Proposal management myths that are killing your win rate

Are these myths destroying your competitiveness?

In most companies, proposal development is the most immature part of the company. But they don’t realize it because they’ve bought into myths that enable them to think all that work they’ve put in amounts to more sophistication than it really does. Often what they do is different from what they say they do. Because of the myths that people have bought into, management practices that would not be tolerated in any other part of the company become expected as the norm in proposal management.

These are not all of the myths, but some with implications that less obvious and more interesting. If I keep writing to address the rest of the proposal myths, it will likely fill (another) book.
Myth: Successful assignment completion is defined by meeting deadlines

See also:
Proposal Management

A.K.A.: Your assignment is to complete this section by this deadline. 

If you ask someone to complete a section by a deadline that becomes their job and that is what they will focus on. That deadline could be a review it could be the final deadline or any milestone in between, but the way they measure their progress and performance is by completion. And completion is measured by how much ink is on the page and not by the impact on win probability. 

Their real goal ends up being getting the proposal out of the way. And this seeps into the corporate culture, resulting in people seeing the proposal as an interruption, an exception, and not part of their real jobs. When their job is completion, it becomes somebody else's job to win. It also makes the writer the person who determines what completion means and what a good enough response is. 

When people understand their assignments to be fulfilling certain quality criteria by the deadline, then that is what they will set out to do. Those criteria must define successful accomplishment and should define how you will determine whether they’ve created a proposal based on what it will take to win. This puts the onus on you to do a good job of defining the quality criteria. But the real advantage is that people are working to accomplish goals that are measurable and are based on winning. They are not simply trying to get the proposal out of the way.

Myth: Everyone wants to win

If everyone is trying to win and everybody knows what that means, then why do so many proposal experiences turn bad? 

Everybody says they are trying to win the proposal when they make contributions, and yet some people merely do what they've been told. Some not even that.

Everybody says they are trying to win the proposal and yet the proposal is clearly not the top priority for some people.

The people who are there to win are the ones who are participating in the discussions about what it will take to win. Those who are listening are not contributing. There are many possible reasons for this. 

Everyone does want to win. But some will be a part of making that happen, while others are there because it’s their job and believe that that job does not including figuring it all out. You may (or may not) get what you ask for out of them, but you can’t rely on them to be absolutely competitive in writing. They aren’t even trying to figure out what that means.

Myth: Proposal writers should follow the RFP

While the RFP may be the single written truth defining the requirements, it’s not enough to write a great proposal. And yet it’s often all proposal writers are given to work from. This results in bad solutions as well as bad proposal writing. Your opinion about what a good solution is or what good proposal writing is does not matter. Only the customer’s opinion matters. 

You need to know the customer’s goals, preferences, and reasons for why they wrote the RFP the way they did if you are going to write a proposal that the customer thinks is great. To understand how to make the trade-offs the way the customer would like them made, you need to build your solution and presentation on more than just what’s in the RFP. It helps to have customer and competitive intelligence, but guessing at what the customer prefers so you can attempt to write from their perspective is better than nothing. Just don’t expect each proposal writer to do this on their own. The entire team needs guidance and to share the same customer insights. People working on proposals should follow the customer’s perspective, and the RFP is only part of divining that.

Myth: To follow the proposal process, you have to follow the steps

The proposal process doesn’t lend itself to steps. This is the nice way of saying any proposal process based on following steps will break in practice. But it would be the wrong approach to take even if it could be made to work because you can’t be competitive when people simply do the steps the way they’ve been told. You want people to seek out what it will take to win and then adapt their approaches to deliver it. And what it will take to win changes with every new customer, set of evaluation criteria, group of evaluators, and change in the competitive environment.

If instead of spoon-feeding people steps to follow you give them goals to accomplish then they have to actually apply themselves. The proposal process should be about accomplishment. It should define all the things you need to accomplish in order to create a proposal based on what it will take to win. Some of this work is done in sequential steps, and some not. But it is not the steps that matter, it is what gets accomplished.

People will, of course, try to skip steps. But if they can do that then you have not set the goals correctly. You can also offer your process, steps, and techniques in ways that enable people to accomplish the goals more quickly and with better quality. Because if your steps aren’t enabling people to work faster and better, then maybe they shouldn't be following those steps.
Takeaways

The way you give your proposal assignments determines what you get back. Merely giving writers a section and an RFP will not reliably produce competitive proposals.

The way you measure progress, performance, and completion has a profound impact on how well people work. When they are working on a proposal, these things have a big impact on your win rate. 

Powering through is not the best way to be competitive. People need more than tasks, steps, and deadlines to perform well.

If you go beyond just handing out an RFP, give people the right guidance, and get them involved in the act of winning, then they can power through to become champions. 
 

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

 

Or click below to get on my calendar to talk by phone

1379112773_0_30minutemeeting.webp?_cb=16

Access to premium content items is limited to PropLIBRARY Subscribers

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. 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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

Proposal Help Desk
Contact us for assistance
In addition to PropLIBRARY's online resources, we also provide full-service consulting for when you're ready to engage one of our experts.

It all starts with a conversation. You can contact us by clicking the button to send us a message, or by calling 1-800-848-1563.