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Are you missing the two most important ingredients for transitioning from sales, business development and capture to proposal writing?

Winning proposals depends on getting this transition right

Most proposals are lost before the RFP is released. When you haven’t discovered what it will take to win and all you have to go by is what’s in the RFP, you are starting from a competitive disadvantage. You want to be the other company. The one that is starting from a competitive advantage.

But even when you have staff “looking into it,” “researching it,” “chasing the lead,” “marketing the customer,” or whatever else you want to call it and doing it ahead of RFP release, most companies fail because their efforts don’t deliver what is needed to write a winning proposal. They try hard to gather what they think will be useful, but it turns out to be mostly disconnected from the proposal.

The handoff from business development to the proposal often takes place in meetings. Sometimes there is no tangible handoff. It's all talk. With a very low signal to noise ratio. Sometimes you get slides from progress meetings.  When you do have a dedicated capture effort, the handoff is often a report or a capture plan. Putting together a list of high-level theme statements that aren’t tied to anything that impacts the evaluation criteria and calling it a day is not going to help you win.

Pre-RFP briefing slides and capture plans are usually not prepared for winning the proposal. They are prepared to justify the pursuit. That subtle distinction becomes important when you sit down to write the proposal. And while most capture plans address why we think we can win, they often skip how to build the proposal around it. Most business development and capture efforts amount to we think we can win and the proposal team will figure out how. In isolation. I know because I’ve parachuted in to try to rescue companies in this position way too many times.

What’s missing?

See also:
Information Advantage

The reasons most information gathered before the proposal starts never impacts the proposal are because:

  1. The information you gather before the RFP is released is not mapped to the proposal outline. When you don't do this, your message will tend to be at too high a level and it will leave gaps. You think you’ve identified hot buttons. But they amount to “the customer isn’t happy with quality” or “the customer likes us” and oh by the way, there is no section in the RFP to specifically address what you have, no evaluation criteria relevant to it, and the proposal team has no idea what to do about any of it. Should they make things up or ignore them? If it’s not tied to the outline, it’s not clear where to talk about it or what to say about it.
  2. You gather information but you don't provide instructions for proposal writers on what to say and do about it. Most companies assume that proposal writers can take some raw intel and win a proposal with it. If the proposal writers can find the right place to work it in and know why it matters, that might be true. But usually it’s just not that clear.  That may explain why most companies have such a low win rate. They think they are trying really hard, and they are. They just aren’t working effectively.

Without both of these, your win rate drops. Gathering information is not enough.

It’s understandable how this happens

There is no outline or evaluation criteria during the pre-RFP business development and capture phases. People have to gather intel and do their work without knowing what the outline will be. They have little control over what intel they’ll be able to find. Their mission is to prospect for that intel and not to work within the proposal structure that doesn’t even exist yet.

But if they don’t roll their sleeves up and map their contributions to the outline after RFP release, then they haven’t completed what is needed from them to close the sale with a win. The people who have direct insight about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment must explain how to use those insights and not assume that writers can take high-level ambiguous statements not specifically related to anything in the proposal and somehow create a winning proposal out of them. They must map their insights to specific proposal sections in the context of the evaluation criteria for their efforts to impact whether they win.

It can be done

Doing all this is not easy. I didn’t even realize how important it is until I built MustWin Now and integrated pre-RFP intelligence with the compliance matrix function. In MustWin Now customer, opportunity, and competitive insights are easy to gather in a useful form. With just a few clicks users convert the raw intel into instructions for proposal writers that explain what to say or do about the intel. Then, as soon as the RFP hits the street, the instructions get added to the compliance matrix. The result is that when writers first see their sections they not only see the RFP requirements, but they also see the intel that’s relevant to their section along with what they should do about it. It makes it look easy to create proposals based on effective, validated pre-RFP intel and win strategies

But try doing it manually. Try doing it on paper. It’s not so easy. It’s just necessary

You can and should manually convert your intel into instructions for proposal writers. You can and should manually map it all to the proposal as part of building your compliance matrix. You can and should create section plans for writers so that they know what they are supposed to write before they write it.

But you probably won’t. Even though you already know you should.

My favorite part about using MustWin Now is watching people just figure out their win strategies and incorporate them into their sections without realizing what a huge accomplishment it is. They probably don’t even realize that their competitors are struggling with it, trying really hard, and ultimately not being that effective. That sounds kind of negative. But look at their win rates…

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

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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