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Where does a winning proposal come from?

You need to understand this before you can build a proposal based on what it will take to win

Since we know that only the customer can decide what a winning proposal is, to increase our win probability we need to be able to guess what the customer will decide. To do that, we need to know what the customer:

See also:
  • 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. If they formally evaluate and score the proposals they receive, you need to know not only their evaluation criteria but how they apply those criteria during the evaluation.

Your only hope of gaining 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 to discover the answers you need 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 our Readiness Reviews to track, assess, and prepare to win before the RFP even hits the street.

You also need to know:

  • What your customer expects to see in a proposal
  • What your proposal should look like
  • How it should be organized
  • What it should address
  • How should you articulate what goes into your proposal

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 seek to discover before you even start the proposal. There are a number of subjects and sources of information that need to be addressed in your proposal. 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.

You can't just start writing and hope to address everything and present it in the way needed to maximize your win probability on the first draft. And if you start by writing instead of planning hoping to get there by rewriting and rewriting until it somehow turns into a great proposal, you will run out of time before that happens. You need Proposal Content Planning to make 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. But if you really must bid, there are techniques you can use. They involve asking the same questions and assuming the answers. This approach won't be competitive against someone who really does know the answers, but it easily beats the other companies who also do not know the answers and try to write a proposal without going through the process. The MustWin Process is designed so that you can maximize the value of what you do know, or assume, about the customer and drive it into the proposal so that you can still build a proposal around what you assume it will take to win when you can't confirm your assumptions with the customer.

Another theme to take note of is that what happens at the end of the proposal depends on things you should have done earlier. The things you do build on each other and should have quality assurance built in. That is why developing a winning proposal management process increases your win probability over just jumping in and doing what you think should be done or sounds good. 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.

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

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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.

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Updated 4/2/22. Last previous update was February 6, 2013.

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