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How to turn winning business from an art into a science

Don't just win one. Win them all.

Turning the art of winning proposals into a quantifiable science is more possible than most people realize. It requires making data driven decisions. And to do that you have to thoroughly embrace performance measurement for the pursuit process. As Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

The trick to it is to have a process that gives you the data you need without it becoming extra work. One of the things we find when implementing the MustWin Process on PropLIBRARY is that not only does it lend itself to performance measurement, but with forms based on criteria the data practically jumps right out at you. This can be used to provide an unprecedented level of metrics that you can analyze for correlations with your win rate.

When we say unprecedented, we mean that it enables you to track metrics and quantify business and proposal development in ways you didn’t even know were possible. We mean that you can elevate the way your company does proposals to a level beyond what your competitors think is even possible. It means you can gain better insight into which of the things you do impact your win rate, and which do not.

Making it easy to become data driven

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The best part is that you don’t have to do anything extra to generate the numbers. They are produced by simply following the process. By simply following the process and assessing the data it produces, you can take a lot of the opinions and arguments out of what you should do and make better decisions.

The way the MustWin Process achieves this is through four key areas that build on each other. They relate to what you do before the proposal starts, how you plan the content of your proposal, how you manage proposal writing, and your approach to assessing proposal quality. The way we do these things in the MustWin Process makes it easy to quantify things.

The MustWin Process starts with Readiness Reviews during the pre-RFP pursuit phase. Then it turns what you do there into a Content Plan for the proposal that turns the art of writing into something measurable. Then to cap it all off, it uses a review process that validates the draft and demonstrates that it fulfills the definition of proposal quality. Along the way it measures progress and validates results. Here’s how it plays out:

Metrics During Pre-RFP Readiness Reviews

  • Identify the questions you need answered, goals to achieve, and actions to take before the RFP is released, starting with an off-the-shelf set for guidance. Then review their fulfillment using a simple grading system (red/yellow/green) that converts to numerical analysis.
  • The relevant metrics that result include the number of items sought, what percentage were completed, and how well they were completed.
  • Assessment should focus on whether the trend is up or down over time, benchmarking against past pursuits, and correlating the results with your win rate.
  • Articulate what it will take to win in the form of criteria that can be used to assess the draft proposal later.
  • Your goal is to be able to determine whether you are on track to be ready to win at RFP release, and to be able to define proposal quality based on what it will take to win.

Metrics During Proposal Content Planning

  • Identify what should go into the proposal before writing it using the 8 iterations defined in the MustWin Proposal Content Planning Methodology. This will include the items you identified as being needed to win as well as instructions related to your evaluation criteria, goals, win strategies, and themes.
  • The metrics that result from Proposal Content Planning include the number of items included in the plan (broken down by iterations), the number of changes made during plan validation, and the number of planned items that are addressed in the narrative draft.
  • The result is the ability to quantify progress during proposal writing and whether the draft proposal reflects what it will take to win.

Metrics During Proposal Writing

  • We recommend tracking metrics related to how well you are delivering your message in the proposal.
  • These may include metrics like the ratio of sentences that are about the customer vs. those that are about your company, sentences that include the results or benefits vs. those that do not, graphics vs. text, and the number of times the items on your “what it will take to win” list are mentioned.
  • Your goal is to gain the ability to quantify the effectiveness of the proposal writing and to give writers tools to help them do a better job (before it ever gets to the reviewers).

Proposal Quality Validation

  • A criteria driven review process not only produces metrics, it also forces you to define proposal quality, understand what drives it, and measure whether your proposals reflect it, resulting in better, more consistent reviews.
  • Some of the metrics that can result include both the raw number and the ratio of suggested improvements vs. planned items missing or not addressed, and the anticipated evaluation score.
  • Your goal is to determine whether the proposal fulfills the Content Plan and what it will take to win.
  • The result is the ability to quantify proposal quality and whether you have achieved your goals (which are traceable back to what it will take to win).

Automating data collection

When you have a traditional paper-based process and you use forms as process artifacts, they collect the data you need. This does simplify things. However, you still have to aggregate the data in something like a spreadsheet. Luckily this is simply data entry. Data collection is hard and expensive, but the forms do it for you. Data entry is easy, cheap, and well worth the payoff.

But if you automate your proposal process (as opposed to proposal file management or proposal production), the system can automatically collect the data for you. This is what we do in our tool, MustWin Now. It transforms the MustWin Process from something paper-based to one where the process becomes invisible and the users don't have to give it much thought. When people add criteria, report or resolve issues, update the status of things, and review them, all that data is in the system. Do enough proposals using MustWin Now and without any extra data collection or entry, you'll have a wealth of data that you can correlate with your win rate.

Why all this matters

Rules of thumb aren't. Through PropLIBRARY I get insight into how people do all kinds of proposals. I see all the exceptions. People reach out to me daily about best practices that just don't apply to them. And they're often right. If you practice winning like it's an art, you are at the complete mercy of subjective decisions that are likely based on the wrong circumstances and unproven assumptions. When I see conventional wisdom put to the test, I often see it fail. What's your company's win rate? Not the one you tell other people based on cherry picked data, but the real win rate. If it's less than 50%, then what you think you know about what it will take to win could use some objective improvement. And that objectivity comes from being data driven.

In every other aspect of business, we strive to be scientific, efficient, and measurably effective. And then there's how we do proposals, which is closer to being based on superstition than science.

The reason all this matters is that the difference between a 20% win rate and a 30% win rate is 50% more revenue. Each 1% improvement brings a 5% improvement in revenue. You may add some single digit improvements by giving it more attention. But imagine having the 150% improvement in revenue that would come from getting your win rate up to 50%. How much effort is that worth? Maybe getting a little more data driven is worth it.

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

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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.

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.

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