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Why planning the content of your proposal is more important than reviewing it

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Content planning box

Everyone acknowledges the importance of having proposal reviews if you want to win. What most people don’t realize is that reviews are not the most important thing you can do if you want to improve your proposal quality and your probability of winning. How well you plan the content before you start writing has more to do with whether you win than having proposal reviews.

It comes down to a choice between knowing what you are doing, or checking it after the fact. Reviews are about catching mistakes after they have been made. Planning the content of your proposal before you write it is about preventing mistakes in the first place.

Relying on reviews means trying to fix the proposal by writing and re-writing. If you review without defining what the proposal is supposed to be in sufficient detail for the writers to act on it, you are doomed to running out the clock without ever being satisfied you have the winning proposal. You can’t have an effective review if you haven’t thought through what should go in your proposal.

When you plan the content of your proposal, you make all the critical decisions like:

  • How should the proposal be organized?
  • What are your win strategies?
  • What should you emphasize?
  • What trade-offs do you face and how should they be handled?
  • What do you need to do to have the highest evaluation score?

If you’re going to review anything, that’s what you want to review. Reviewing the wording is secondary.

So why is it that there are far more companies that jump straight into writing and have a review, than companies that carefully plan the content but skip the reviews? Obviously doing both is better, but isn’t it curious how lopsided it is? Maybe it’s because it’s easier to get away with a bad review methodology than it is to get away with a bad content planning methodology. It is also much harder to achieve a good, reliable content planning methodology — especially one that can be implemented by other people.

The best way to win proposals is to put the emphasis on content planning, and then review the content plan. The review that happens later, after the draft is written, is mainly to make sure that the writers stuck to the plan. Reviewing the content plan is more important than reviewing the draft. You review the content plan to make sure the proposal will win. You review the draft to fix typographical errors and mistakes.

When you approach it this way, the writers and the reviewers all get the same set of criteria to use in assessing the quality of the proposal. Those criteria are incredibly important and what you should make the focus of your effort, struggles, and debate.

When you approach it the other way, and focus on reviewing the draft proposal, you risk getting a proposal that was written without thinking through what it will take to win, assessed by reviewers who have not thought through what it will take to win. Differences are bound to happen. Re-writing the proposal until both groups stumble across what the proposal should be is not the way to consistently create quality proposals.

If that is how you are operating, then the best way to fix it is to change the emphasis from reviewing the draft to reviewing the plan. If the powers that be insist on reviewing the draft instead of the plan, then slip this article under their door. They have some explaining to do.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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