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Will your proposal process survive the minimization challenge?

I dare you.

Nobody wants a burdensome proposal process. Proposal specialists don’t want one because they want people to be efficient and they want people to buy in to working on the proposal. Proposal contributors don’t want one because they may not want to work on the proposal at all, let alone have to jump through hoops to do it. Executives don’t want it because they don’t want people complaining about having to work on proposals.

How do you get the balance right between making sure you do all the things required to win and having the most simple, highly efficient proposal process?

For starters, I recommend that you make sure you are defining proposal efficiency correctly. Most folks get that wrong. But the best way to ensure that your proposal has nothing in it that isn’t absolutely necessary is the proposal process minimization challenge. I highly recommend them.

What is a proposal process minimization challenge? 

See also:
Successful process implementation

A proposal process minimization challenge is a dare that people can’t find anything in your process that can be safely skipped without lowering your win rate. If they find anything, you agree to remove it from the process. If they find a way to do things that increases win probability over what’s there, you agree to replace what’s in your process with it. It’s a challenge to turn your process into the absolute minimum needed to maximize your chances of winning. If people think there’s a way to get by with less process, let them prove it.

I’ve never had to change a proposal process implementation because someone else won this challenge. I’m kind of disappointed by that. I want the least burdensome process that maximizes the chances of winning. If someone else has a better idea of how to achieve that, I want to shamelessly steal that idea. And I tell them that.

How a proposal process minimization challenge can play out in reality

Proposal contributors often want to start writing immediately when the RFP is released and the deadline clock starting ticking. Their eagerness can get in the way when staff want to skip content planning and start writing immediately. Try listing the things that are addressed during content planning and then challenge them to identify a more reliable way of identifying those things and building the proposal around them. The form that content planning takes is less important than that it gets done. 

However, you may find that while a lot of proposal contributors have proposal experience and can do a good job, they’ve never really itemized everything that goes into proposal writing or structured their sections to make sure they don’t overlook any. They write and try to press as many buttons as possible. This can produce good proposal writing. But it will never produce the best proposal writing that the team is capable of producing. You won’t get there through infinite unplanned, subjective draft revisions that you keep doing until you run out of time. Achieving your full potential requires thinking it through before you start writing. And the better the first draft, the better the proposal experience. But we can debate the best ways to go about thinking things through and planning the writing. If we focus intensely, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Everyone benefits when the team works through this together.

When companies with proposal operations in multiple locations try to maximize their win rate by standardizing their proposal process, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page. When you’ve got something you are recommending for implementation by all, that’s when to hit them with the minimization challenge. Invite them to point out anything that isn’t necessary for achieving a high win rate. If your recommendations are sound, they won’t find anything. But more importantly, the discussion will shift from “your way” vs “our way” to what it takes to improve your win rate. That is an argument well worth having.

A lot of companies only have one major proposal review, even though that can be worse than having none. I’ve recommended that they have separate reviews for compliance matrix/outline, content plan, offering design, early draft, mature draft, instruction compliance, evaluation criteria optimization, finalization, submission readiness, pricing model, pricing, and contracts.

This list freaks people out. They are incorrectly thinking all reviews require a pens down and senior staff sitting around a table while reading and pontificating. You don’t need (possibly any) reviews to be performed like that. What you need is validation at each step to achieve reliability before you take things further. This can often be achieved informally and without a pens down or halt in proposal progress. 

To get them on board, you’ll have to show them that it can be implemented. You should also use the minimization challenge. Dare them to identify anything in that list that doesn’t need to be validated and won’t create win rate stealing disruption if skipped.

Everything should have a proposal minimization challenge

Every single decision related to proposal development should be prioritized based on how it will impact your win rate. Winning pays for the effort that it takes to win. If it doesn’t, you’re either selling a commodity and writing a proposal when you should be giving a quote, or your margins are too thin to tailor your proposals. 

A 1% difference in win rate on a $10 million proposal returns $100,000. That pays for a lot of effort. Imagine how much a 10% difference returns. Some things have more of an impact on win probability than others do. But all decisions should be prioritized based on their impact on win rate. And all proposal decisions should pass the proposal process minimization challenge. Do the least amount possible that will maximize your chances of winning. Instead of arguing over preferences, argue over the impact. Winning those arguments will require learning more about how the customer will perform their evaluations. And understanding that is critical to improving your win rates.

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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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