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What you need for an effective proposal management process

Are you expecting the wrong things from your proposal process?

Most people who want to win contracts realize they need a proposal management process. An unfortunate percentage think they have a proposal process when they really just have a way of doing things. But what really messes companies up is that they have the wrong goals for their proposal management process. Sometimes their process even works against what they should be trying to achieve.

Here are 8 things that people often want from a proposal management process:

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  1. Lowering costs and increasing efficiency. Proposal efficiency is a bit counter-intuitive.  A proposal function is efficient when it hits its maximum win rate and not when it gets the maximum productivity out of the fewest resources. The reason is that wins are profitable and cost reductions tend to bring fewer wins. You achieve the best return on your proposal investment when you win the most of what you bid and not when the proposal function is the lowest cost. In fact, lowering the cost at the expense of win rate ensures that you will get less profitability out of the proposal function. A proposal management process that maximizes win rate is very different in both design and implementation from one that minimizes proposal effort and cost. Instead of implementing a proposal management function with the goal of making the proposal require less effort, try focusing on winning everything you bid. Do the math. This will provide much more funds to get help for overworked staff than you could possibly save by cutting costs at the expense of win rate.
  2. Guidance. It is better to think of the proposal management process as guidance than as an assembly line. A proposal management process shows people what they need to know, when they need to know it, so they can win in writing. The key is that they need to be shown how to do the things that need to be done. 
  3. Repeatability. The reason we want repeatability in the proposal management process is to keep people from making it up as they go along. It also prevents you from being locked into a “proposal hero” who determines what to do, only usually at the last minute with great disruption. If your proposal management process can only be executed by a single person, then you don’t really have a process. Repeatability is not about creating an assembly line to crank out your proposals. Repeatability in the proposal process is about institutionalizing the things that lead to a high win rate.
  4. Quality assurance. How do you know whether the proposal reflects what it will take to win? If you leave it up to an experienced person, you can never grow beyond that person. The proposal management process should define proposal quality and enable anyone to know what to do to achieve it and assess whether they have.
  5. Progress measurement. Is it done yet? How about now? When will you finish writing that section? Questions like these are important and surprisingly difficult to answer. A proposal management process lays out the planning, writing, and quality assurance checkpoints. A good proposal management process lays them out with clever, objective ways to assess progress against the plan. Knowing the status of the proposal is vital to prevent a proposal from getting into trouble.
  6. Risk mitigation. A proposal management process ensures that you identify and mitigate the risks in bidding and of losing. Leaving this up to people in the moment means, well, increasing your risks. Risks that aren’t mitigated destroy your win rate, ruin your profitability, and kill your customer relationships. But aside from that, don’t worry about them.
  7. Scalability and adaptability. The proposal management process for a one week turnaround mid-value RFP should be exactly the same as a one month turnaround high-value strategic RFP. You don’t need two processes. You need a process that scales. The things you need to do to build a proposal around what it will take to win are the same no matter what the size or schedule. The amount of effort you put into a proposal, the delegation of authority, and the number and type of staff assigned will change.  But the process itself doesn’t have to. In addition, the order that things happen in will change. RFP amendments can break any flowchart driven process. But if you build your processes on goals instead of steps you can have scalable levels of effort with a single process that scales and adapts. The proposal process is not about steps. It never plays out the same way twice. It is about achieving goals.
  8. Win rate improvement. To achieve maximum ROI, this will need to be the top goal of your proposal management process. If win rate improvement is important to you, you’ll want a process that enables you to discover what it will take to win, build a proposal around it, and then validate that your work on the proposal reflects it. This is what the MustWin Process is designed to do for PropLIBRARY Subscribers. You will need to be able to track your success with these things to correlate what has the most impact on your win rate so that you can focus more on it. And doing this tracking will enable you to direct your resources to the things that improve win rate the most. You’ll find you're focusing less on having “proposal heroes” and producing lots of cheap proposals with a low win rate, and instead focusing on maximizing your return by having enough resources to achieve a high win rate. 

You can have all of these things. But they can’t all be your top priority. And you really need to be careful about whether your goal is to lower costs or to increase win rate. A small increase in win rate will provide a much larger return than any cost reduction you can squeeze out of the proposal process. This is why we designed the MustWin Process for PropLIBRARY Subscribers around discovering what it will take to win and then building your proposal around it. 

If you are creating your proposal management process, or if you are updating or reengineering the one you’ve had, then don’t start by planning out the steps. Start by figuring out what the goals should be. You’ll be surprised how challenging it is and how many different points of view your stakeholders will have on the topic. What we’ve discovered at companies we’ve implemented the MustWin Process at is that simply getting everyone on the same page regarding the goals of the proposal process makes a profound impact.

People focus their proposal processes too much on what to do than on what they should accomplish. Once you get everyone on the same page regarding what the goals for your proposal management process should be the steps will work themselves out.


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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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