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12 strategies for fixing a broken proposal

Prepare to change your expectations

Here are some of the strategies that we employ when fixing a broken proposal. I prefer to focus on process and preventing these problems. But once a proposal is broken, it's too late to implement a process. Maybe improving your process can prevent the next proposal from breaking. Fixing this proposal requires a different approach.

Often the biggest problem is getting people to realize that they aren't going to be able to submit the glorious proposal they originally envisioned and need to change their expectations. Every one of these requires people to change. There's a good chance that the proposal is broken because people didn't change quickly enough. So pick your approach and move forward without further hesitation.

And remember this variation on Murphy's Law: If it doesn't work, force it. If it breaks, it needed fixing anyway.Priorities

Proposal priorities can be thought of as a variation on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If a proposal is broken, that means you’ve lost time, only limited time is available, and you have to scale the solution to the time available. This means you’ve got to prioritize.

See also:
Proposal Management
  1. Don’t get thrown out. Fix disqualifiers first to ensure you are even in the game. Next, make sure you have followed the instructions in the RFP. Literally. In their words, with everything organized the way they asked for it to be organized. If you deviate from this organization, you are at risk of getting thrown out. Fixing that is more important than saying things in any particular way.
  2. Score. Once your proposal is organized the way they want it to be organized, then focus on their evaluation criteria. The goal of a proposal written against published evaluation criteria is to achieve the highest score. This is more important than how you might want your proposal to sound or look. Your proposal is not about how you want to present yourself, it’s about how the customer will score what they see. Maximizing your chances of winning requires giving them content that is optimized to score well against the evaluation criteria.
  3. Strategies. You should have some. If the proposal doesn’t implement them, you might want to fix that. If your proposal is organized according to the RFP and optimized against the evaluation criteria, next comes having clever bid strategies. What they should be depends on your company, the customer, and the competitive environment. But your proposal should implement those strategies effectively and consistently. One way proposals commonly go bad is that they never really settle on their strategies and try to figure them out by writing and rewriting instead of thinking clearly.
  4. Price. If your proposal content didn’t go as well as you’d have liked, the importance of having the lowest price becomes even more important. If your proposal isn’t likely to compete and win with a top score, then you might be able to compete and win on price. 
  5. Production. Minimize it. If things aren’t going so well, lower your production standards. A good message can win with a plain presentation. But a bad message isn’t going to win. Period. In the roughest of circumstances, I have skipped final editing to provide enough time to fix a proposal that didn’t comply with the RFP. Not getting thrown out is more important than not having typos. They may lower your score, but if you’ve done a halfway-decent job they won’t get you thrown out. 


If you realize your proposal is broken halfway through the schedule, you can’t take the same approach you had at the beginning. You have to change your expectations based on the time remaining.

  1. Do less. You do not need to do everything possible to win. Everything does not have the same impact on whether you win. Do only the things that impact winning the most. See “Priorities” above. You are more likely to achieve your priorities if you simplify things. Quit piling on. Instead of an elaborate, sophisticated, detailed, and long proposal, go for an elegant, plain-speaking, minimal, and short proposal. It's not about which is the better presentation. It's about which can you do a better job of producing.
  2. Perform triage. In an emergency, you don’t practice heroic medicine. You practice triage.


In addition to managing time, you have to manage your resources.

  1. Change contributors. Hopefully the problem is that the goals weren’t made clear, and clarifying things will enable the staff you’ve got to try again and be successful. If you are relying on a writer who doesn’t even understand the goals, let alone have the ability to fulfill them, you’ll never get there. Switching to someone else might be less than ideal, but see “Don’t get thrown out” above. 
  2. Throw bodies at it. Or not. Some problems can be broken down and worked by multiple people. Some can’t. Know which is which. If the proposal is broken, you either want quantity or quality to fix it. The odds are that what got you into this mess wasn’t the right choice.


You can't just wish it away...

  1. Fixing a broken proposal isn’t about doing everything you can to win. That opportunity has come and gone. Fixing a broken proposal is about risk management. What risks do you want to take in order to achieve what gains? Do you risk presentation defects or typos? Do you risk not having enough detail? Do you risk noncompliance? 
  2. Put it on the table. One way proposals get broken is by not facing up to the risks. Instead of taking risks by chance, you should take risks by choice. Not taking any risks is not an option.
  3. Collaborate and validate. Don’t hide your risks. Bring them to The Powers That Be at your company and get them to validate your risk decisions. The company should decide what risks get taken, not individuals.

And one more...

  1. Run away. Don’t throw good money after bad. You should walk away from sunk costs rather than submit a proposal that can’t win. If you can’t admit your broken proposal can’t win, you’ve got another problem. If your broken proposal can be fixed, then I’ll leave you alone to get on with it. 
Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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