Jump to content
PropLibrary Content

What is the most important single step in the proposal management process?

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

All other steps in your proposal management process depend on getting this one right

See also:
Successful process implementation

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

To pass the proposal content plan review, you need success at everything that should have come before:

  • If you haven’t discovered what it will take to win, the proposal content plan will contain nothing but RFP compliance and self-descriptive bragging, and will be based almost exclusively on the evaluation criteria and your qualifications. The content plan will fail a review for lack of a strategy that demonstrates why you should win beyond your aspirational claims to greatness. Once you've discovered what it will take to win, a review of the content plan will ensure that you have a solid plan for winning and enable you to building your proposal around it, instead of hoping that it somehow just shows up during  (unplanned) writing.
  • If you do have an information advantage, it will show up in the content plan as instructions related to the customer, opportunity, or competitive environment. These instructions should be reviewed to determine whether they are the win strategies you need in order to win.
  • If you have figured out what to offer separately from writing about it, it will show up as instructions related to the points you should make about your offering. It will describe an offering that matters and is differentiated from your competitors' offerings instead of simply giving the customer what they asked for (just like everyone else). Trying to figure out your offering by writing a narrative about it is bad engineering and leads to the Proposal Death Spiral.
  • 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 during your proposal content plan review 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. They are far more likely to get it right on the first draft if everything they should write and how it should be presented has been accounted for. It is also far easier to correct at the content plan stage than it is to correct after a draft has been written.

What success looks like

Once you succeed at planning your proposal prior to writing it, 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.

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. If you don't review the content plan to ensure it describes the proposal you want to create before you start writing, you are in for some nasty surprises.  The review of the proposal content plan is more than the review of the draft. A solid proposal content plan can turn the review of the draft into simple follow-through and tweaking.

When you approach the proposal management process this way, you don’t have to specify the procedures or be the task master forcing people to comply. You just set the standards for what a good proposal content plan will show and schedule the review. Let passing the content plan review be their motivation. When you put all the attention on the draft review instead of the content plan review, then no one focuses on planning and all they want to do is spit out the quickest possible unplanned draft that fills the pages. Focusing on the content plan review lets you become a teacher and a guide instead of a nag.

If you can implement a full proposal management 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 help all the others to fall into place. 

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.

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...