15 ways to review a proposal like someone who is trying to win

It takes more than just reading a draft to achieve a quality proposal

Most companies consider a proposal review to be reading a draft document. This is the least effective of proposal reviews and makes the smallest contribution to proposal quality and winning. Yet people cling to it. I blame the obsolete color team model for getting in the way of proposals using the same quality assurance methodologies that have improved so many other things people do. This is especially true when the color team model degrades down to a single “red team” review.  

Most companies also fail to define proposal quality. This sets them up to commit the greatest sin in proposal development.

What about your company?

How many of these reviews do you do on every proposal? Some of them can be performed by just one person, often the proposal manager. Some require a specialist. Some of them require representation by all stakeholders. And some may need a team of experienced professionals sitting around a table. How you do your reviews is far less important than what you review. This is the essence of proposal quality validation.

15 types of proposal reviews

What level of quality validation is your next proposal worth?
  1. Readiness. Will you be ready to win when the RFP is released? Have you figured out what to offer, obtained answers to the questions you anticipate your proposal writers having, determined what your think strategies are, and decided how to articulate your message? What about getting approval for your proposal budget and identifying who will participate? Do you have set criteria that define what being “ready” even means?
  2. Offering design. Figuring out what to offer should never be done by writing about it. You should bring an approved offering design to the proposal, because an unreliable design is not enough to start writing. This means you not only have to design the offering, but have a review to approve it before you can complete your content planning, let alone start writing.
  3. Logistics. Who is going to do what with which resources when? In other words, what is your schedule, assignments, and approach to developing and producing the proposal? And how will these be double-checked?
  4. Outline. No one ever gives enough scrutiny to the outline before they start writing against it. An unreliable outline can cause a world of proposal pain. It is worth holding up writing to spend the time and attention necessary to review the outline and make sure it is reliable before you start writing.
  5. Proposal Content Plan. Have you considered everything that should go into your Proposal Content Plan? Is the plan sufficient to guide your writers to creating a winning proposal? Once you’ve completed your content plan you should review it before putting it to work. By reviewing your content plan, you also review all of its components, like win strategies, use of graphics, and how you've incorporated customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence.
  6. Self-Assessment. Do you have a means for writers to self-assess their assignments before turning them in? Are the assessment criteria the same ones that future reviewers will use?
  7. RFP Compliance. If your proposal could get thrown out for non-compliance, it’s worth some effort to validate that you have a compliant response. This requires great attention to detail and slow, deliberate work. Reviews often skip it because of the effort. It is easier for them to get away with that when you combine checking RFP compliance with other reviews.
  8. Decisions and risk. Your offering is full of trade-offs. Price vs Quality, etc. If the page limitation is shorter than the number of pages of requirements, you can’t possibly be compliant with every little thing. Which RFP requirements are unclear or subject to interpretation? What decisions have you made and what risks have you taken? Have they been reviewed so that all stakeholders confirm those are the risks the company wishes to take?
  9. Quality criteria. Have you reviewed the proposal against a written definition of proposal quality? Has anyone assessed whether you have fulfilled your quality criteria?
  10. Evaluation emulation. If the proposal will be formally evaluated, you should review the proposal as if you are the customer, following their evaluation procedures and using their evaluation criteria.
  11. Presentation. How does the proposal read? This review is actually less important than most of the others. If you wait until you have a nearly complete proposal so you can see it “the way the customer will” and only then attempt to provide quality assurance, you are setting yourself up for backtracking and a rushed finish. Seeing the proposal “the way the customer will” is only useful for making sure the final assembly was performed correctly. You should only permit stakeholders who have participated in the reviews and decisions regarding what the proposal should be to see the proposal “the way the customer will.”
  12. Typography. Proofreading can save you from embarrassment. But then again, what percentage of proposals have lost due to typos? Close to zero? Where should you put your quality assurance time and effort? If you’ve done all the reviews above, you won’t have any glaring widespread typographical issues. But if the only review you do focuses on correcting the language, you’re missing out on all of the above. If you’ve done all of these reviews and can carve out the time for dedicated proofreading, then you may succeed at creating a perfect proposal!
  13. Pricing. If the only pricing review you do is at the tail end, you won’t create the most competitive proposal you are capable of. Is what you intend to offer price competitive? What is the price to win? Is your pricing model the best? There are trade-offs and decisions related to pricing that need to be considered and reviewed early, just like there are for your offering.
  14. Contracts. Just like with pricing, there are contractual issues that could shape the design of your offering. And understanding the customer’s contracts and acquisition procedures can help you design a better proposal. Contract reviews and participation should take place both early in the process as well as prior to submission.
  15. Submission. Is what you are about to submit acceptable to your company? That should be decided well in advance, and if you do all of these reviews it will be. All that will remain is a final check for defects and mistakes. I have seen proposals lose because of a missing page or file, or from a spreadsheet that didn’t work the same on the evaluator’s computer. Rushing to the finish can turn a winning proposal into a loss.

How bad do you want to win?

Do your proposal writers want to win bad enough to plan the proposal before they start writing? Do your reviewers want to win bad enough to prepare and focus?  Does everyone want to win bad enough to consider everything that goes into proposal quality and validate that it’s be achieved?

Reviews don’t all have to be formal events. What level of validation is your next proposal worth?



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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

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.

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