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The one-step proposal process?

Most companies don’t even do it. And those that do, fail to make the most of it.

If you get this one step right, everything else will fall into place. And it's not what you think it is. It's not the preparing, the planning, the writing, or the reviewing of the draft. It’s not that those things aren’t important. It’s just that there is one moment in time that pretty much seals your proposal's fate. Most companies don’t even do it. And those that do, fail to make the most of it.

The trick is to pick the one thing that forces everything else to fall into place.

It turns out that the most important step in preparation development is validating your proposal content plan before you start writing. This is not the review of your proposal, but rather review of the plan for what you are going to write and how you are going to write it. Reviewing this plan has more to do with your success than reviewing the draft.

To pass this review, you need success at everything that should have come before:

  • If you haven’t discovered what it will take to win, the plan will contain nothing but RFP compliance, self-descriptive bragging, and win strategies based almost exclusively on the evaluation criteria and your qualifications.
  • If you do have an information advantage, it will show up as instructions related to the customer, opportunity, or competitive environment.
  • If you have prepared your offering design separately from writing about it, it will show up as instructions related to the points you should make about it in the writing.
  • If you haven’t accounted for everything that should be addressed or go into your proposal before you start writing about it, guess what? It will be obvious from your proposal content plan whether the attempt was made. And perhaps this is the key. When you review the written proposal, you have no idea how it got that way. But when you review the content plan, you can see whether people have done their homework and thought things through.

Once you succeed at this step, proposal writing becomes a straightforward, finite problem. And you can verify that the writers fulfilled the instructions and the quality criteria. If you haven’t defined quality criteria, it’s a good sign that you either skipped content planning, you made it up as you went along, or you’re trying to get away with presenting an annotated outline as if it is a content plan.

Oh, and you can't review your proposal content plan before you start writing unless you create one first.  You can’t even have the step if you don’t have a plan. If you want people to start actually planning what they write, don't just talk it up. Make it the entire focus of your process. Just don’t ask for the plan. Hold the review and then people have to create the plan. 

When you approach process this way, you don’t have to specify the procedures or be the task master forcing people to comply with creating a content plan for the proposal. You just set the standards for what a good plan will show, schedule the review, and let them figure out the procedures. You become a teacher and a guide instead of a nag.

If you can implement a full process with all the procedures needed for your company, congratulations. If you are struggling to get any process acceptance, you might have better luck focusing on just one simple thing. It just so happens that this one simple thing can cause all the others to fall into place. 

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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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