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Perfecting your proposal process by eliminating the need for people to ask questions about it

The questions people ask show you the flaws in your proposal process

A great way to learn where you need improvement is by paying attention to the questions people ask, especially the ones they ask more than once. They are the signs that your process is flawed. They are also signs of potential process resistance. When people don’t need to ask any questions, it’s because they find the process to be easy. It meets their needs. It is delivering to them what they need. When they have what they need and are being pointed in the right direction, they will produce better proposals and do it more efficiently.

Do the people you are working with on your proposals ask questions like:

See also:
Successful Process Implementation
  • Where is a file located?
  • What are they supposed to write?
  • Is this what you want?
  • Is this any good?
  • How do I…?
  • When do you need it?
  • Should I…?
  • Where do I find out?
  • Who should I talk to about…?

Do they ask for input so they can complete their assignments?

In a perfect word, people would not have to ask any questions at all during a proposal, because the process would deliver the information they need, when they need it. In the imperfect world we live in, we make compromises and have limited resources, so we don’t have time to anticipate every question and prepare answers to them. 

But in the competitive world of proposal writing, we seek to outdo everyone who might challenge us by being closer to perfection. Anticipating their questions and preventing the need to even ask them is part of how the proposal process can improve your company’s competitiveness. It is also key to getting people to accept and follow your process.

To improve your process, focus not only on what it does or what the steps are, but also focus on making your process self-explanatory. Make sure that your forms, communications, and assignments are not only self-explanatory, but that they anticipate the questions that people will ask while completing the assignments. This sounds basic and is easy to understand, only it is quite difficult to achieve in practice.

Examples of proposal assignments

How do you make a proposal writing assignment self-explanatory? Take a look at these three examples of articulating a proposal writing assignment:

1.    Write this section.
2.    Write this section and make it RFP compliant.
3.    Write this section and while making it RFP compliant, optimize it to score highly against the evaluation criteria, implement our win strategies (here’s a list), use lots of graphics (here are some suggestions), prove these points we’re trying to make, establish that we are qualified to do what you write about (here’s another list), and that we have experience doing it (from these projects).

Obviously, writers will produce much better proposal writing if the assignment resembles the third example. Obviously the third example takes more care and time to create. But less obviously, people will still have questions about how to fulfill the assignment with the third example. They will have fewer questions than with the first two. But the questions they ask will tell you what you left out and help you choose better wording. 

With any of the three examples, you may also find that answering the questions before they are asked is not as simple as wording your assignments better. You may need to add steps to obtain the information needed or to discover the answer. Those steps may involve other people. Those other people will have questions about what you require of them. And so on…

This is a good thing. It’s showing you what needs to happen in preparation for people to be successful with their assignments. And you want that to happen.
The success of your process is determined by how well you surface the questions people will have

Simply asking whether people have any questions is better than nothing, but won’t get the best results. Try asking probing questions like:

  • What do you think about…?
  • Would this be easier if we…?
  • Do you think this would work?
  • Does that make sense?
  • Do you have everything you need to complete your assignments?

Look for the problems that will surface later if people don’t have the input they need or don’t understand how to accomplish their assignments. Remember, goal is not just getting something on paper. The goal is getting people to write a proposal that reflects what it will take to win. Don’t expect them to just show up knowing what that is.

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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.

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

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