Just because your proposals are produced by a group of people doesn’t mean that you have an organizational approach to winning business. Just because you call them a team doesn’t mean that they aren’t really just a collection of individuals sharing the work.
An organizational approach to winning is different from spreading the work to more individuals and keeping track of the pieces. An organizational approach is more than the sum of its parts because the work that each participant does reinforces the work of all the others, instead of just adding to the pile of paper produced. An organizational approach is far more competitive, because it makes the individual contributions better than they would be on their own. This is what makes changing your approach a competitive advantage.
If you start your proposals without an information advantage, it’s a sign that you’re responding to RFPs without the right customer interaction. It could also be sign that those in your organization who interact with the customer are not an integrated part of the process for winning. It means that an unbroken flow of information that leads to winning never has a chance to form. You’re not even trying.
If you start your proposals without knowing what your differentiators are, or if you wait until the proposal to start articulating them, it’s a sign that your organization is making things up as it goes along. The odds are your differentiators are weak and only there at all because someone said you must have some. Developing compelling differentiators is a strategic process and not something done in the moment against a deadline. Compelling differentiators require the organization to define itself in a way that’s fully aware of the strategic implications and customer preferences. Compelling differentiators require an organizational approach, because no individual has all the insight required. Having meetings to talk about differentiators is not much of an organized approach to identifying, articulating, and substantiating them.
You may give your proposal writers instructions regarding what to write. But do you also address how to write it? If you don’t, it’s a sign that you’re leaving it to the writers on their own to figure out what context to put things in, instead of working as an organization to design the proposal and position it to win.
If you start your proposals without a written definition of proposal quality, then every individual will determine for themselves what it means. If you don’t define proposal quality as an organization, then you do not have a common goal. The goal becomes making every individual sufficiently happy to get along and hoping that’s good enough to win.
You should also ask yourself if your processes require the participation of certain individuals. If your process doesn’t process with someone else in the role, then it’s not a process. It might even be a good way of doing things. But it’s a personal way of doing things. It's also a trap. It’s an individual approach and not an organizational approach.
Do you design your offering separately from the proposal, or do you try to do it as part of the proposal writing effort? If you try to figure out what to offer by writing about it and re-writing until you get it right, you’ll run out of time and submit what you have instead of something designed to win. If you are designing your offering by writing about it, it’s a sign of starting unprepared and probably late. Doing this on more than one pursuit is a sign that your organization doesn’t prepare and starts late. This requires an organizational solution.
If you only have one major proposal review, you’ve probably overloaded your reviewers' capacity. How much can you lump into a single review before you are no longer assuring quality: RFP compliance, evaluation score, customer awareness, competitive positioning, win strategies, offering design, proofreading, style, layout, graphics, pricing, and more? If you only have one real proposal review, it’s a sign that your reviews are really not about achieving quality (which you probably haven’t defined) and merely about satisfying The Powers That Be (which is not the same thing as assuring quality).
If you only have one review, it’s easy to leave what should be accomplished unstated. The goal becomes “a review.” If you only have one review, you probably have zero accountability (with no definition of proposal quality and no criteria to assess it), while convincing yourself otherwise because of the involvement of senior staff. Fixing this requires an organizational approach that both defines quality and changes how proposal reviews are performed in order to validate it.
Winning as an organization requires integration. It requires tearing down silos, the way business development, proposals, and operations are often constructed. Or the way reviewers and sometimes executives hold themselves separate from the proposal process.
In a winning organization, what one person does should add to what came before, such that the first contribution helps guide the next, so that each contribution is greater than what an individual could accomplish. To win as an organization, people must manage expectations together instead of simply receiving assignments. If you are organized to win, your writers and reviewers work from the same criteria that define quality. Achieving this means being sufficiently organized to be able to articulate your quality criteria before the writing starts. Winning as an organization means figuring this all out, because if you just make it up as you go along, everyone will do it as individuals.
If you want to create a winning organization, at some point you must stop doing everything ad hoc. The challenge is that everyone has to stop and make the switch at the same time. You can’t have islands of individuals in conflict and be organized to win at the same time. You can’t take on one issue at a time and arrive at an integrated approach. This challenge is so difficult that most companies avoid taking it on. Ever. But this means that if you do take this challenge on, you can achieve a level of competitiveness that they will never be able to match.
Subscribe to PropLIBRARY
Unlock our premium content, including the recipes, forms, checklists, etc. that make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.