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Fear. CYA. Accountability. Expectations. And proposal win rates.

Plus 11 things to do so you can win without fear

Your people are afraid to lose proposals. 

This is true even though most companies lose more proposals than they win. Maybe it's the large value and huge amount of effort that's on the line.

The people you most need to grow your business live in fear. And it’s not a productive fear. It’s an accountability avoiding I don’t trust you to watch my back I’m not going to take a risk win rate limiting kind of fear. Sometimes it’s an I need some CYA to avoid getting blamed and I'd better blame someone else first kind of fear. It’s not a healthy let’s all maximize our chances of winning by making expectations clear or let’s take some risks together so we can beat the competition kind of fear. It’s the kind of unproductive fear that makes you more likely to lose.

Do you know anyone like this or resemble it yourself from time to time?

  • Have you known business developers who avoid process because they are limited by how open and willing to share each customer is? Or that don’t want to be held responsible for providing information they can’t always get? Or who don’t admit what they don’t know and can’t find out? Or who don’t want to be held accountable if the information they get from one source is wrong or if that source does not participate in the decision? Have you known business developers who obfuscate and avoid participating in the proposal where spoken words become concrete? Have you noticed how they stay in prospecting and avoid closing? All because of fear. Fear reinforced by incentives that have negative side effects.
  • Have you known proposal specialists who are terrified of being blamed for a loss because they are the last to touch the document? Have you noticed they sometimes create a process that’s not actually documented and when people can’t follow it they can blame them for not following it? When reviews are performed inconsistently and ineffectively, have you known proposal managers who sandbag the reviews by running out the clock and lumping everything into a single review that can’t possibly consider everything it should, so they can pick and choose which comments to ignore and which to take action on? Have you seen proposal specialists retreat and just focus on production, which is the only thing they control, rather than helping people prepare winning content? All because of fear.
  • Have you known executives who participate in reviews just enough to take credit, but not enough to establish accountability for oversight? Or who create strategic plans that are all about the financials and encourage bidding anything, with positioning that has nothing to do with winning proposals? Or who arrive at reviews unprepared and avoid defining quality, let alone validating all its components on every bid? Have you known executives who don’t enforce deadlines, but expect people to be grateful when they expense some pizza because people are working a late night because deadlines were missed? All because of fear.

Companies like this win by submitting merely compliant proposals that are low on price. The feedback they take away from winning is that they can get away with bidding anything and their process is just fine.

Most companies aren’t that bad. But the feedback mechanism works the same. They play it safe, hedge their bets, don't go out on a limb, and get by just well enough that it takes away their incentivize to change. The difficulty of changing never seems worth the cost. They are made up of good people who work extra hard to hide their fears. But the fears are still there, quietly changing people's behaviors and eating away at your win rate.

How much higher would your win rate be without this fear?

And how can you possibly get there?

  • Create an environment where you can have clear expectations that aren't turned into threats of performance accountability.
  • Set standards for what constitutes a valid process and what proposal quality means. It's not enough to say you have a process.
  • Implement a bid/no bid decision process that doesn’t hang people out to dry on low probability pursuits that are understaffed and being bid just because the company can.
  • Make sure people understand how ROI, overhead, and trade-off issues impact staffing and resource allocation decisions. Of course you're understaffed. When people understand why and see a path to fixing that, they'll buy in and help you grow your way out of it.
  • Make sure the potential upside of winning is far greater than the fear of making mistakes.
  • Make trustworthiness as important as performance, and require people to have each other's backs and support each other
  • Involve reviewers as collaborators and supporters, not as critics or drive-by lecturers. Make sure reviewers are as dedicated to their role as the rest of the proposal team. Or at least that they show up prepared.
  • Make sure people are emboldened to take risks and foster a culture that recognizes the necessity.
  • Make sure people realize that you don't have to do proposals — you get to do proposals. The difference is important
  • Overcome fear with inspiration, at all levels of the organization. This is more than just having pep rallies. This is about giving people a reason to believe in what they are doing.
  • If you're not sure about whether you have the right staff, watch their performance during a pursuit. Many truths will be revealed.

Companies like this do exist. But more often it’s a group or unit within a company that has exceptional leadership.

You know how you can’t win a proposal if the customer doesn’t trust you?

You also can’t win proposals if your people are too afraid to trust you and each other.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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.

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

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