Jump to content
PropLibrary Content

How does the way you define proposal success affect the outcome?

If you don't define it, how can you achieve it?

It sounds so obvious that few companies bother to define it. But if you want to maximize your win rate, it’s worth giving some attention to how you define proposal success. You can't intentionally seek proposal success or consistently achieve it if you're just guessing at what it is.

Let's start by looking at some common ways that people try to define proposal success.

See also:
Proposal quality validation
  • Anything that wins! During the proposal phase you haven't won or lost, so it doesn't help you any to use that to define success for the proposal you are working on now.
  • On time submission. Your goal should not be to simply submit the proposal. A late submission might be a loss, but an on-time submission does not mean you will win. Even if all your proposals are submitted on time, you could still lose them all.
  • A defect free proposal. Being free of defects doesn't mean your proposal is better than all of the other ones submitted.
  • RFP compliance. Being RFP compliant may keep you from losing before your proposal even gets read. But it doesn't make you more competitive than the other companies that are also RFP compliant.

Proposal success is also not determined by the amount of effort put into it, how bad you want to win, how much you like it, whether it "sounds good," the most experienced person’s opinion, what the sales lead thinks, or even what makes The Powers That Be in your own company happy.

So just what the heck in the world is it?

Defining proposal success
If you submit a proposal that to the best of your knowledge reflects all the attributes of a winning proposal, you have done everything you can to achieve success. You just better make sure that the best of your knowledge reflects the way the customer thinks, evaluates, and decides. 
The way we like to say it is that what defines proposal success is whether the proposal reflects what it will take to win

Success comes when you:

  1. Conduct a reliable discover phase that determines what it will take to win. 
  2. Create a feedback loop that factors past customers' award decisions into future determinations of what it will take to win.
  3. Measure your win rate and the impact of the things you do to change it.

If you leave "what it will take to win" undefined, or leave it up to opinion, you are just gambling. If you set your sales process up so that it is driven by opinion, you will not be competitive against companies that put more thought into it than that. If your bid/no bid process, pursuit strategy, offering design, proposal writing, and proposal reviews are all driven by opinion, your win rate will suffer.

You may have great staff, but they will lose to the staff at another company who consistently put their energies into determining what it will take to win from the customer’s perspective, instead of basing their proposal on their opinions.

If you pursue proposal quality by holding reviews that are basically subjective opinion-fests, you should take note. You could do so much better.

Ensuring proposal success

To accomplish what it will take to win, you need to identify the attributes that make up what it will take to win, articulate them as quality criteria, and then assess the quality of your proposal by comparing it to those attributes. To do this, your quality criteria need to be reliable. If they don't accurately reflect what it will take to win, they can actually become counter-productive.
Your pursuit should start by researching what it will take to win. Sales should not just be about having “a relationship” with the customer and finding out whatever you can about the pursuit. Sales should use relationship marketing and intelligence gathering to discover what it will take to win. All the deliverables and progress reviews for the sales process should build toward being able to articulate this in the ways needed to win the proposal. They provide the input you need to create valid proposal quality criteria.

Then you need a review process that ensures your quality criteria are reliable by making sure that:

  • Everyone is on the same page and that how you have defined what it will take to win reflects the best knowledge available throughout your entire organization.
  • The quality criteria themselves are reviewed and approved for use based on what it will take to win. This should include verifying that how you define what it will take to win is based on how the customer will reach their decision, instead of how you think they should reach it.

When you do this, you define proposal success in a way that everyone can use to ensure their role contributes to achieving it. That is something that just basing your proposals on best efforts and opinions won’t do for you. 

How defining proposal success this way produces a better win rate

With this definition of proposal success, the people working on the proposal know what they need to accomplish. Before the proposal starts they need to discover what it will take to win. After it starts, what it will take to win should be turned into quality criteria so that the proposal writers can create a proposal based on what it will take to win. And to provide quality assurance, the proposal reviews should use the same quality criteria to determine whether the writers achieved what it will take to win.


The CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process is what we created when we decided to throw out the way things have always been done and start doing things based on what it will take to win. It's available in PropLIBRARY for subscribers and provides the tools and techniques needed to not only define proposal success, but also to achieve it.

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

Access to premium content items is limited to PropLIBRARY Subscribers

A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

More information about "Carl Dickson"

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.

Proposal Help Desk
Contact us for assistance
In addition to PropLIBRARY's online resources, we also provide full-service consulting for when you're ready to engage one of our experts.

It all starts with a conversation. You can contact us by clicking the button to send us a message, or by calling 1-800-848-1563.

Sign up for our free newsletter and get a free 46-page eBook titled "Turning Your Proposals Into a Competitive Advantage" with selected articles from PropLIBRARY.

You'll be joining nearly a hundred thousand professionals.

Sign up
Not now
  • Create New...