It’s often over before it even starts.
Except for the tragic part where people work long hours, struggle, argue, blame, and sometimes cry.
Most proposals go bad right at the beginning, even if you don’t feel the pain until later.
The reverse is also true. Proposals can be won before they start.
They can be straightforward to produce, or they can be like pulling teeth.
Will your proposal startup go smoothly? If you don’t start with an information advantage, you end up talking in circles around differentiation, without anything to base your decisions on. The worst is for it to be uneventful, because that means the issues haven’t surfaced and people are accepting without challenge. If you jump into writing a draft in these circumstances, you may find yourself underwhelmed with the proposal after burning 50-70% of the schedule. That’s when things get ugly and you have a bad proposal experience. And it is completely avoidable.
To have a better proposal writing experience you need certain inputs before you start writing. These inputs enable you to figure out what you should write. If you have the right inputs, things go smoothly. Writing is straightforward. If you don’t have the right inputs and you start writing anyway, you’ll quickly find that the draft does not reflect what it will take to win. At this point, most companies go into an infinite number of rewriting loops trying to discover what it will take to win before they run out of time. They enter the proposal death spiral.
The inputs you need to have a better proposal writing experience come from a combination of sources:
- Your customer’s preferences and evaluation criteria
- The opportunity and what the best solution is to win it
- The competitive environment and what you need to do to become the customer’s best alternative
- The problems the customer should anticipate, and why your approach to mitigating them is the best
- The right price to win. This can be either the lowest price or the best value, depending on what matters to the customer
When you combine these, you get a formula for determining what it will take to win:
What offering will be the customer’s best alternative and solution to potential problems, and how do you present it in a way that supports how they make decisions, including how they assess value?
The best way to contribute to a proposal pre-RFP and have a better proposal writing experience isn’t to try to write the proposal in advance of the RFP. It’s simply to gather these inputs. If you can shed insight related to any of the bullets above, you can make everyone’s life easier by sharing that input before proposal writing starts. This will put you in the position of knowing what points to make when writing. It brings meaning to proposal writing and keeps the experience from being literally pointless. It will keep people from wasting time and effort by talking in circles and give them the points they should have made while writing the proposal. When you have this input, figuring out what to write about is straightforward and the hardest part of proposal writing becomes deciding what level of detail to go into.
You will never have all the input you'd like to have. But whatever insight you do have and whatever information advantage it can give you forms the core of your win strategies and determines your probability of winning. The rest is just writing and pricing.
You also need to make sure that everyone at your company agrees with the inputs and what it will take to win. Fighting about the points you should be making after the proposal has been written is a tragic waste. Especially when reviewing input at the bullet level before you start writing is fairly simple. It’s a much better experience when you gather the right input and think through how you’re going to articulate things. It sure beats endless rewrites trying to discover what the proposal should be until you run out of time without ever finding it.
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
Carl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.
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