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I was today years old when I learned what proposal management should really focus on

Hint: Following the steps in the process and providing procedural oversight is not the top priority

Proposal management is not just about implementing the proposal process. Procedural oversight is an archaic view of the primary role of management. Proposal management should be about accomplishing the goal of submitting a winning proposal. Having a process does support that goal, but a more important part is looking beyond the process to what is required for people to be successful and guiding them to achieve it. Proposal management is more about things like training and problem solving than it is about procedural oversight.

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Proposal training itself is about a lot more than just procedural training. By default we think of training as learning what to do. We always seem to want to start with Step 1. But the reality is that proposals aren’t really a developed in a series of sequential steps. Proposal training needs to cover expectation management, issue resolution, and seeing things from the customer’s perspective as much as it should cover the proposal lifecycle.

When it comes to proposals, “what to do” is fifth in line even though it’s often the first thing people ask for. Ahead of it should be:

  1. What are the goals? Developing great proposals is best done through a series of accomplishing goals instead of following steps. Understanding the goal people are trying to accomplish is more important than which procedures they follow to accomplish it. This is because it is completely possible to follow procedures and not achieve any of the goals.
  2. What to expect from each other. You can’t fulfill stakeholder expectations if you don’t know what they are. This is the basis for how people work together and not the “steps” in the process.
  3. How to prepare. Being able to get the right information in the right format so that you can turn it into a plan before you start writing will do more to ensure success than any skills you might have at writing. The most highly skilled proposal writers in the world will lose to highly skilled proposal writers who are better prepared. Every time.
  4. How to validate that you did it correctly. Most proposal writing is… ordinary. Ordinary is not competitive. Most proposal writers can’t define proposal quality. Think the two might be connected? Learning how to define proposal quality criteria, use them as guidance for writing, use them for self-assessment, and use them to validate that what was written is what it should be will do more to ensure success than clever wordsmithing.
  5. What to do to accomplish the goal. What can be done? What options are there? What must be done? What must be done in a particular way? Proposal procedures can be accelerators that prevent people from having to figure out what to do to accomplish the goals. Presented this way, people more readily accept steps and procedures. But what is important is achieving the goals and not procedural compliance.

The doing part of proposals becomes straightforward when you first understand the four things that come before that doing. And to the extent that you have a proposal process, it should do these things first, before tasking people with assignments. The management of proposals is practically built in when you have goals, expectations, preparation, and validation in place before the doing.

The challenge for proposal contributors is learning what goals to accomplish, what is expected, how to prepare before writing, and how to validate proposal quality. This should be the focus of proposal management and proposal training. Give me someone who has learned these things and we can win. Give me someone who has not learned these things and we’ll be able to submit… something.

The good news is you don’t have to deliver hours of training for each of these before you start. You just need to communicate things and give people handy checklists and reminders:

Proposal management after the fact without these things is just complaining and attempting to fix things that shouldn’t have shown up broken. Proposal management with these things is competitive. It’s managing to win instead of managing to submit.

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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, 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.

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