One of my favorite techniques for writing proposals is the “who, what, where, how, when, and why” approach. It helps you answer all the customer’s questions, including the ones they forgot to ask. It helps you exceed the RFP’s requirements, often without adding any cost. It’s easy to memorize and repeat like a mantra.
But it can be used for more than just improving your writing. It turns out to be a powerful proposal management technique as well.
One of the biggest challenges in proposal management is managing expectations, both yours and others. In fact, managing expectations is the secret to winning proposals that are bigger than yourself. Proposal Managers task out assignments, but their expectations are often unmet when the assignments come in late or with low quality. But the person receiving the assignment had expectations as well. Maybe they didn’t think it was realistic to be given an assignment of that size while also working full-time on their billable project. They both had expectations, and both probably needed adjusting.
Too often that doesn’t happen. Expectations need to be communicated and managed. When they aren’t, problems occur that could have been avoided. On a typical proposal, conflicts in expectations probably occur over a hundred times. I kid you not. Try counting them.
This makes expectation management an important aspect of proposal management. And brings us back to “who, what, where, how, when, and why.” Every assignment given, every assignment received, and every progress check-in, should ask these questions.
- Who is involved or impacted?
- What are they expected to accomplish?
- Where should should work on it, where can they get help, and where should they submit it?
- How should they do it, by what procedure, using what inputs, and according to what standards?
- When should they check in and when should they complete their efforts?
- Why is the assignment important and why should they do it the way you’ve described?
But wait, there’s the person receiving the assignment’s point of view to consider:
- Who might be a better candidate? Who do I need to help?
- What do I need to accomplish the assignment? What conflicts do I have? What don’t I understand?
- Where do I have to be?
- How do I learn what I need to know?
- When can I work on it? When can I complete it?
- Why can’t I follow the process, meet the schedule, or fulfill the expectations?
If you don’t encourage the person receiving an assignment to voice these questions, you won’t know about the issues until it’s too late. People often do not voluntarily admit that they are going to fail before they get started. Both sets of expectations need to be communicated and any issues resolved if the expectation of creating a winning proposal is to be met.
Writing a winning proposal requires an unbroken flow of information
When people complete their proposal assignments on time, it’s a huge accomplishment. But that alone is not enough to win. The best competitive advantage for winning proposals is an information advantage. Whoever has the most information about the customer and can make use of it in their proposal has a huge advantage.
It’s hard enough to get an information advantage, but transforming it into the right black ink on paper is even harder. It must be assessed, articulated, and delivered through a series of handoffs to the right people. It requires an unbroken flow of information. Having a meeting with the lead salesperson to talk about “what you know about the customer” is not the same thing as an unbroken flow of information leading to an information advantage in your proposals. To win consistently, you’ll need to identify what information you need, where it will come from, how it will be assessed, who will articulate it, and how handoffs will be accomplished. Most companies think they do a better job of this than their proposal development performance actually indicates.
You can improve your ability to discover, assess, and articulate your information by using the “who, what, where, how, when, and why” approach.
- Who has information relevant to win strategies and offering design? Who needs information to support the pursuit?
- What information should be sought? What format would make that information useful? What information can each participant in the pursuit use?
- Where can relevant information be gathered?
- How should the information be assessed? How should it be articulated?
- When is it needed?
- Why does the information we have matter?
You can use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to do a better job of flowing information. And doing this means you can do a better job of building an information advantage that leads to a winning proposal.
Filling your process void
Do you have a process, or just a way of doing things? Do people follow the process you think you have?
Winning consistently depends on having a well-developed process. But winning the RFP on your desk depends on doing the most with what you have.
At every handoff, meeting, or step, ask yourself “who, what, where, how, when, and why.” It’s almost as good as actually having a process. Before the proposal starts, think about the flow of information and ask yourself “who, what, where, how, when, and why.” When you start the proposal and begin issuing assignments use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to set expectations. When you receive an assignment use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to ensure that you are communicating your expectations. When you sit down to write, use “who, what, where, how, when, and why” to do a better job and write more comprehensive responses. Combine them all and you get a higher win rate, without doing anything cumbersome or complicated. Make it your new mantra.
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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.
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