As companies grow, they go from figuring out how to close their sales as they go along to putting it in writing, to putting in writing in a more reliable way. They reach a point where their proposals are getting more and more complicated, the volume is increasing, and the value of the proposals is not only larger but more critical to the company. However, because they remain entrepreneurial they don't feel ready to slow down and focus on structure.
Consider the following company as an example:
- They do some government business, but are mostly B2B.
- Their market is becoming more heavily regulated and customers are passing on their compliance issues in their RFPs.
- They don’t do a good job of creating proposals that reflect their win strategies. A lot of their proposals consist mainly of recycled marketing materials.
- They hired someone to do their proposals and put them under the VP of Sales. It didn’t improve the quality.
- They don’t want or need a complicated process like the “government contractors” have.
My first reaction is that they have three problems going on at the same time:
- They need a process that will set expectations, manage the flow of information into the proposal, and help participants assess proposal quality as they go along.
- They need training in what a quality proposal is, and what is involved in producing one.
- They need to change their culture. They need to evolve how they view sales to reflect the changes in their market and develop their organization from one where customer relationships are about taking orders to one that is more solutions oriented.
But where should they start?
The best, obviously, would be to do all three. But what if they can only do one? They could hire someone to come in and do training. But while that will improve overall awareness, it won’t give them a process that is right for them and ready to implement. A better approach is coaching, but while that will increase the expertise available, they’ll still need to develop their process.
By embedding training in the process they can start there. The right process will also embed expectation management and help participants understand what information is needed to win a proposal. This will begin the process of changing how the organization views sales.
You don’t create a proposal function and implement a new process that impacts other departments in a single step. It’s better to start simple and increase the sophistication over time. But where do you start? What is the least amount of process you can get away with?
To understand this, you have to change how you think about process. It’s not about steps. You don’t start with fewer steps and add more over time. Instead, it’s about starting out with the right principles and improving your ability to fulfill them over time.
The basic requirements for a winning process
What is the bare minimum that you need from a proposal process? Here is a list that can get you started:
- Start the proposal with the information required to win it.
- Define quality as a proposal that reflects what it will take to win.
- Be able to articulate what it will take to win.
- Turn what it will take to win into instructions for writers and criteria for reviewers.
- Start with a compliance matrix to plan your content and evolve into ever more detailed Proposal Content Planning.
- Review what was written to ensure that it reflects the compliance matrix/Content Plan as well as what it will take to win.
The ramifications of each of these items will guide future improvement efforts.
To simplify the process even further, simply remove items from the list. Take a look and see which items can be deleted. If you can find any.
To implement the process, start by doing things according to the list. In order to set expectations, you’ll need to document the process. Forget formal process language or telling people every little detail. Start with what goals to achieve and questions to answer. Give them checklists, examples, and suggestions for inspiration.
Each time you successfully prepare a proposal using this approach, raise the bar. Improve your approach. If you run into problems or challenges, then focus on applying the principles to solving them.
If you want to cheat, you can just use our process library. Then skip most of it. Just pick out the items that you are ready for. If you read up on the MustWin Process, you’ll know how sophisticated it can get. But you don’t have to start there. You can use it to define and clarify your goals and accelerate the implementation. And then when you are ready to raise the bar, you can add more. If you need help implementing it, we can even come out and do the training or provide you with coaching. But you can also use it without paying for any help. Think of it as a huge toolbox that will make it much easier to improve the quality of your proposals.
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.