It’s not that companies don’t try to prepare before the RFP is released, although that is sometimes the case. The real problem is that when they do try, most of their effort is wasted. They have some time, they have some budget and somehow they start the proposal with nothing of substance to show for it.
The reason you end up at RFP release unprepared even though you had an early start
The primary reason is that they haven’t figured out how to stage what they know in a way that impacts the proposal. All they can think of is to start writing the proposal, but they can't without the RFP. So they end up gathering what meager information they can, trying to keep it in mind when they start writing, and being unable to use most of it as they try to untangle the RFP after it's released because:
- The information you have is not the information you need to respond to the RFP. You have to align what you know with the specific terminology of the evaluation criteria and position against what it will take to win. If you can’t make things align or if you have large gaps, then you don’t know what you need to know in order to maximize your chances of winning. You know stuff, but it’s useless. You just don’t want to admit it.
- The information you have does not help you make the decisions needed to create the proposal. When you are trying to implement your bid strategies in writing, if you find that the bid strategies you thought you had are either fluff or not specific to the RFP, then you have to make decisions in order to create new bid strategies. If the information you have doesn’t help you make those decisions, it’s like you're starting fresh and all your past preparations are abandoned. No one likes to admit that the previous work just got thrown out when the proposal started.
Instead of gathering apparently useful information and “keeping it in mind” during the proposal, you should:
- Anticipate the information you will need to write the winning proposal. When you focus on what you can find instead of what you need, you should expect that most of it will not align with the RFP or positioning strategies of the proposal. Your information gathering efforts must be based on anticipating what will be needed and searching for it, instead of simply making contacts and mining them for useful tidbits. You will never find all the information you’d like to have, but the company that does the best job of getting the information it needs will have a competitive advantage when it comes to writing the proposal.
- Convert everything into instructions for writers. If you learned something about the customer’s preferences, then turn that into an instruction that will guide the future proposal writers. If you obtain a potentially useful client document, then mine it for instructions you can pass on to your proposal writers. For any information you gather to impact the document, you need to connect the information to the document. The way to do that is by articulating it as guidance for writers. If you can’t tell them how the information should impact the writing, then the information won’t impact the writing. Skip this step and the odds of the information making a contribution to the proposal are nil.
In the MustWin Process we address this by:
- Building the pre-RFP process around answering the questions that will be needed to win the proposal.
- Structuring the process so that what you know flows into the Proposal Content Plan.
- Solving the problem that you can't start writing before the RFP comes out by creating something that will accelerate the writing when it's time.
- Increases the likelihood of winning by ensuring that your customer and opportunity insights make it into the document.
- Speeds up the proposal effort by shortening the length of time it takes to create a content plan before writing to it.
- Tells you what you can do to prepare before the RFP comes out.
Throw away the PowerPoint briefings and unstructured files you are currently using to show "what you've learned" during the pre-RFP phase of pursuit. Instead, focus on preparing for the content planning phase. Proposal Content Planning is where everything comes together. Going from pre-RFP intelligence gathering to a written proposal draft is a huge step with a high likelihood of failure. If you measure the success of your pre-RFP preparations by their contributions to your content plans, you increase your chances of success tremendously.
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.
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.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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