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9 ways to upgrade your proposal process

How to transform your ordinary, challenging proposal process into something that will make things easier and be seen as an asset

Success requires more than just identifying the steps in your proposal process. It’s a good start, but it's just a start. You can follow the same steps with very different results on different days. One day those steps will help you win. And on another day you’ll still lose even though you followed the steps. Here are some things that will help you transform your ordinary, challenging proposal process into something that will make things easier and be seen as an asset:

See also:
Successful process implementation
  1. Anticipate needs. Think about what people need to be available, focused, and successful at playing their role. Then set your process up to deliver that. Anticipate what great proposal writing will require. And deliver the information they will need. Anticipate what they will need before they get there, and when they do get there things will go more smoothly and they’ll spend their time trying to win instead of getting what they need. 
  2. Guide expectations. A lot of friction during the proposal process comes from people not having their expectations met. Most of this is a result of expectations not being communicated and agreed on. To reduce this friction, you need get expectations out in the open. Consider spelling out the expectations in writing for every stakeholder at every step. Make sure you give them a chance to add, delete, or change those expectations and keep at it until everyone has explicitly agreed to accept the expectations relevant to themselves.
  3. Track issues to resolution. When issues arise, they need to be tracked to resolution. Tracking means following up and escalating when needed. Unresolved issues are not only proposal risk, they can impact your win probability. A whiteboard can count as an issue tracking system. But it’s not a very good one. Consider how help desks work to identify, track, and escalate issues without any ever being lost. Then emulate those concepts in whatever form or media works for you.
  4. Smooth the handoffs. Through the pursuit process information flows through many hands. At each handoff, there is a chance that information will be lost, expectations will go unmet, issues will remain unresolved, and friction will increase. Smooth the handoffs by identifying what information, in what format, needs to be delivered to meet expectations, resolve known issues, and reduce friction. Then go back to the beginning of the previous step and build in what it will take to accomplish that.
  5. Script your communications. For many steps, you can anticipate what you are going to need to communicate before, during, and after. So write them in advance. Leave placeholders for the details that are still to be determined. Have clear triggers for when you pass from one step to the next, and send the communications right away. Anticipate their needs, reaffirm expectations, provide instructions, and include links for additional information. Before, during, and after every step, what they need to know should just show up before questions even occur to them. This does not take extra effort. You need to communicate anyway. So forget about proposal reuse. But do practice communication reuse.
  6. Deliver just-in-time handouts. Where are things located? How should things be formatted? What procedures should be followed? What are the expectations? What will be needed? At every step, for every review, and to help every role, create handouts. Limit the handouts to one sheet (one to two pages). You could easily have a dozen or two of them. Don’t pass them out all at once. That’s like asking someone to read a book. Instead, distribute them at the moment of need. This should synch up nicely with your communications scripting. Just make sure your handouts are fulfilling the reader’s needs instead of your own, so that the person finds them useful and is happy to receive them.
  7. Deliver quality criteria checklists. How do proposal contributors know when they’ve done a good job? How do proposal reviewers know? Every assignment should come with a set of quality criteria in the form of a checklist, so that people know when they’ve done a good job. Reviewers should get the same checklists to use in performing their assessments. Like the handouts, limit the length. People need to be able to keep everything on the checklist in mind while they’re working.
  8. Have a system and communications plan for customer amendments and changes. Every once in a while, seemingly at random, customers change the RFP. Sometimes it’s a very minor change. Sometimes it requires major rewriting. Sometimes it comes early, and sometimes it comes late. It may or may not come with a deadline extension. How do you possibly plan for something that random? You can notify people that it’s arrived and is being reviewed. You can give first impressions. You can follow up with more details. You can script these communications so they can be done quickly. You can have if-then-else contingency plans that cover things like under what circumstances you want people to stop writing while you figure things out.
  9. Pass the minimization challenge. I like to challenge proposal stakeholder to identify any step, assignment, or action that can be safely removed from the process without causing a reduction in win probability. If there is anything in the process that doesn’t improve win probability I want it removed. As you implement your process or any of these recommendations, you should be doing the same. What can you safely skip? Only do the things that improve your chances of winning, and prioritize them by the amount of impact that they have. You want the tiniest least burdensome process that maximizes your chances of winning. 

How do you know if these things are working? You’ll see a reduction in friction and fewer questions. Those are the first signs that people are getting their needs met. And if the process is meeting their needs, it’s not a burden. It’s helpful. A helpful process does more to improve win probability than a mandated process. A helpful process is a tool that people want to use. And a helpful proposal process executed by people who want to win will not only transform everyone’s proposal experience, it will also supercharge 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.

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