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Why proposal friction is killing your proposal win rate and what to do about it

The crucial importance of achieving clarity in the middle of proposal chaos

Doing a proposal is easy. Doing a proposal with other people is hard. What makes it hard is that everyone has different expectations. Expectation conflict is the biggest source of proposal friction. 

What is proposal friction?

See also:
Improving Win Rates

Proposal friction is energy lost in the form of heat generated when people do not move through your proposal process smoothly. When people don’t do what they are supposed to, have to work without the information they need, are assigned tasks they can’t complete, have to work around issues because they can't get them resolved, won’t cooperate, receive review feedback that's arbitrary or unexpected, or have priority conflicts, people are experiencing proposal friction. 

Proposal friction produces distractions, delays, hard feelings, conflict, and confusion that disrupts the smooth, efficient, and flawless execution of the proposal process. Proposal friction results in work taking more energy than it should. Proposal quality is directly dependent on the motivation of the people contributing. Proposal friction reduces quality and lowers your win probability. It is also a big part of what makes people hate working on proposals. 

Nearly all of the friction encountered by people working on proposals comes from mismatches in expectations. If you want a better process that leads to a better proposal experience and a higher win rate, you should focus on discovering, articulating, and refining expectations instead of on steps or deadline enforcement. If you don’t achieve agreement on expectations when you issue an assignment, the resulting friction will cause the assignment to not achieve the results you’re hoping for. 

Reducing proposal friction

Reducing proposal friction requires expectations to be thoroughly communicated and agreed on. Consider spelling out the expectations in writing for every stakeholder at every step. Make sure you give them a chance to object to your expectations and to share their expectations. The goal is clarity that reduces friction and not imposition. Keep at it until everyone has explicitly agreed to accept the expectations. 

It helps to have a structured approach for communicating expectations. The way you document the expectations and how you communicate with people throughout the proposal directly impacts the amount of proposal friction that the proposal will encounter. Goals, expectations, and communications can be integrated and turned into communication templates so that you are constantly working to keep everything clear.

Proposal friction can’t be eliminated by the unilateral declaration of expectations. Telling people what you expect of them is less effective than discussing it, because expectations run in both directions. A boss can actually create more friction by declaring expectations, if they diverge too much from the expectations that their stakeholders have. Only if the judicious use of authority brings clarity that the stakeholders buy into, will it reduce friction. People accept different types and amount of authority in different cultures. 

Things change

During execution people run into problems and external matters come up that can impact the proposal effort. This can create proposal friction as it can create a conflict between an accepted expectation and reality. This is a big reason why people can be commitment shy and not want to buy into expectations. The closer you get to your deadline, the higher the risk of these unexpected issues can be. It helps to create an environment that surfaces issues quickly. Make issues easy to report and encourage and support people who have problems instead of projecting disappointment to them. Then clearly communicate how the expectations have changed to everyone impacted.

Apply lubrication

Proposal friction adds up and can make a proposal grind to a halt. Even if it doesn’t, it wears away at quality. Think of everything you do as adding either friction or lubricant to other people’s efforts. Apply lubrication and make the proposal run smoother by reducing or eliminating all points of friction. What you may find is that your efforts to reduce friction also increase productivity and effectiveness such that instead of proposal friction killing your win rate, your efforts to lubricate the points of friction result in producing better proposals by happier people who then achieve a much higher win rate.

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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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