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10 fundamental problems every proposal will encounter

Why do we have a proposal process and still have all these problems?

Instead of looking at your proposal process as a series of steps, try looking at the problems you need to solve for your process to be effective. You’ll encounter problems, big and small, on every proposal you do. But some of the problems are more fundamental than others, and have a bigger impact on your win probability. Solving these problems will make your process far more effective.

  1. The bid/no bid problem. How do you avoid wasting time on proposals that aren’t worth bidding? This is not a trivial problem. How do you know which ones aren’t worth it? How do you get all of the stakeholders on board with that? Most companies have a bid/no bid process, but a lot of bid/no bid processes are watered down, routine, and not something that makes the proposal phase more effective. Solve the bid/no bid process problem effectively and everything else will be easier and your win rate will go up.
  2. The content problem. Where are you going to get the content you need? What are you going to do with the content once you’ve got it? Do you even know what you need? Handing people an RFP and asking them to write something relevant is not a very good way to achieve great proposal writing. Solve how to figure how what content you need before writing starts and you'll not only accelerate writing, smooth out your proposal reviews, but your win rate will go up and you'll also reduce the struggles that come as you approach your proposal deadlines.
  3. The quality problem. Is the content you have to work with any good? Does it reflect what it will take to win? How do you avoid assessing proposal quality subjectively? What do you assess? When do you assess it? Do you even have a written definition for what proposal quality is? Just getting some folks to read it and give their opinions is not an effective quality management process. Solve how to validate proposal quality objectively and thoroughly and not only will you create better proposals based on what it will take to win, but you'll also be able to better inform writers of what they need to accomplish.
  4. The other people problem. How do you work through other people successfully? How do you manage expectations that flow in every direction? If you think your proposal management process is already effective, then why are you still struggling with other people? Solve how to work with other people and creating a proposal becomes just another collaboration, and consistently creating winning proposals become much more likely.
  5. The customer awareness problem. How do you read the customer’s mind? How do you persuade the decision maker(s)? What do they really want? What do they care about? These are critical problems and should be the focus on your proposals, and yet if you go pick up a past proposal and read who it is about, you'll likely find the proposal is about you instead of being about the customer. How can you ever write a proposal that is about the customer if you haven't solved the customer awareness problem?
  6. The RFP problem. While the customer thinks they have told you all of their requirements in the RFP, the truth is more likely to be that they've written about their requirements in ways that are subject to interpretation and it's difficult to tell which interpretation was what the customer intended. The customer thinks they've described their evaluation process, but the truth is you have very little idea how the scoring will actually be done. They've given you an outline, but cross-referencing everything in the RFP to the outline requires dozens if not hundreds of interpretations. And the customer tells you that compliance with the RFP is vital, but what does it even mean when the number of pages of requirements exceeds the page limit they've given you? Solving the problem of how to respond to the RFP can be the difference between whether you get the top score or not.
  7. The time problem. How do you maximize your chances of winning in the time available? How do you get it all done in time? How do you pace yourself? How do you keep everyone in synch? The deadline clock is ticking. If you haven't solved the other problems on this list, you'll spend the time available herding cats. If you do solve them, you'll be in a much better position to properly manage the time available and do that with other people involved.
  8. The resource problem. What resources do you need? How do you get enough of them? How can you best use the resources you have? You're never going to have enough resources. How do you win using the resources you have? Solving the resource problem will have a big impact on every item on this list.
  9. The issue tracking and resolution problem. How do you surface and resolve problems? Everyone submitting will encounter problems. Your ability to resolve proposal issues can be a competitive advantage.
  10. The competition problem. It's not enough to solve the problems. How do you do everything in this list better than all potential competitors? You can do a good job and not be competitive. You have to do all the things better than anyone else possibly can. There are no points for effort. 

Problems in the real world overlap. In the real world, they get tangled up like spaghetti and can be just as difficult to untangle. The good news is that the harder something is to do, the more competitive it makes you when you do it successfully. 

Every proposal has them. Every proposal is a new opportunity to solve them. Focus less on the steps in your process. Focus more on your progress toward solving the fundamental problems.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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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