12 fundamental problems you have to solve to prepare great proposals

Plus many links to our tips and the solutions we recommend

Instead of looking at preparing proposals as a process, try looking at it as solving problems. A "process" implies steps. Proposal development is reactive, so processes based on steps tend to fail. But solving the problems you will face in preparing a proposal implies the process. The problems you face also imply the goals you should have. Most companies that think they have a proposal process still spend their time solving problems. So looking at those problems in an organized way can help you be better prepared to create your proposal.

Here are a dozen proposal problems that are fundamental. There are hundreds of administrivia problems that come up. But they tend to fall under one of these. Solve these problems and you will be able to prepare great proposals. Of course, I have never seen any company, no matter how large, capable, or experienced, solve them all. But there is a clear difference between companies that have solutions in place for most of them and companies that do not. To help you along your journey, I have included links to the solutions and tips related to these problems that you'll find on PropLIBRARY.

See also:
Proposal Management
  1. How should you prepare before the RFP is released? If you think you know what’s in the RFP before you see it, you’re probably just enough wrong to lose. Starting your proposal before the RFP is released is both risky and necessary. The challenge is to understand those risks and mitigate them.  Solving how to prepare for your proposal ahead of RFP release is important. It is the only way to make it happen.
  2. How many resources do you need, and how should you organize and manage them? How much should you invest in your proposal? What management style and techniques should you use to manage the effort. There is no one-size fits-all approach that works for everyone. So solving how many people you need at your company for your proposals is key to being able to successfully prepare them.
  3. How should you manage risk and the inevitable issues that arise? You will make hundreds of trade-off decisions during your proposal. Each one represents a risk. Each one that you don’t make still represents a risk. What should you do to prevent the risks from causing your proposal to lose? Many of those risks will become issues. What will you do to track and resolve those issues? Is writing them down in a notebook really enough?
  4. What should happen immediately upon RFP release? Do you know what you'll do as soon as the RFP comes out? Or will you be making it up on the spot? Will you have a kickoff meeting? Do you have your resources and logistics ready to go? How long will it take to get your bid decision made? How much time will you lose before you even start?
  5. How do you get the inputs you need for the proposal? How many people will contribute to the proposal? How will you get their proposal input? When will you get their input? In what format do you need their input? Do you know what input you need? Will they be able to supply it? Can you ask for it ahead of time so they have time to gather what you need? 
  6. How do you produce an outline that fulfills everyone’s expectations and survives without being changed? Whose expectations matter the most? Is it the customer? What are the customer’s expectations? Or does someone at your company think they have a better idea? Do they? Should the writers be in control of the outline or should it be provided to them? Should the outline be based on an RFP compliance matrix? Don’t assume everyone sees the answers to these important questions the same way you do. Once you’ve got the answers then how do you get everyone to agree on the outline before they start writing? If you proceed without a formal decision regarding the outline that is difficult to change, the entire proposal is at risk of a disruptive outline change after writing starts. That kind of makes it important to get everyone on the same page regarding the outline.
  7. How do you figure out what to write before you start writing? An outline is not enough to guide the proposal writers to reliably produce a winning proposal. You need a plan for the content of the proposal, and you need it before the writing starts. Herding the cats into doing this is such a challenge that on most proposals people don’t even do it. There is no formal quality methodology on Earth that is based on “then smart people work really hard and just get it right.” If winning matters, you’ll put your heads together, overcome your resistance, and solve how you should plan the content of your proposal before you start writing it.
  8. How do you incorporate graphics and visual communication? Not only do you expect people to write something, but you want them to contribute to illustrating it as well? Don’t worry, you only need to include a lot of graphics and make your proposal visual if you want to win. You can create your graphics first and build the text around them, or you can write it and then illustrate it, so long as you end up with an effective message communicated visually.
  9. How do you incorporate contracts, pricing, and other stakeholder inputs? If the answer is that you write the proposal and then sprinkle them in, you can do better. If you are planning your content before you write it, that’s the best opportunity to solicit the maximum stakeholder input in a way that will not be disruptive. Pricing inputs can be so important to the text of the proposal, that some companies can build the proposal process around their pricing instead of the text.
  10. How do you validate the quality of your draft proposal? How do you know if the draft proposal is good enough? Is that just a matter of opinion? Whose? More importantly, how does the writer know whether it’s any good before it even gets to a review? What criteria define whether it’s good? What should the proposal writers be guided by? How you define quality matters. You can’t seek it or validate it if you can’t first define it. The procedures you use for validating the presence of proposal quality are less important than your ability to define it.
  11. How will you produce and submit the final proposal? Whether you are submitting electronic files or hardcopies, it has to get to the customer by their deadline. And because you don’t want to put all that effort into creating a great proposal only to lose in the last step, you should put some effort into it. So, making your final changes and packaging the proposal for delivery. Should you let that be a last minute rush, or force production to go according to plan with quality validation? What is your delivery plan? How many contingencies will you prepare for? How many backups will you have? When you spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in time preparing a proposal, it doesn’t make sense to sweat a couple of grand for duplicate or even triplicate deliveries.
  12. How should you use lessons learned, metrics, and measurements to improve your proposals? If you want to get better over time and increase your win rate, you have to change. Instead of being about reporting, brainstorming, or sharing, lessons learned meetings must be about change or they will have no impact. Do your meetings focus on the wrong lessons learned? So how is each stakeholder going to change to improve the next proposal? The best answers to that question will be data driven. What changes have the most impact on your win rate? You can’t rely on the experience of experts for this because your circumstances will be different from their experience. Instead, you should track the correlation between changes and your win rate over time. Try calculating what the impact of a 10% win rate improvement would be to your company. Then put that much effort into metrics, measurements, and win rate analytics. 
     

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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. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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