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14 ways to determine if your proposal content plans are any good

Are you getting the results you should?

Planning before writing your proposals is challenging. Getting everyone on the same page to do it as a team is even more challenging. It’s one thing to have a methodology. It’s another to successfully implement it. You can use the list below to determine whether you are getting the results you should from the way you are planning your proposal content. Whether you follow the MustWin Process approach to Proposal Content Planning, some other approach, or if you just prepare annotated outlines, here’s how to tell if what you are doing before you start writing is everything it should be:

See also:
Content Planning Box
  1. Does it account for everything you want people to write about? A proposal content plan should itemize everything you want to talk about in your proposal. It should turn proposal writing into a process of elimination. 
  2. Does it inform people how to present what they are writing about? A proposal content plan should provide guidance regarding how to present your offering in a way that reflects what it will take to win. It should explain how to position your offering against the RFP and the competitive environment. It should explain what points to make and what strategies to take in presenting your offering. 
  3. Does it streamline proposal writing? Proposal content planning saves time. A few hours or even a few days of time spent on proposal content planning should save more than that in reduced revisions. If it’s making proposal writing take longer, you’re doing it wrong. Start by asking why the writing is taking longer when the plan should spell things out and make proposal writing a process of elimination. Does it help the proposal writers get closer to getting it right on the very first draft?
  4. Does it act like a proposal prototype? When you look at the proposal content plan, can you envision the proposal before it is even written and determine whether it’s going to be the proposal you want before you invest time in proposal writing? 
  5. Does it help people with time management? Sometimes you have very little time to plan. Sometimes you have more. Your approach to proposal content planning should scale to the time available. It should make time management easier and not harder. The things that most affect your win probability should come first. This will put you in a position of being able to find the right balance for time management. Putting more time into your content plan will improve your win probability. But even doing the minimum amount of content planning should improve your win probability some.
  6. Does it support training and collaboration? If you have staff with less experience, does your content plan include everything your proposal writers need to know in order to complete their assignments? Does it point out how to find out more information they might need? 
  7. Does it adapt between centralized and decentralized approaches? Sometimes you need an experienced person to do all the planning. Sometimes you need a team to collaborate on figuring out what should go into the proposal and how it should be presented. Can your approach work either way? Does it need a specific person to create it or can it be successfully implemented without any specific person in charge? Does it adapt to your circumstances and needs?
  8. Does it make having proposal graphics easier? Does it prompt people to think about where graphics would be useful? Sometimes you can start with the graphics and use them to drive the text. Does your proposal content plan enable people to describe the graphics using text and start building the proposal around the graphics before they are even rendered? 
  9. Does it prevent potential points of failure? Does your approach to content planning surface issues related to proposal writing early and prevent the proposal from going down the wrong path, or does it wait for a draft review to discover that things went wrong? Does it anticipate and prevent potential issues from becoming real? Does it reflect your company’s lessons learned?
  10. Does it maximize the value of your information advantage? Do you have meetings that talk about the proposal only to discover later that the things discussed didn’t make it into the document? Do your proposal writers know what to do in their sections with any customer, opportunity, or competitive intelligence you’ve gathered? Do you spell out what should be said about the information advantage you have, or do you rely on individuals to figure it out? Somehow. 
  11. Does it drive your win strategies into the proposal? Are all your aspirations for the proposal making it into the proposal? Are your strategies and key points disappearing along the way? Does your proposal content plan identify them all and explain how to best address them? Does it show how the entire proposal should be built around substantiating them?
  12. Does it help you avoid the Death Spiral? Does your proposal content plan prevent people from having to discover what to offer through infinite writing revisions? Are you submitting the proposal you have at the deadline instead of a proposal that reflects everything you wanted it to become? Does it think things through in order to prevent you from falling into the proposal Death Spiral?
  13. Does it produce what it will take to win? You can’t build your proposal around what it will take to win unless you first articulate what it will take to win. Results matter. Does the way you are preparing your proposal content plans improve your win rate?
  14. Does the review of the content plan become more important than the review of the draft proposal? Sometimes companies are still thinking things through when they review the draft proposal instead of thinking them through before they start writing. Sometimes they think things through by doing infinite revisions (See #12 regarding avoiding the death spiral). Proposals are so important that you should think them through first in the form of a content plan. Then review the content plan and revise it. Only when you are satisfied that your proposal plan accomplishes the things on this list that you need the most should you start writing. If you can’t think things through and still have enough time to write, you’re thinking too slowly or chasing something you weren’t prepared to bid. Skipping the content plan won’t solve those problems. If you are doing proposal content planning well, the review of your content plan will become more important to your success than the review of the draft proposal. With a solid content plan, the review of the draft proposal will just be follow-through to ensure the plan was properly executed.

In many ways, proposal content planning becomes the proposal process. People tend to obsess over proposal reviews. But if instead you focus on getting your proposal content planning right, everything else will be easier.

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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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