A great way to learn and improve your chances of winning a proposal at the same time

One of our customers had asked us to provide them with training so they could do a better job of preparing for an upcoming proposal. Naturally, before the training could get started they received notice that a customer was about to release an RFP, and had released a draft. So we incorporated the draft into the training. But the approach we took surprised me with how effectively it opened their eyes, how well it reached beyond just the proposal specialists, and how it contributed to real organizational change. It shows what you can do to open people’s eyes to what RFP compliance means and what you have to do to achieve a proposal the customer will find easy to evaluate.

The training took the form of several sessions, roughly two hours each and about one per week. With an uncertain RFP release date, we anticipated having four sessions, and possibly more. We picked a section from the draft RFP that was big enough but not too big. Then we picked a handful of people to participate, and the rest just observed. The participants represented future proposal specialists and key section leaders/writers. Each of the participants was given a homework assignment to prepare a compliance matrix.

The key was that they were all creating what you might think should be the same compliance matrix. They were all working from the same RFP. But we knew from experience that they would all make different judgment calls. We wanted them to make those judgment calls, see how they were all different, and gain experience in how to make them better and reconcile them.

The next session was a show and tell session. We looked at each of the compliance matrices. What we saw was that each person took different approaches and worded things differently. This gave me an opportunity to provide some guidance as we compared and contrasted what they came up with. What made this remarkable was that they saw the problems they created for the customer. They saw how the customer would receive wildly different proposals, all based on the same RFP, and what a huge advantage the company whose proposal matched what the customer expected would have.

Between that session and the next, I consolidated the compliance matrices and fixed them along the lines we had discussed. That gave us a baseline compliance matrix. Then we discussed Proposal Content Planning, and how to go from the outline generated from the compliance matrix into win strategies and points of emphasis, and account for all the ingredients that need to go into a winning proposal, before it is actually written. That session ended with another homework assignment to create a Proposal Content Plan based on the compliance matrix.

The next session started off with a new round of show and tell. But here we were dealing with a lot more material. Still, you could see which ways of presenting instructions would be the most helpful to the proposal writers and how the planning could make the writing go much, much more quickly. You could also see the shift from reviewing and fixing on the back end, to designing proposal quality in from the beginning.

But the Proposal Content Plans overlapped extensively and had some conflicts. This was to be expected. However, instead of me consolidating the Proposal Content Plans, I had them do it by having each participant take turns working their Content Plan into what they received, adding in anything new and of value while identifying and resolving any conflicts. This way each of them not only got to see and become aware of how that happens, but had a chance to personally be involved in resolving them. They gained hands-on experience. But the main takeaway was that instead of just hearing it explained, they got to see how important the wording of the instructions in the Content Plan is and how to make theirs better. The end result of the third session was a baseline Proposal Content Plan that was far better than any of them could produce on their own. All before release of the final RFP.

Another thing I liked about this approach was that it gave us options for dealing with the uncertainties of the draft RFP. We could continue to enhance the Proposal Content Plan. If the Final RFP introduced changes, they would be much easier to manage in the Content Plan than in a narrative draft. We weren’t sure whether to hold the major review of the Content Plan before RFP release and then do an update review after RFP release, or just wait until release of the final RFP. If we did a round or two of Content Plan enhancement and the final RFP was still not out, then we could face that decision. Either way, we’d be in position for changes, whether small or large, and ready to respond quickly whether the RFP came soon or late.

But what I liked the most was the way participants got way more than just procedural training, they got experience. They saw how what they did would impact the customer’s evaluation. And they had to fix it themselves. And since they represented key SMEs as well as future proposal specialists, the improvement in understanding just what it takes to have a compliant proposal that is optimized to win and the importance of not jumping straight into writing was spread across the company. That’s incredibly valuable and hard to achieve. The company went from being undisciplined to being a focused team with everyone on the same page, and achieved it before the RFP was out.

It was amazing seeing that happen. And it took less than a dozen hours. The cost was peanuts compared to the impact it made, on that proposal and on future proposals.

If you’d like to chat more about how this worked out or may implement something similar at your company to increase your chances of winning an upcoming proposal, just call me at 800-848-1563 or contact me through PropLIBRARY. If you want to learn about our Proposal Content Planning methodology so you can implement something like this on your own, the full documentation for it is available to PropLIBRARY Subscribers.


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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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