5 areas to focus on to improve the effectiveness of your proposal group

and make it less frustrating

An effective proposal group is more than just process and tools. But how do you assess its effectiveness? There are techniques and best practices, but what are the issues that impact its effectiveness? Here are five focus areas that reveal when you have things holding you back from maximizing your effectiveness. 

There are different ways to correct or improve things. But you must know what the issues are before you can select the right solution. Assuming the solution before you really understand the problem leads to continued ineffectiveness and frustration. 

The first sign of an ineffective process is often frustration. Frustration happens when recurring problems aren’t resolved. The five areas below are common sources of proposal frustration. 

See also:
ROI
  1. Handoffs. As soon as your proposal efforts grow beyond one person, there are handoffs. For example, many companies struggle with the handoff from sales to the proposal. When does it take place? What gets handed off? When these questions are not explicitly answered, missed expectations at the handoffs will not only lead to frustration, but lower win rates when people don’t have the information they need to write a winning proposal. If you define the handoffs at the proposal kickoff meeting it’s too late. People won’t have the information they need to hand off. Things will be far less frustrating for everyone involved, if you define the handoffs, including who, what, where, how, when, and why before the sales cycle starts. When people know what will be expected, they’re more likely to show up prepared. And your win rate will rise as a result.
  2. Uncertainty regarding roles. Who should do what? If it’s not said, it won’t happen. Instead of dividing tasks up based on who’s available, try defining roles functionally. When one person plays more than one role, they take on all of the responsibilities for all of the roles they take on. And everyone else knows what to expect based on who is playing which roles. In addition to unmet expectations and inefficiency, the big problem with uncertainty regarding proposal roles is delay. It takes longer to get things done and you run out of time for quality assurance (who’s responsible for that anyway?). On their own, staff can usually figure out how to get things done (for better or worse). But one thing they often can’t decide on their own is who must do things. They need clarification regarding the authority to make decisions regarding who must do things.
  3. Lack of resources. It makes complete sense that overloaded staff are frustrated. But more staff is not always the right answer. The answer is what will give you the best return on investment (ROI). In the absence of data to establish that, most companies opt for the minimum to get things done. The minimum to get things done will not return the best ROI. To discover the best ROI, you need to collect data that correlates staffing levels with win rate, and collect enough of it to be statistically significant. Another, sometimes easier approach is to establish standards, and measure their compliance and correlation with the win rate. Then you staff at the level that will meet your standards.  Depending on the size and volume of your bids, an increase in win rate will usually more than pay for the staff required to achieve it.  Once you track your ROI, your corporate culture will change from regarding proposals as a necessary expense to be minimized to an investment that benefits all. Also, take note. Resource sufficiency applies not just to having enough staff for proposal development, but also to executive staff. Do they have enough attention to give and to fulfill their commitments to the process and make timely decisions? Sometimes organizational development is primarily a matter of eliminating executive bottlenecks.
  4. Different agendas. People differ on priorities. They differ on techniques. They differ on decisions about things like resource allocation. Ultimately they have different goals. Even though everyone may share the goal of winning a proposal, they may have other goals that differ. Expectation management is critical. Understanding why goals and techniques are chosen is critical. People will more readily accept a goal that is different from theirs when their own expectations have been voiced and they understand why the different goal is being pursued, even if they disagree with it. An effective process is more than just steps. An effective process also facilitates expectation management and guidance regarding why things should be done a particular way. Often why this should be done is more important than how. Sometimes an RFP can require you to do things differently, but often the goal will remain the same and it can be okay if people improvise or innovate what they do, so long as they achieve the goal. 
  5. Who decides what quality is? Most companies treat proposal quality as a subjective thing and make it up as they go along. People debate, advocate, and discuss everything from word choice and style to bid strategies. They waste huge amounts of time talking in circles around the issues. Usually there isn’t one person who has the authority to declare it, and even if there is that just makes it one person’s opinion. You need a written definition of proposal quality that provides the criteria everyone should follow to achieve the kind of proposals the company wants to submit. Then people can argue over those criteria, but you can also settle those arguments by reviewing and publishing those criteria. This has the added benefits of informing proposal writers what they need to accomplish and giving you metrics you can use to track correlation with your win rate. It is a key part of expectation management.
     

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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.

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