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8 ways to get more out of the people working on proposals

How many of these is your company overlooking?

Although I see this mistake made frequently, getting more out of the people working on proposals does not mean getting more proposals written with the same number of people. It's a bit counter-intuitive, but the reality is that winning pays for the effort. And then some. And then a whole lot more. You want people to win proposals and not just work hard at submitting a bunch of losers. And if they are winning, hiring people to do more proposals is easy. 

If you leave people on their own expecting them to just figure out how to win the proposal, what you'll get is people working very hard to achieve a low win rate. To get more out of the people working on proposals, you should make sure they have the information they need, clear priorities and expectations, and know not only what to write about but also how to present it. A small investment in developing your proposal process and supporting your proposal teams will not only improve your win rate, it will provide a ROI that is orders of magnitude greater than the investment.

People work more effectively when they are supported, guided, and don't have to figure everything out on their own. If you wrap them in what they need, they'll spend less time organizing and getting started, and they'll work more effectively too! Here is what you can do to help people working on proposals be more effective:

See also:
Organizational Development
  1. Figuring out what it will take to win. This should be the job of everyone who has customer contact and customer insight. Even if they are just guessing, their guessing will be better informed than anyone else’s guess. You can improve your ability to figure out what it will take to win by tracking metrics and getting customer feedback after submission. Continuously improving your understanding of what it will take to win before you start proposal writing should be your highest priority, since that is the most significant determinant of your probability of winning. If you are lacking in this area, you can’t make up for it with clever wording.
  2. Answer your proposal writers' questions before they have to ask them. Proposal writers have a lot of questions. If you are in position to win, they should have far less. They have questions like “Would the customer prefer this or that?” “What would the customer like the benefit of this feature to be?” “What context should I put this approach in?” “Why did they say this in this way in the RFP?” If you start the proposal already understanding the customer’s preferences, with insight into how to make trade-off decisions, the ability to tie what you do to the goals the customer has, and can see things from the customer’s perspective, your writers will not only be much more productive, they’ll be more effective.
  3. Develop an information advantage. Everyone has the same RFP. Everyone has best practices. Everyone hires from the same labor pool. If you start your proposal with an information advantage, you start it with a competitive advantage. If you want to get more out of the people working on your proposals, feed them an information advantage to work with. 
  4. Set clear priorities and expectations. Other work gets in the way of winning proposals. Should it? Can resources be re-allocated? People often can’t make these decisions for themselves. Make priorities and options clear so that time is not lost untangling what the priorities should be. The same holds true for expectations. Everyone has expectations. When they conflict, the friction negatively impacts performance. If you want to get more out of people, get rid of conflicts by better communicating and managing everyone’s expectations.
  5. Script a constant flow of communications. When people have questions, it’s often because they need to know something that wasn’t communicated to them. Before, during, and after every task there should be communications preparing them, guiding them, and helping them complete before moving on to the next set of before, during, and after communications. While creating templates for proposal content will do more harm than good, creating templates to communicate about common activities and issues can reduce the time it takes, make people more productive, and enable it to actually happen.
  6. Provide guidance regarding what to write and how to present it. People spend more time talking and thinking about the proposal than they do writing it. The more you streamline the conversations and thinking process by providing inspiration and direction that drives things onto paper, the more productive people will be.
  7. Define proposal quality criteria for both writers and reviewers. The largest productivity destroyer in proposals are unexpected review results causing extra revision cycles. Review results should never be unexpected because the writers and reviewers should both be working from the same set of written proposal quality criteria. The writers should know what target they are aiming for and the reviews should merely be confirming how close they got and helping them get it to the bullseye. If you skip this step then the writers will guess, the reviewers will subjectively assess, and revision cycles will get continuously added until you get to the deadline and submit what you have instead of what you were really capable of.
  8. Surface issues quickly during the proposal for resolution. When working against a proposal deadline, you don’t want people to be stuck or slowed down by working around an issue. You want issues surfaced quickly. The more quickly they are surfaced, the more time you have before the deadline to resolve them and get back on track.

These add up to something important

These eight items add up to an environment where people have what they need to work with, know how to deal with priority and expectation conflicts, aren’t slowed down by issues, know what’s coming and what they need to do, and pass all of their reviews so they can spend their time improving instead of starting over. When you wrap people with support like that, they become more productive at winning. This delivers a far superior ROI to making them more productive at cranking out bids in volume at your current win rate.

What is it that you wanted to get more out of your people working on proposals?

It’s all about growth. Getting more revenue by winning more proposals is not the same as getting more proposals submitted. The minute your company starts focusing on submitting more proposals instead of winning more proposals, people stop spending time on winning and start spending as little time as possible on submitting something. People stop personally investing in the win, although they’ll continue to give it lip service. Instead they personally invest in playing defense and making sure their contributions are just good enough to be defensible. This is not what you want to get more out of them.

Instead, try focusing on ROI. Stop treating the people you need to win your proposals as expenses, and start treating them as investments. Measure your return. Drop bad investments. But double down on the ones that are paying off. 

You don’t have to get all emotionally intelligent to see that getting proposal staff the right information and a little more clarity is worth the investment. If improving your win rate by a couple of percentage points pays for the entire proposal, what does improving your win rate by 10% get you? If that is what you get out of your people, you can hire all you need to submit as many proposals as you want and still have enough to improve your company’s overall margins. Then go for a 20% improvement.

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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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