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

Should you put more emphasis on fixing mistakes on the back end, or on preventing mistakes from being made in the first place?

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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 win probability. How well you plan the content before you start writing has more to do with whether you win than having proposal reviews.

Planning the content of your proposal before you write it is about preventing mistakes in the first place. Reviews are about catching mistakes after they have been made. 

Relying on reviews means trying to fix the proposal by writing and re-writing until you run out of time and submit what you have instead of what it should have been. 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.

How can you have an effective review if you haven’t thought through what should go in your proposal? And why would you wait until the review to think that through?

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

  • How should the proposal be organized?
  • What are your win strategies?
  • What should you emphasize?
  • How should you present it?
  • What trade-offs do you face and how should they be handled?
  • Have you accounted for everything needed to reflect what it will take to win?
  • What do you need to do to achieve the highest evaluation score?

Reviewing that you've got these things right is vital and the time to do that review is before people turn it into a narrative draft. If you've done that, reviewing the wording of the draft is secondary. Instead of thinking of the red team as the most important proposal review, you should start thinking about the review of the content plan prior to the start of proposal writing as the most important proposal review.

So why is it that there are far more companies that jump straight into writing and then try to fix it with reviews, than companies that carefully plan the content? Maybe it’s because it’s a lot harder to achieve a good, reliable content planning methodology than it is to get some people to read the proposal and give you their opinions of it.

The best way to win proposals is to put the emphasis on content planning and the review of your 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 mistakes or deviations from the plan.

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. Those criteria define what it will take to win. Doing a proposal without them is like not even trying to win.

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 in the hope that both groups will somehow stumble across what the proposal should be before the deadline is not a good 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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More information about "Carl Dickson"

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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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