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Building the proposal management process around inquiry and perspective

How to gain a deeper understanding of what your proposal management process should be

The proposal management process flows information to proposal writers who assess and transform that information into a presentation of that information that helps the customer reach a decision.

The first place people often start from to create their proposal management process is often by looking for sequential steps or milestones. Instead, start with inquiry. 


See also:
Proposal writing tips and techniques

Instead of trying to flow chart intelligence gathering and the flow of information, try building your intelligence gathering process around the questions that relate to the information you need. What does the customer need to see in order to reach a decision in your favor? Who at the customer will be involved in making the decision? What matters to the evaluator? Etc. Your questions need to be investigated and the intelligence discovered assessed so it can be transformed into what people will need in order to do proposal writing. Then it will need to be delivered and presented to the right people at the right time. Which people? When? How and in what form? 

Instead of trying to turn the proposal process into a sequence of steps, turn it into a system of discovery, assessment, and implementation. A good way to go about this is to apply the "who, what, where, how, when, and why" technique we use for writing to the process itself.

Inquiry is more powerful than you realize. It is how you separate your assumptions and beliefs about a pursuit from the reality. Done properly, it will lead to better lead qualification and bid/no bid decisions, as well as providing better pursuit intelligence to your writers to work with.


Large proposals are created by teams. This means working through other people. If you create a proposal process based on production steps alone, you will not only encounter resistance to the process, but even if followed the process will not maximize your win probably because it will not adequately consider the perspectives of the people you must work through.

People bring their expectations to the proposal. And during the proposal those expectations can clash with each other. Most of the friction you encounter working with other people on a proposal is the direct result of expectation mismatch.

Instead of trying to build your proposal process around production steps, try building around the fulfillment of everyone’s expectations. This requires perspective. What does a proposal writer need to write a winning proposal? What does a proposal writer who is overloaded with billable work need? What will your reviewers want to see in the draft? What level of effort are contributors expecting to make?

Not only does this surface the need for additional steps to make your process more effective at working through other people, but it also will surface the need for additional steps to discover stakeholder expectations and reduce friction between them.


Inquiry and perspective are not steps. They are something that should be integrated into every step. It is better that this be done explicitly than subconsciously. Keeping them in mind is not enough to ensure that they are being constantly used to improve process execution. And yet, they’ll rarely be called out by name. They become how we discover, assess, and implement everything we do. In this, they have much broader applicability than just to the proposal process.

One of the more challenging problems that come up during proposals is that we never have all the information we would like. Even when we practice inquiry and ask all the right questions, we’ll get answers that are vague, missing, or subject to interpretation. Interpretation problems are also a major contributor to problems working through other people. Inquiry and perspective are excellent tools for diagnosing an interpretation issue. Think about how many interpretation problems we encounter in a single day.

Advanced proposal management

Anyone can think through the steps and accomplish submitting a proposal. Unfortunately, submitting a proposal is not the goal. Winning proposals is the goal. And not just winning a proposal, but winning all of the proposals. This requires going beyond the steps. It requires inquiry to both discover and get the most out of the information that will be transformed into a proposal. It requires doing this through other people, whose expectations and interpretations will differ from yours. It will require helping them see past the assumptions they bring to the proposal. It will require helping yourself to see past the assumptions you bring to the proposal. Advanced proposal management is less about creating an assembly line of steps and more about creating effective people with a process that supports them instead of trying to turn them into a machine.

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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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