3 alternative approaches for reviewing your proposals

and 7 considerations for selecting among them

Companies have different issues that impact what is the best approach for achieving proposal quality. For example, if you only have a few people capable of performing quality reviews and you use them on every proposal, the best approach will be different from an organization where the participants on the reviews are different for every proposal. Here are some other considerations:

  1. The level of training and expertise in available reviewers. Untrained reviewers, even if experienced, may not be capable of validating proposal quality. Training can be embedded into the methodology. Or the methodology can be simplified to lower the amount of training required. 
  2. The availability of reviewers. When reviewers simply aren’t available, the methodology needs to feature more self-evaluation. When reviewers have limited availability, there is a tendency to have fewer but larger reviews, lowering their effectiveness. A scalable set of criteria can help ensure that the critical items are adequately covered.
  3. Budgets and how you account for the reviewers’ time. Budgets can make something with a great return on investment (ROI) look too expensive to implement. An effective quality methodology increases your win rate significantly. Having proposal quality reviews does not add to the cost, it adds to your ROI. If people are minimizing reviews to save money, you might want to check your math and see if your accounting system is getting in the way of your ROI.
  4. The size, scope, complexity, and consistency of your proposals. The effort to achieve proposal quality is based not only on the page count of your proposals, but also on the complexity of the content. What you need to validate in a proposal with a simple structure is different from a proposal with a complex structure. When implementing a quality methodology, consistency is also a factor. Is every proposal a unique creation? Do you always bid a similar offering? How much variation is there in the RFPs? Do you need to validate every decision and unique aspect? Does that change with every proposal?
  5. The anticipated award value. How much is it worth to make sure this proposal is the best it can be?
  6. Risk and return on investment (ROI). How much quality risk can you tolerate? How much are you willing to risk your investment in the proposal?
  7. The importance of win rate. How much will an improvement in your win rate increase your bottom line? What role should your proposal quality methodology play in achieving it?

With those considerations in mind, consider these three approaches to proposal quality. Each has different characteristics that make them better suited for some organizations than others.

  1. Proposal Quality Validation. A criteria-based approach that focuses on defining proposal quality, turning that into criteria, and then validating that the proposal reflects those criteria. Implementation involves giving the same criteria to the writers that the reviewers will use. The methodology is very efficient. It requires a great deal of thought, but a low level of administrative effort. The basic premise is that how you perform the reviews is far less important than what you review. It requires reviewers to validate against the criteria and not to simply comment on whatever enters their mind during the review. It requires an integrated process that spans the pre-RFP and post-RFP phases, with attention paid to defining proposal quality criteria at the beginning of the proposal.
  2. Checklists instead of reviews. In high volume environments, or when trained reviewers are not available, the things reviewers would look for can be rendered as checklists. Checklists can be based on topics like the proposal outline, RFP compliance, bid strategies (differentiators, themes, etc.), offering design, competitive positioning, writing (accuracy, does it reflect the customer’s perspective, etc.), and final production (format, assembly, etc.). Converting quality criteria into checklists works best when there is a great deal of consistency between your proposals, although a hybrid approach is possible, if you provide a place for additions to your standard checklist for pursuit-specific items. It may also be more suitable for low value proposals. Depending on your needs, checklists might require one or more sign-offs to maintain accountability. One interesting feature of this approach is that you can eliminate some or possibly all of your sit-around-a-table and read-it-all reviews. They are not the only way to achieve proposal quality.
  3. Design quality in. When the experienced staff who are the only available reviewers are also the key decision makers for the offering, the idea of an objective review team is not feasible. So embrace it. Instead of a break-fix quality approach that uses objective reviewers on the back end to assess whether the proposal meets standards, try designing quality in at the beginning. In this approach, the “reviewers” validate proposal team decisions as you go along. Instead of waiting for the document, they review and approve the decisions regarding the offering, strategies, and approaches to the writing. They review what the proposal will be, as much as they review what it has become. When the proposal is written, the review team no longer needs to consider whether the approaches are correct, but can instead focus on whether they’ve been implemented effectively. It is worth considering the value of objectivity vs the value of designing quality in from the beginning. While both have value, how well you can achieve them depends on your resource availability. 

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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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