Why proposals are the tail that wags the dog

When you sit down to write a proposal, you start asking questions so that you know what to write. Inevitably you ask questions that can’t be answered, but that could have been answered had they occurred to you earlier. At the tail end of the process, proposals tell you what you should have been doing all along.

When you sit down and write the proposal, you describe your approaches and what you will do if you are selected. This is where one little writer, often at a junior level, can change how the company does things and interacts with its customers. What gets said in the proposal can impact how the company approaches things like quality, transparency, oversight, partnership, collaboration, etc.

When you sit down and write the proposal, you need to create bid strategies, put things in context, and position the company and offering. Unless there is direction from The Powers That Be telling how the company should be positioned in the marketplace, the proposal teams usually make it up based on what they think they need to say to win a particular RFP.

One of the most important reasons for executives to be involved in proposals before they get written is to prevent the proposal team from reinventing strategy or just making it up to fill perceived gaps. If you don’t tell the team how they should position the company, they’ll figure something out themselves.

For the staff involved, it can be a really rewarding experience. It’s fun just being involved in the thinking process and helping to articulating the company's strategies when you normally aren’t experienced enough to even be in the room for those kind of discussions. That basically is what drives the career of a proposal specialist.

But if you are The Powers That Be, do you really want people who probably got assigned to the proposal because they were unimportant enough to be available redefining the company’s identity?

Then again, you might embrace this. We’ve worked with several companies to help them become more strategic and used their proposals as catalysts to raise the issues and make sure that new approaches actually get implemented.

When your proposal review process is based on waiting until a draft is written and then correcting it, you often get a train wreck because the team made up strategies that are in conflict with what The Powers That Be have in mind, but didn’t make part of the proposal plan before the writing started. The approach we recommend for Proposal Content Planning gives you an opportunity to drive this into the proposal from the beginning. It turns proposals into vehicles for strategy implementation. But while the opportunity is there, it’s up to the company to take it.

Proposals give your company an opportunity to look at what it will take to win new business, what kind of business you want to be, and how you want to be positioned. Planning what should go into the proposal before you write it gives you a way to make sure that the writing reflects those strategies and positions.

If your company is not as strategic as you would like it to be, or isn’t doing a good job of positioning to win, you can use a series of proposals to change all that. If you need help, let us know.



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

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.
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