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What you can learn from reviewing your past proposals

11 things to look for and 11 ways to fix them

Normally I think that even looking at a past proposal is asking for trouble. You don’t need that kind of pain. You made mistakes you don’t even know about. A lot of them. In fact, based on what we see when we review proposals for companies, there were a lot of problems in them. Even the proposals that won. Why open those wounds?

Two words: win rate.

A small increase in win rate is worth a large investment. Do the math.

But what should you do to improve your win rate? Looking at your proposals to see what’s actually getting to the customer and assessing what that says about the organization that created it is a good place to start. It’s objective. The customer does not see your intent. Only what you submit.

So here are 11 examples of the kinds of things we learn when we look at previous proposals for companies:

  1. Do your writers focus on the RFP or their own ideas?
  2. Do they show insight that goes beyond the RFP?
  3. Do your proposals effectively present your differentiators?
  4. Are they writing around the fact that they didn’t have the input they needed?
  5. Do they have bad writing habits?
  6. Does the organization show they were writing according to a plan or were they making it up as they went along?
  7. Is writing from the customer’s perspective institutionalized?
  8. Is writing to optimize the evaluation score institutionalized?
  9. Were reviews effective?
  10. Did the team run out of time?
  11. Is visual communication an afterthought?

And for each item above, here is where you can invest to improve your win rate:

See also:
Proposal quality validation
  1. Focus on RFP compliance first, but don’t stop there.
  2. Insight beyond the RFP is an important quality indicator, since it indicates whether your proposals demonstrate an information advantage. If you want your proposals to show insight, you have to supply that insight to your writers.
  3. In order to be the best, you must be different in all the right ways. Differentiators matter. They must be a priority. Yet they are often an afterthought. Instead, identifying and articulating them should be the focus of the entire pursuit.
  4. You can’t write from the customer’s perspective if you don’t know what that is. Fluff and unsubstantiated claims do more harm than good. You must gather the right data, assess it effectively, and deliver it to the proposal writers at the right and in the right format for it to impact the proposal.
  5. Does your organization tend to write in passive voice? Does it tend to make unsubstantiated claims? Does it avoid the issues? Does it speak with the right level of formality or informality? Should any bad habits be fixed by training proposal participants or through back-end editing? Are your reviewers trained to catch bad habits when they reappear?
  6. Implement an effective proposal content planning methodology. It helps to integrate it with developing the quality criteria for validating the quality of your proposals.
  7. If your proposals describe your company and your offering, you’ve got a problem. Your proposals are probably written from your perspective instead of the customer’s. This is a major training issue. It even has the potential to impact your corporate culture, because once people start considering the customer’s perspective during proposal writing, it tends to spread. And that’s a good thing.
  8. If the customer follows a formal evaluation process, then your proposal is more likely to be scored than read. That means writing your proposal to maximize its score can be more important than maximizing it to read well. This requires training proposal contributors to organize and write your proposals according to a different set of priorities. It also requires understanding your customer’s evaluation process in detail.
  9. If problems are slipping past your reviewers, you’ve got process and/or training problems. Ineffective reviews can also introduce problems, and sometimes that’s the explanation for problems you see in the proposal. An ineffective review process can be worse than not having a review at all. If you don’t have a written definition of proposal and criteria for use in performing the reviews, there’s a good chance your review process needs improvement. Changing the review process often means retraining the highly experience senior staff who often participate in the reviews.
  10. If your proposal team ran out of time on a bid it can be understandable. If they run out of time on a significant portion of your bids, your win rate is likely suffering and it’s probably worth improving your process and/or resource allocation in order to improve.
  11. Is the message built around the graphics, or were the graphics tacked on at the end? Graphics can be tremendously effective, but only if they are effectively built into the proposal. 

PropLIBRARY Subscribers can access our methodologies for Proposal Content Planning and Proposal Quality Validation. They are two of the core methodologies for the MustWin Process that is documented within PropLIBRARY. If you are interested in having an experienced person outside your company review your proposals, here is how to contact us.

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. 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.

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

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