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What's the difference between planning your proposal process and planning your proposal content?

Your win rate might be suffering because you have your priorities backward.

Why do companies only have one proposal process? Planning the activity is not the same as planning the content of the proposal. 

The activities that go into the proposal process include things like:

See also:
Content Planning Box
  • A kickoff meeting
  • Building a compliance matrix
  • Proposal writing
  • Proposal reviews
  • Final production
  • Etc.

You could claim that proposal content planning should be a step between the outline and the start of proposal writing, but while that is sometimes claimed, it is rarely achieved. It might have something to do with it being more than just a step.

You could claim that your review process is how you assess your proposal content plan. But if there is no content plan to review, that’s a weak claim. Reviewing the document content or a draft is not the same as having a plan for what that content will be and assessing that plan before you write it. The review process is the heart of the proposal process. But it is merely the conclusion of creating a Proposal Content Plan.

What makes having a Proposal Content Plan so important?

Planning your proposal content is a combination of:

  • Gathering your knowledge about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment
  • Figuring out what to offer and how to differentiate and position it against all these topics
  • Determining your strategies for winning
  • Discovering what it will take to win 
  • Determining not just what to say, but how to present it
  • Articulating it all as guidance for writers
  • Determining how to meet the customer’s expectations 
  • Allocating it to the document and tailoring it to fit
  • Etc.

These are predominantly conceptual, non-sequential, non-tangible, but absolutely vital. They are way too important to assume that people will just do them, without guidance or validation. And it is a bit silly to assume that people can just start writing a proposal without doing them.

You may have a proposal process, but you also need a process for planning the content of your proposals.

Proposal priorities matter

If you were going to skip one, it would be safer to skip the process than it would be to skip planning the content of your proposals. And if your proposal content plan doesn’t address all of the bullets above, you don’t have a content plan. You may have an outline. But an outline is not a plan for winning the proposal. A proposal process is not a plan for winning a proposal. It is a plan for completing a proposal. Winning is determined by the content. A Proposal Content Plan is what you do to prepare to win the proposal.

Then what is proposal management?

Proposal management is the techniques you use to implement the proposal process. It includes things like:

  • Stakeholder engagement and expectation management
  • Proposal scheduling
  • Proposal assignment and progress tracking
  • Coordination and communication
  • Proposal risk mitigation and issue resolution
  • Production across the proposal lifecycle
  • Herding cats

But if your proposal process does not address Proposal Content Planning, then your proposal management approach is about producing a document and not winning it. 

How do you maximize your proposal return on investment (ROI)?

Planning the content of your proposals makes writing your proposals easier. What’s hard is figuring out how to plan the content and herding the cats to get there. However, a tiny increase in your proposal win rate makes that effort insanely profitable. So much so, that your company needs to justify NOT doing it, and not the other way around. Look at the lists above. What do you think the win rate will be if you don’t do even one of the bullets for proposal content planning?

  • If your approach is to crank proposals out and hope that some of them win, you need a proposal process and maybe someone to lead the production effort.
  • If your approach is to crank proposals out and do a good job of it, you need a proposal process and a proposal manager. However, good is usually not enough to be number one. Your win rate will suffer.
  • If your approach to proposal development is to seek the maximum ROI, you’ll need a proposal process, an approach to Proposal Content Planning that incorporates what it will take to win into the document in a way that can be validated after the document is written, and a proposal manager or pursuit strategist who spends as much time obsessing over how to guide people to prepare the right content as gets spent obsessing over the production after it is written.


How to solve the challenges holding down your win rate. PropLIBRARY premium content addresses the entire proposal process, shows you how to do successful proposal content planning, and can help you improve your proposal management techniques. A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks the premium content you need to implement our recommendations and increase your ROI.
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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.

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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