluation score. In fact, it will be ignored. The things you do that exceed RFP compliance might. Focus on them and not the claim. Exceeding compliance must be proven. And once proven, the claim no longer matters. Skip the claim and go straight to the proof. How much exceeding RFP compliance matters will directly depend on what the impact of it is. So make sure you demonstrate that the ways you exceed RFP compliance have an impact that matters. After example: By exceeding the requirement to [specification] through [proof], ABC Corp will [enable|deliver] [improvement] to [customer]. We do things our way, but if you think about it, it’s fully RFP compliant. Maybe even better. Before example: Our approach is… [in our own words, ignoring the RFP wording, but delivering something functionally similar]. If you are being evaluated according to the RFP, then the evaluation will not consider whether what you are saying is functionally equivalent to the RFP. If it is not what the RFP asked for, then it is not what the RFP asked for. Similar is not the same. The evaluators expect to find what the RFP requires, in the terms used by the RFP. Don’t say things the way you want to say them and arrogantly expect the customer to adapt to you and recognize your superiority. Put the effort into saying things the way the customer expects to hear them. Don’t make it difficult for them to score against the RFP by using wording that’s different from the RFP. Once their requirements are satisfied and the connection to those requirements is established, you can go beyond the RFP terminology in order to differentiate yours offering. After example: Our approach to [using RFP terminology] uses [features also using RFP terminology] to deliver [benefits]. The result is [benefits] because we [now that they’ve found their requirements satisfied you can exceed them or introduce new features or terminology to differentiate your offering]. We’re the incumbent, so of course we can do it. Before example: As the incumbent, ABC Corp will continue to meet all requirements. Whether you are capable is not the issue. It’s whether you outscore your competitors in your proposal. A statement that you are capable earns you no points during evaluation. Simply being the incumbent earns you no points. You must turn your incumbency into better approaches that deliver more value in order to beat your competitors. After example: As the incumbent, ABC Corp will be able to quickly incorporate requirement changes and turn our attention to making improvements instead of merely getting up to speed on the status quo. We’re beneficial. (Just like everyone else.) Before example: ABC Corp will complete all RFP requirements on time and within budget. Yawn. I’m sure no one else will offer being on time and within budget. Putting sarcasm aside, every single company who makes the competitive range will have shown they are capable of that. If your proposals talk about the benefits you deliver, that’s a good step towards better proposal writing. But it’s really just a first step. Do your benefits differentiate your proposal? Everyone is offering benefits. Probably the same ones. What benefits are you offering that no one else is or can offer? Differentiators are what really separate you from your competitors. So once you’ve started including benefits in your proposals, don’t stop until you have differentiated and compelling benefits. After example: In addition to completing all RFP requirements on time and within budget, as shown in [proof], ABC Corp will [differentiated benefit].
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
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