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10 things proposal managers hate about working on proposals

They distract us, wear us down, and make it hard to win

The things that bother me the most when working on proposals are mostly avoidable. And yet they often occur. Even being the proposal manager and being aware of them may not be enough to be able to always prevent them. That makes them doubly annoying. While I love working on proposals, these are the kinds of things that lead to bad experiences:

See also:
Dealing with adversity
  1. Unresolved competing priorities. There will always be competing priorities. That’s not the problem. The problem is when there is so much money at stake and The Powers That Be are aware of the conflicting priorities and do nothing to resolve them. It’s hard to put so much effort into a proposal that has its probability of winning crippled.
  2. We can’t risk offending the customer we don’t know. Every compelling offer is polarizing. The odds of winning favor being bold and polarizing with an offer that matters, over watering down your message so that it can’t offend anyone. It holds you back from being able to write a great proposal and limits you to just cranking out a proposal that is merely acceptable.
  3. pWin. This one is both love and hate. It’s vital but false at the same time. The moment you try to pin a percentage on your pWin, you’re lying to yourself. It's amazing, and not in a good way, how many proposals that shouldn't have been bid started off with a high pWin assessment.
  4. I have a 99% win rate. All win rates are cherry picked. You must determine what is included or excluded just to calculate a win rate. But the incentive is to make those decisions in your favor. Be skeptical of someone who cites their win rate without telling you about the bids they left out of the calculation, because the odds of it being deceptive are high. This is true within a company, between companies, and when cited by individuals.
  5. When people think that by submitting their assignment by the deadline, they have done what needed to be done. Winning proposals is not about filling out the pages. It’s about winning. Every part of a proposal requires planning, executing, reviewing, and recovering. If you’re in it, be in it to win. It's a lot harder to do proposals with people who just want to do the minimum and run away.
  6. Making the RFP the beginning and end of it. The RFP is just the beginning. A lot more goes into winning than just the RFP. If you think your work on a proposal ends when you’ve addressed what’s in the RFP, you’re not trying hard enough to win. This shows up at the beginning, when you discover that the proposal is starting with sufficient customer insight and people are working exclusively from the RFP, and it happens in the middle when people want to take the easy route and not do any research beyond the RFP.
  7. It’s better to write something quickly so that you have something to work with. This is the start of the proposal death spiral, where you write iteration after iteration in search of something that can win until you run out of time and submit what you have without finding what you were searching for. Winning consistently requires that you think through what it will take to win first and then write it.
  8. I can’t tell you what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it. This is the worst sin in proposals. Telling people to burn the time available trying to guess at what the proposal should be instead of thinking it through, validating it, and then proceeding to execute it. Imagine flying in an airplane built that way.
  9. A proposal process is based on having steps that people should follow. This flies in the face of reality. In most fields, every RFP in the door presents exceptions and deviations to your steps. Having a process that is mostly accurate is a contradiction in terms. The proposal process should be based on goals and not steps. This shows up when companies say they have a process, but really don't.
  10. Proposal automation saves money and time. Think about what the return is on a small increase in your win rate. Usually it’s a rough order of magnitude more than the effort it takes to increase your win rate. The same is true in reverse. Proposal automation gets in the way of the things you need to do to increase your win rate. This creates a reduction in ROI instead of an increase. It is better to create your proposals like your business depends on them than it is to minimize them.

I love working on proposals and the reasons for it are more compelling than the things I occasionally hate about it. But stressful and recurring problems like these definitely detract from the experience. Take another look at the list above and ask yourself how many of these are people problems. And how many of those are mismatches in expectations. And how many are part of human nature and not going away anytime soon.

I also see that I have written articles related to almost all of them. That’s an indicator that I’ve given it some thought in the past and will continue to do so until the problems go away for good. I just hope I don’t have to wait for human nature to change for that to happen. 😉

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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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