Winning proposals consistently is different from winning a single proposal. Winning a proposal is a simple matter of figuring out or guessing what the customer wants, presenting it as their best alternative, knowing what needs to happen for the customer to move forward, and earning enough of their trust that they do as you suggest. Anyone can win a single proposal. What’s hard is winning consistently.
What makes winning consistently so hard is that you start the proposal as you are, with what you have. And a lot of the time, it’s not what you should have. If you want to win consistently, you can’t make doing proposals about playing catchup every time. When you play catchup, your goal is to get as close to where you should be as possible. Winning consistently requires consistent over-achieving and not consistent almost achieving or good-enough achieving.
To win consistently, four things have to consistently go right:
- You need to start the proposal with an information advantage. If you don’t deliver the information it takes to write a winning proposal at the start, your only hope is to win on price. If instead of starting with an information advantage, you try to figure out something clever during the proposal, you will not win consistently. If you want to consistently start your proposals with an information advantage, instead of going fishing, try setting up a process based on the flow of information that a proposal needs in order to reflect what it will take to win.
- You need follow-through. You need enough of the right effort, from the right people, fulfilling the right expectations. If your organization consistently starves its proposals of resources, fails to set the right expectations, or simply fails to deliver and it cannot consistently win. It can consistently lose. Is your win rate above or below 50%? The path to consistently winning is not throwing bodies at the proposal, it is having a process that accurately identifies what you need, a way to negotiate availability of resources, and a realistic assignment management system that accurately tracks progress and provides quality assurance.
- Consistently winning means defining proposal quality and having a way to measure whether you have achieved it. If you commit this sin, you will not consistently win. You must define proposal quality in a measurable way in order to know whether you have achieved it. In order to do that, you must know what it will take to win, and set your writing assignments up to fulfill that. When your writers know what they need to do to achieve a quality proposal and can compare what they’ve written against what it needs to be, then you can consistently achieve a quality proposal that reflects what it will take to win. No amount of reviewing on the back end, after the writing has been completed, can make up for that. Fixing the proposal at the back end is another variation of the catchup strategy.
- Once you can define proposal quality, then you need to make sure your contributors have the right skills to deliver it. Proposal writing is a combination of planning and expressing everything from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. It is not something that comes naturally to most people. But when the same exact offering is presented from the customer’s perspective instead of being simply described, it shows more value and will consistently score higher.
The result is that winning consistently is more about process than talent. This means that companies can institutionalize the practices that lead to consistently winning. They can make it part of their culture. When staff are pulled in multiple directions and you know that proposals aren’t getting 100% of the attention of the people working on them, and if you rely on talent alone you know:
- You will go into every proposal giving it less than 100%
- Every proposal will be below your full potential
- You will enter into every competition with one hand tied behind your back
- Hoping for good enough is not much of a win strategy
To win consistently takes more than just talent. The most difficult aspect of winning proposals consistently is that it requires things that are outside of your control. It requires contributions from other people. Winning consistently means doing everything in your power to make sure that they don’t let you down, and contingencies so that you can still win even when people do let you down. You need a process that:
- Shows them what information they need, where to get it, what to do with it, and how to transform it into a winning proposal
- Tells them how to prioritize their efforts
- Let's them know what the expectations are and gets everyone on the same page
- Tells them how to achieve their goals and not just what to do
- Enables them to measure progress and quality
- Catches them when they get off-track with enough time to do something about it
Having all that doesn’t mean that people won’t let you down. You won’t win every bid. But you will win more consistently. If you are winning less than half of your bids, you probably have some inconsistencies that could be eliminated.
When you do what is needed to win consistently, you get the best from everyone on your team, which is far more than the talent of any individual can achieve. When your competitors rely on talent, they will win on their good days. But mostly they will lose. That means there is an opportunity for you to be the one who wins most of the time.
But you won’t get there by treating each proposal in isolation. You have to develop an organization that consistently does the things needed to win. You have to think that through, institutionalize it, and build it into your culture. That means you have to stop playing catchup and build things right from the beginning. Winning consistently is hard because it takes discipline, focus, and long-term effort. It’s so much easier just to show up and rely on your talent.
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
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