People who have worked in proposals long enough start seeing the lessons learned from proposals in everyday life. I suppose people in all careers experience this.
Just as one of many possible examples, writing from the customer’s perspective not only requires a nuts and bolts process to discover intel, assess it, and deliver it to the proposal ready to articulate into messaging, it also fundamentally requires empathy. You have to be able to see things and articulate them the way the customer needs to see them.
Once you develop this skill, you start seeing how perspective is behind all communication, not only at your company, but at home and in all of your relationships. You’ll even see that perspective is vital to making decisions, gaining a greater understanding of both tangible and intangible things, and for separating the truth for non-truths.
You start off in proposals and you end up someplace deep. But again, the same is true in other careers. You start off as a software developer and you can end up seeing how we program our own thought forms. Etc.
In addition to applying proposals to everyday life, we can also apply everyday life to proposals. By doing so we can gain insights that can boost our win rate in ways we wouldn’t normally think of. Normally when we primarily think of proposals we think of proposal management, proposal writing, and the proposal process. One of the things people struggle with in life is identity issues. Labelling yourself creates a box that you put yourself into. Then they bring their identity issues to the proposal in ways that can reduce your win rate.
Here's an example: “I’m a software developer,” “I’m in sales,” “I’m a recruiter,” or “I’m an engineer,” etc., “and I don’t know anything about proposals.” While that may be true, it’s also a way of not saying “and I’d prefer to stay in my box.” And what about “I’m not a writer,” or “I only do…”? The chosen identity is fine until it becomes a barrier. It can even devolve into “us” vs. “them” thinking. And it definitely works in both directions. As a limit, it turns cooperative people into people with limits.
And it’s bigger than just self-labelling. Entire departments go from simply having a name and a mission, to having a box that they stay in. It’s an understandable response since time and resources are limited. But over time it can be limiting. And if you are trying to create a growth-oriented culture, it can create a hard barrier in people’s ability to conceive of how to operate in a different way.
Growth is the source of all opportunity for a contractor. And maximizing your win rate means leveraging all of the customer awareness, capacity for innovation, and expertise that exist throughout the organization. Identity issues that create barriers to this end up harming your win rate.
You’ve probably run into these issues many times although you might not have thought about the root cause in the same way. The real challenge is what to do about them. Here are some things you can do to prevent identity issues from getting in the way of your win rate:
- Go beyond the language of the proposal process. This starts by learning the language of Return on Investment (ROI) and growth. It is tremendously helpful to be able to describe how individuals and organizations are impacted by growth, how proposal work should be measured by ROI instead of volume, and how proposal contributors also contribute to growth for themselves and others.
- Use language that breaks down identity stovepipes. Since it will be impossible to change how every individual processes the concept of identity, it will also help to become able to communicate past the labels that individuals and departments assign to themselves. If you can speak the language of ROI and growth, it will become easier to speak in terms of goals and accomplishment that go beyond people simply getting words on paper on schedule. It will also help to learn the language of your subject matter experts, whether it is engineering, software development, science, or another specialty. Something as simple as referring to “RFP requirements” as “specifications” or understanding what the customer wants as part of “requirements analysis” can help connect the dots between their chosen identity and what is needed to produce the proposal.
- Expand your concept of proposal training. It should be about more than just steps. It should also be about expectations and how individuals interact with each other during the process. The lines can be fine between communication, collaboration techniques, the roles people play, what people should expect during the process, how they personally will be impacted or contribute, and how they see themselves. Make sure that your training recognizes that people who rarely participate in proposals will be working outside their comfort zone.
- Drop the steps and become goal driven. Change your concept of the proposal process from organizing around steps to organizing around goals. People who share goals share more understanding than people who are just following someone else’s steps. When people accept goals, those goals more easily become part of their identity. But someone else’s steps will always remain something they have to do. Surprisingly, you may find some resistance to this. It’s easier to follow steps than it is to integrate things with your identity.
- Focus on both the individual and organizational levels. Go beyond defining organizational boundaries to defining collaborative goals and places where missions overlap and where teams can help each other. Keep at this and you’ll end up changing the corporate culture. But that won’t happen overnight.
- Help people get past the fear. When individuals use identity to define a comfort zone they can stay inside of, or organizations use identity to prevent their resources from getting overextended by getting too involved in helping others, doing things that are inherently collaborative across organizational boundaries like proposals can make them feel insecure. Resistance follows insecurity. If you want people to become goal driven, you have to make them feel secure. And in proposal work, this means making the chaotic yet deadline driven environment feel like a nice, neat, well controlled, and solvable problem even when it’s anything but and their identity wants to stay away from it. Clarity of expectations to achieve a common purpose that everyone will benefit from needs to become something that is clearly feasible. No one wants to be responsible for something they are not sure is even feasible. Well, no one that is except for proposal specialists of questionable sanity.
Proposal mechanics, like the flow of information and the proposal process, are vital for maximizing your win rate. But they are not the only thing that can give it a boost. The process is performed by people and people show up in all different kinds of ways. Some of those ways make the process more effective, and some of them get in the way. You can improve your process if you can anticipate how people will show up and modify your process to help them get into better alignment with it. Another way to say it is that you can help people improve their win rate on proposals if you can help them identify with the proposal process.