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Writing (and winning!) a proposal with the staff you have instead of the staff you need

Things you can do to get the most out of the staff you have to work with

Not only will you never have enough people to help write and produce a proposal, but many of the ones you do have will be inexperienced. You need to get the most out of what you’ve got to work with. Sometimes this means that instead of best practices and a great proposal, you need to figure out how you're going to be able to submit anything with the staff you have to work with. And hope you can still win. Maybe your proposed price will be low.

Basic things you can do to improve your chances

See also:
Dealing with adversity
  • Anticipate everything an inexperienced proposal writer is going to mess up and have questions about. Don’t just think about the procedures. They won’t already know what the goals should be and you can’t afford for them to get stuck. They won’t know how to structure their response or what points to make. They won’t know what the expectations are. Keeping them from wandering around in the dark will save a lot of time.
  • Make sure people can fulfill their assignments. It will help tremendously if you have practical guidance you can give those contributing to the proposal effort. It will also help if you take the time to detail your proposal assignments. Most proposal assignments come with failure built into them. If you just pass out an outline, you’re setting yourself up for a bad proposal experience. Detailing your proposal assignments means telling people what they need to succeed with their assignment and not just giving them a heading to fill in. 
  • Guide them towards success. Proving training is beneficial, but can increase the time burden that the proposal represents. Classroom training is best for procedures, knowledge transfer, or contextual awareness and pays off best for staff who will do more proposals in the future. But practical proposal training is best embedded into your process and doesn’t have to even look like training. Think of it as guidance that can be implemented in the form of explainers built into forms, cheat sheets, and checklists. A little goes a long way, even if it’s just explainers included with assignments. The further you go beyond an outline and a schedule, the more you will get out of the staff you’ve got to work with.
  • Set the bar low and be careful where you raise it. Decide whether your goal is to submit an ordinary, compliant proposal that no one will be embarrassed by without mentioning that it’s not a competitive strategy, or whether you are going to stretch your thin resources to the breaking point in an attempt to win against better prepared and resourced competitors. You’ll do a better job if you assess your circumstances and make an intentional choice between those two instead of leaving it unstated or claiming to do both. Going all heroic without the right resources tends to result in a last minute train wreck of a proposal full of defects that no one will want to admit to.

Going beyond the basics to really get more out of people

If you only task your proposal writers with writing, you are in for a bad proposal experience when insufficient and inexperienced staff try to figure out what to write and how to present it on their own. There is a lot more to winning a proposal than showing up and putting enough words on paper to fill the page limit. 

The more you do to plan what should be written, including not just what to write but what points to prove and how to present things, the more likely you are to get writing that reflects it. Planning is how you accelerate thinking through how the writing should be structured, presented, and all the ingredients that will go into each assignment. Planning is how you accelerate writing, increase your win probability, and reduce rework. The more your assignments specify the structure and topics of what should be written, the more likely you are to get writing that reflects it. You may or may not be able to involve the writers you have to work with in this planning. 

You also need to define proposal quality criteria so the writers know what defines successful completion. If your assignment is “complete a section” you’ll get words that fill the page limit. If you make the standard “pass the review,” then they will write without knowing what it will take to pass. If you start by writing down your proposal quality criteria, then your writers can self-assess their own writing before it gets to the review. Your proposal quality criteria can be a simple checklist asking if they’ve established compliance with all RFP requirements relevant to their sections, whether they’ve proved the points that were supposed to be made in their sections, whether they wrote it to score highly against the RFP evaluation criteria, etc.

Planning and quality criteria change writing from something mysterious into something that is guided toward a successful outcome with minimal rework. It is just what you need to maximize the use of insufficient and inexperienced resources. It is also just what you need to maximize the productivity of highly capable and experienced resources. Once you have planning and quality criteria, you can manage your humble, under-resourced proposal by focusing on goals and expectations instead of procedures.

Build for the future

In this moment on this pursuit, the staff you’ve got to work with is limited and the best you may be able to do is accelerate the time from thinking to writing and eliminate rework.

But over time and on future pursuits, you can improve those staff and possibly find new ones. Building people’s awareness about how to streamline the writing through planning and improving their understanding of proposal quality criteria will benefit future proposals.

How much to invest in proposal staffing is an ROI consideration. If you want The Powers That Be to better resource your proposals, you need to show the impact that will have on revenue, and that the return is orders of magnitude more than it costs. The converse is also true. Understaffing proposals will reduce revenue by far more than it saves. Maximizing ROI depends on improving your win rate. 

Regardless of whether your proposals are fully staffed, understaffed, or most likely somewhere in between, improving the effectiveness of the staff you’ve got to work with will always be part of improving your win rate.

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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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