Jump to content
PropLibrary Content

9 ways to drive proposal process success using questions

Examples for using questions to drive change and produce better proposals

Proposal work requires people to use judgment and not just blindly follow procedures. Wherever possible, it is better to define the proposal process as a series of questions instead of a series of steps. The beauty of using questions is that:

  • You can easily tailor them for your corporate culture and issues. 
  • A list of questions is also easy to change over time. This makes them a great way to ease process in and to continuously raise the bar by periodically changing the questions.
  • They convert into cheat sheets and checklists very easily. People react differently when you ask them to follow a process vs giving them a checklist to make things easier for them.

But the wording of the questions matters. How you ask the questions has a major impact on how well things get done. There are an infinite number of ways to phrase the same question. Sometimes you can be direct. Sometimes you need to be very indirect. It depends on your audience and the proposal environment you are working in.

The people trying to answer the questions will react differently depending on how you word them and this will produce different results. This is a good thing. It’s far easier to fix than a flow chart that no one is following. 

Here are some examples of ways that you can use questions to frame your process:

See also:
Proposal Process Improvement
  1. Redefine roles. Instead of telling people what their roles are and then expecting them to just comply, try asking them who should be responsible for something or what role they play in it. Select very carefully. For example, instead of telling them to write something and provide finished copy by the deadline, consider asking them who is responsible for completing the writing by the deadline. Even if they answer someone else, it provides an opening for discussion about the topic instead of passive aggressive silence on it. You can also ask questions without addressing “who” that result in their acceptance. For example you could ask them if they have the proposal quality criteria and understand how to fulfill them. If you are having trouble getting sales or operations to participate in the proposal, you could ask “Does the proposal content plan reflect our full awareness of the customer?” or “Does our proposed approach have sufficient detail to provide a foundation for an acceptable project plan that you might be responsible for executing?”
  2. Change assumptions. Ask what else is possible or should be considered. Ask if there are any alternatives or better ways to do things. Ask people to achieve a goal instead of following a procedure. Include the assumption in the question and then ask for something else. Use comparison and contrast. Ask “What if…”
  3. Change how people do things. You can ask questions that stretch people out of their comfort zones and into other areas that are needed. Ask about whether they’ve considered doing certain things or various options. Ask if they’ve completed something needed. Ask questions about the customer, opportunity, or offering for them to answer. Ask them to assess something and turn it into something else. Ask them to draw a picture of it. You can also be indirect and ask whether they have what they need to complete something, where the answer provides acceptance without directly asking them to complete it.
  4. Getting people to show up prepared. What do you need before you can start? Do you have enough time to get ready? Did you bring…? Have you read the RFP? 
  5. Apply lessons learned. Instead of telling people about lessons learned from the past, just simply change your list of questions to reflect them. You can anticipate and prevent questions, add detail, add new questions, remove or replace old questions, or even embed the lesson learned in a question.
  6. Meet expectations. You can use questions to surface expectations, inform people of expectations, prepare them to fulfill expectations, track or report on progress, confirm fulfillment, discover issues related to expectations, and more.
  7. Plan before they write. What needs to be written? How should it be written? How should it be presented? What should be included or considered? What do they need to know before they can start?  The entire Proposal Content Planning process can be articulated as a series of questions.
  8. Apply proposal quality criteria. Proposal quality criteria are best presented as questions. Describing your quality standards as statements tends to make them more subjective and easier to ignore. Describing them as questions requires consideration (of whether they meet the standard) in order to answer the question. And it’s harder to move on without having an answer.
  9. Change behavior. What do you want people to do more of, less of, or do differently? Then ask them a question that either prompts the desired action or confirms its completion. Indirect questions work best for changing behavior. 

For 43 more examples, see the companion article written for PropLIBRARY subscribers.

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

Access to premium content items is limited to PropLIBRARY Subscribers

A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

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.

Proposal Help Desk
Contact us for assistance
In addition to PropLIBRARY's online resources, we also provide full-service consulting for when you're ready to engage one of our experts.

It all starts with a conversation. You can contact us by clicking the button to send us a message, or by calling 1-800-848-1563.

Sign up for our free newsletter and get a free 46-page eBook titled "Turning Your Proposals Into a Competitive Advantage" with selected articles from PropLIBRARY.

You'll be joining nearly a hundred thousand professionals.

Sign up
Not now
  • Create New...