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How short term vs. long term proposal thinking impacts your ability to win business

Are you gambling in the short term or are you investing to win long term?

There is a place for short-term thinking. You've got to start somewhere. But there are also risks. And it's easy to become sidetracked along the way. This creates an opportunity to beat your competitors by continuing to evolve when they get stuck.

Short-term proposal thinking  

Short-term thinking can trick you out of having an investment mentality. You’re not thinking about investing in your proposal capability. You may not even be investing in the win.

You think short term when you’ve got a deadline, that’s all you're accountable for, and you only have the resources you’ve been given to prepare the proposal. You may be talking about winning, but your staff are probably more focused on just getting the darn thing submitted “while doing their best to win” so they can have their life back.

If those are the cards you are dealt, that’s how you play it. A short-term proposal often involves making up a process as you go along. Re-using old proposal text that was good enough for the last proposal, is good enough for this one. If you are starting at RFP release with no information advantage, you may just have to fake your customer awareness. You are a hero. You get the job done.

But your company sees you as a cost to be minimized.

Short-term techniques for proposals include having a way of doing things (a process that’s not fully documented), re-using proposal text, and getting to a draft quickly so you can fix it. Your process is probably based on having one major draft review. The proposal succeeds or fails based solely on the strength of the participants. And whether they are heroes

If you only do proposals rarely and the values are not large enough to make them investment-worthy, you can get away with short-term thinking. When you start out with short-term thinking because you have no ability to invest, you risk having that become how you go about doing proposals when the volume picks up. This is a disease that infects both executives and proposal managers.

The bridge to long-term proposal thinking is usually your business development and proposal process. Companies seek to formalize their process when they want to start doing things consistently better in the future. 

Mid-term proposal thinking  

Most established companies make it this far and never make it to long term thinking because it’s so easy to get sidetracked. I know billion-dollar companies that never matured past this level. Companies who get stuck here are often trapped in a process Catch-22. They haven’t documented their process that people won’t follow anyway. Even if it was documented, it would fail if followed diligently in the real world. Stuck in this trap, “The Process” seems to be the only way out. 

Mid term proposal thinking can become an eternal struggle around “The Process” while falling back on short term techniques to keep making proposal submissions. Just when you think things are going smoothly, staff turnover sets you back, demonstrating that your process was never independent of your people.

With long term proposal thinking, gambling or relying on continuous heroics gives way to continuous win rate improvement. But only for those with the patience, perseverance, and strength required to build the right culture.

Long-term proposal thinking  

Long-term thinking only happens when there is a multi-year commitment to continuous win rate improvement backed by the authority to drive change. By the time companies get to long-term thinking, they have usually fallen into the business development growth trap, with multiple locations, lines of business, and territories that have evolved different ways of doing things that are hard to standardize. You can’t begin long-term thinking until you can get everyone on the same page.

When you do, wonderful things can be achieved with a long-term outlook:

  • You recognize that winning is cross-functional and requires integration instead of stove pipes. You make everyone part of business development and the flow of information from lead identification through award. Proposals are not something a department does, they become something the entire company does.
  • Instead of process as required steps, you create a process that based on guidance and staff development. Instead of steps, the process itself gets built around discovering the information needed to answer the questions that stakeholders have so they can make their contributions. You make it easier to follow the process than to complete an assignment without it by showing, accelerating, and inspiring so that people want to follow it. Instead of a rare event, training gets built into the process and becomes continuous and never-ending. It facilitates your ability to adapt and change by giving you a vehicle to inform and guide while doing. When there is a multiyear commitment, process and training combined become the engine for organizational change that drives continuous win rate improvement.
  • Your review process begins to focus on risk mitigation and quality validation instead of document critique. You define proposal quality. You define quality criteria for your proposals and train your reviewers to be responsible for validating them. Quality gets built in at the beginning instead of fixes applied at the end. When there are alternatives reviewers and the proposal team collaborate to make decisions based on risk management and acceptance.
  • You get good at analytics. Very few business development or proposal groups have any analytical capability. It is surprising how few companies have any analytical capability. In this context, analytics means quantifying process performance so that you can correlate decisions and activity with your win rate. Continuous change is senseless if it is uninformed. The things that actually impact your win rate are not always what you think they will be. What experts think they know is often contradicted by hard data. For long-term success, take the subjectivity about what you should do out of the equation and replace it with a culture of experimentation and analytics. This is necessary to make the big evolutionary shift from thinking about proposals as a cost and instead managing them as investments. How does resource allocation impact your win rates? Is more always better? Under what circumstances? When does spending more lead to higher win rates and when does it not? Winning proposals should be about maximizing the company's return on investment. But without analytics all you are doing is gambling on your future. Long-term thinking minimizes gambling in favor of steadily increasing returns.


    Evolving like this is something we help companies do. All the individual things we offer are part of a bigger plan. From our off-the-shelf process documentation, to our pipeline assessments, review participation, and integrated process, guidance, and training, they add up to transformation into an organization that maximizes its win rates. When you are too small to invest much, we have subscriptions. When you are ready for more, we have easy ways to get started. And once we have a relationship based on a proven ROI track record, we help our friends over the long term become truly great. 

    Click the button if you are ready to think long term and want us to help your company win.

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    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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