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9 places you should invest to increase your proposal win rate

Your win rate is critical for maximizing your ROI

What will a 1% change in your win rate return? If you don’t know, you really need to gather the data to calculate it. Because small increases in win rate are often worth considerable effort. In fact, increasing your win rate will often net a better ROI than chasing more leads

Once you’ve done the math and found your motivation, then you have to figure out what to do to improve your win rate and reap the promised ROI. To help you out, here are nine places to consider investing in to increase your proposal win rate:

See also:
Improving win rates
  1. People. Hire for talent over experience. You’d be surprised how many experienced professionals write ordinary proposal copy. Doing this requires knowing talent when you see it. You are looking for the difference between good proposal writing, and great proposal writing. If RFP compliance is critical, it's worth it to pay for someone who knows how to make a compliance matrix. And make sure that the person who manages your proposals is on the same level as those contributing to the proposals. Junior staff can manage a good proposal, one that is as good as your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). But it takes someone with more gravitas to push senior SMEs to prepare great proposals.
  2. Processes. However good your people are, people alone are not enough to maximize your win rate. If it’s not documented and if it can't be implemented by someone other than the person who designed it, then it's not a process, it's merely a way of doing things. However, investing in process is not limited to documenting your process. It also includes taking the time to develop an effective process. Developing a process to produce proposals is straightforward. Developing a process that produces great proposals (video) is not. But it's worth the investment.
  3. Tools. Investing in tools for proposals is tricky. This is because proposal automation often leads to less expensive proposals that also have a lower win rate. A lower win rate will almost always cost far more than any labor saved. There are better ways to make proposals faster and easier. There are also better ways to make proposals less expensive. The tools you need to increase your win rate are ones that help you collaborate and think.
  4. Graphics. Graphics communicate better than words. Not only that, but the process of conceptualizing your graphics can help you better think through your proposal messages. Investing in graphics comes in two ways: investing in the time it takes to conceptualize graphics, and investing in an illustrator to render them. The illustrator may be the lesser of those two costs. But the return is a better message communicated more effectively, leading to a higher win rate that can dwarf both of those costs.
  5. Customer relationships. Customer relationships take time to develop. In government contracting, if you want to influence an RFP, you might have to start two years in advance of its release. One way to increase your win rate is to invest time against that long-term goal.
  6. Performance. Keeping the customer happy may be worth investing in if you care about winning your recompetes. You don't want to be in the position of trying to win in spite of bad past performance reviews. Having the highest possible past performance scores is worth some investment. Mathematically there is a sweet spot between maximizing profit margin and achieving ROI by investing in performance to increase your win rate. Calculate it. A small change in win rate will impact a lot of contract dollars.
  7. Information. One of the most important bid considerations is whether you have an information advantage. An information advantage requires time to build. Allocating that time is an investment. Information can also come from purchasing certain databases, but that is the same information everyone else has. Investing in databases may be necessary to keep up with your competition, but shouldn’t be counted on to provide an advantage.
  8. Metrics. The best metrics only require a minimal investment because they should flow naturally from doing what you need to do anyway. If you want to know how your investments are performing, you need to track the results. Metrics that help you track the ROI performance of your investment in improving your win rate and that enable data-driven decisions are worth investing in. 
  9. Culture. Investing in developing a winning culture is the most expensive investment of them all. This is because it can’t be bought. It requires an investment in the form of time from those at the highest level. And yet, having a winning culture is as important as having an effective process. And most executives get it tragically wrong. Or worse, they assume that their corporate culture comes naturally from the things they do or their mission statement, effectively ignore their culture, and end up with whatever fills the void. This is usually a risk-averse daily grind that is the lowest common denominator of the results of turf battles. It’s not a coincidence that most corporate cultures are dysfunctional and most companies have low win rates. 

What’s not on the list? 

Re-use libraries. 

Unless you sell a commodity, proposal reuse libraries lower win rates more than they save in effort. Yet staff crave them because they see proposals as an expense and an imposition. See #9 about dysfunctional anti-growth corporate cultures. Luckily, there are alternatives.

Where should you invest first?

Invest where you will see the greatest ROI. This will likely be the one that you’ve ignored the most. If you are just getting started, it will most likely be people or process. If you do not have sufficient cashflow or budget to invest, consider focusing on culture and metrics since you may be able to improve them without spending any money. Investing time to develop the right metrics can help you justify the budget you need as an investment instead of as an expense.


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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, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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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