Where does a winning proposal come from?

Let’s answer the question by looking at what we need to know to write a winning proposal. You need to know what the customer:

  • Needs
  • Expects
  • Finds compelling
  • Can afford

You also need to know how they make decisions, what tradeoffs they prefer, and how they evaluate the proposals that they receive.

This knowledge comes from relationship marketing and asking the right questions. Relationship marketing is best pursued before the RFP is announced. The questions you need to ask are something that you should be able to anticipate.

Making sure the questions get answered, accumulating knowledge in a useable form, and then assessing that knowledge for how to best use it in the proposal is what your process should do. You can create your own, or you can use the ones that we’ve developed. In the Readiness Reviews to track, assess, and prepare to win before the RFP even hits the street.

You also need to know:

  • What your proposal should look like
  • How it should be organized
  • What should go into it

What your proposal should look like depends primarily on the customer’s expectations, which you should discover before you even start the proposal.

How a proposal should be organized depends primarily on how it will be evaluated. This requires understanding the customer's decision making processes, which you should also discover before you even start the proposal.

What should go into the proposal is an iterative process. It is driven by what it will take to win, which you should also discover before you even start the proposal. But what should go into the proposal is also an iterative process. There are a number of subjects and sources of information that need to be dealt with. How do you account for them all? And at what level of detail? And in what context? Before you can write a complex proposal, you need a planning step to define and arrange all the contents.

In the Proposal Content Planning that makes sure nothing gets overlooked and that enables you to validate that the proposal reflects what it will take to win before you convert the plan into a written narrative.

The next thing you need to win is a process for making sure that you have created a quality proposal. To do that you need a definition of proposal quality and a methodology for conducting your reviews. Your review methodology should use your pre-RFP discoveries to define what it will take to win, and to turn it into criteria that can be used to both plan the content and measure the quality of the proposal narrative. What you don’t want is a review process that is based on finding fault and identifying corrections after the mistakes have been turned into a narrative. With a complex proposal and a tight deadline, your review methodology provides the structure that you build the rest of your proposal around. That’s what we did with the Proposal Quality Validation methodology that is built into the MustWin Process. It fully integrates Readiness Reviews and Proposal Content Planning so that all of your efforts to prepare the winning proposal reinforce each other.

One theme you may have picked up on is that winning a proposal requires you to know things before you even start writing. Not knowing those things means that the only way you can win is by guessing. You should consider not bidding instead.

Another theme that what happens toward the end of the proposal depends on things having been done earlier. The things you do build on each other and should have quality assurance built in. That is why developing a winning process is more of a process than something you just do. Having a proposal process becomes a competitive advantage because it enables you to beat the companies that just do their proposals without thinking through the process.


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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. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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