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Why making proposals efficient is so counter-intuitive

People tend to make the wrong assumptions

What drives the efficiency of the proposal process is not what you think. 

  • It’s not how quickly you can crank out your proposals
  • It’s not how much time you put into producing the document
  • It’s not what causes a train wreck at the end of the proposal, or what can fix it
  • It’s not how easily you can recycle your previous proposal content
  • It’s not any of the things people complain about when working on proposals

Losing efficiently is counter-productive. Putting effort into change in order to improve efficiency is counter-intuitive. But it has the biggest payoff, by far, because it will increase you win rate instead of lowering it.

Doing proposals efficiently and effectively requires understanding what consumes the most effort

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Proposal formatting takes a tiny amount of time compared to everything else that needs to be done to complete a proposal. While you might be able to make formatting more efficient, the effort saved will be small, the cost saved will be hardly noticeable, and more importantly it will not likely increase your win rate or result in more revenue.  The ROI could even be negative if you spend money to achieve the “savings.”

Proposal writing takes significant time. And while it can be reduced, it’s best achieved through planning and not through win rate destroying content reuse. it’s also not the largest source of wasted time. The largest source of wasted time in proposal development is the time spent rewriting. And talking in circles. 

Rewriting happens when you create a draft, don’t like it, and keep rewriting it hoping to trip over the proposal you want before the deadline. It is the number one cause of proposals using up all the time available. And it is unnecessary.

Talking in circles happens when you don’t have a plan and you keep talking around what should go into the proposal. It often occurs in tandem with rewriting, with each draft cycle bringing up the same exact topics and the same words triggering a new draft cycle.

People focus on formatting and content reuse because it's easy to see how to make them more efficient. They often ignore the bigger problem of eliminating rewriting because they simply don't know how to do that. As a result, they often spend money to reduce the smallest slices of the pie instead of putting effort into cutting the big pieces by half.

If you want to have a material impact on your proposal costs, make proposals easier, and do it while also increasing your win rate, eliminating rewriting is the challenge you need to overcome. And you won’t overcome it by trying to do less. If you reduce proposal effort in a way that lowers your win rate, you will be reducing your ROI instead of increasing it.

How to make proposals more efficient

To overcome this challenge you must try to do things once. In order to do things once:

  • You need to start with an information advantage. If you don’t start the proposal with the right inputs so you can articulate what it will take to win, you will not discover it by writing and rewriting. Making it up as you go along leads to excess draft cycles that are  doomed from the start. Making it up as you go along also reduces win rate by watering down your response as you settle for “good enough.” Starting with the right inputs may require some investment before the proposal starts. It certainly requires investing in thinking through the proposal before you make the big investment of writing it. 
  • You need an approach to planning your proposal content before writing it. This will have more impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of your efforts than anything else you do. This is because it is the best tool you’ve got to reduce draft cycles. It’s also your best tool for driving your win strategies onto paper, leading to increases in your win rate.
  • You need the right approach to quality assurance. How do you define and measure proposal quality? If you don’t do either one, it will lead to excess draft cycles that may never end because there is no definition for what the end state should be. If writers don’t know what the reviewers will be looking for, it will lead to unnecessary draft cycles when they are surprised and sent in a new direction. Defining quality and having written quality criteria gives your writers a rubric that reduces draft cycles. Just having someone read a draft of your proposal and tell you if they think it’s any good is not enough to provide quality assurance.
A subscription to PropLIBRARY gives you solutions for the challenges you face in proposal development. A subscription to PropLIBRARY addresses each of the recommendations in this article. It identifies the inputs you need to be prepared to plan your proposal. It shows you how to plan the content in way that makes writing quicker and easier. Most importantly, PropLIBRARY shows you how to maximize ROI by achieving a higher win rate.

Getting your proposal right on the very first draft

Doing things once means knowing you’re doing the right thing in each step before you start. Reviews become an exercise in confirming that you got it right instead of random subjective commenting. Getting your proposal right on the first draft means your writers must know what they must accomplish before they start. Getting your proposal right on the first draft does not mean that there won’t be edits to be made. It means that you will have the right offering presented with the right strategies and no topics unaccounted for. 

The best way to achieve proposal efficiency is not by emulating an assembly line. The best way to achieve proposal efficiency is to stop thinking through your proposal by writing and rewriting until you’ve figured it out. Think first. Then write. 

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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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