Balancing the time to plan with the time to write against a deadline is more of an art than a science. The more you can do to accelerate the planning, the more time there is for writing. But don't forget that you have to think things through. If you rush through content planning without thinking things through, which is what an approach based on recycling proposals leads to, you can do more harm than good. Recycling narratives can also hurt because editing text to change the context can take longer than it does to write text that is optimized for the current context. Content Planning provides ways around the problems that you inevitably encounter when trying to recycle proposal narratives.
Proposal Content Planning can be combined with reuse. In fact, reusing your plans can make more sense than reusing the narratives. When you combine the two, in addition to reusing text you can use questions, placeholders, instructions, options, and things to consider. You can provide examples, while helping people think things through more quickly. Here are five options for combining reuse and Proposal Content Planning:
- If you have topics which are the same from proposal to proposal, and not merely similar, it is safe to reuse narrative. But people often think their proposals are the same when they are merely similar, and way underestimate the level of effort required to do the tailoring. A proposal that is optimized to win for one customer, opportunity, and competitive environment is definitely not optimized to win the next unless everything really is the same. If you do not optimize your proposal to win for this customer, this opportunity, and this competitive environment your win rate will suffer.
- If you have topics which are similar, instead of providing reuse text you can provide instructions for how to do the tailoring. You can also provide placeholders for new or specific things that will need to be created. If you can separate the portions that will not change from the portions that will, you can make the tailoring very efficient and as simple as answering questions. For example, you might have instructions that say “If you are the incumbent, talk about already having the resources. But if you are not the incumbent, explain where you will get the resources.”
- If what needs to be written depends on circumstances that are always different, you can provide options. You can even use an If-Then-Else structure for your instructions. Options can also be open ended. Even if none of the options is correct for the circumstances of the bid, the options provided can inspire the author to create something that is a perfect match for the current bid.
- And if you don’t know what will need to be written, possibly because you can’t anticipate what the RFP will require, then you can provide things to consider. Like options, these can provide inspiration, only they are more open ended. They point to areas and not to specifics. You can use considerations to give the writers some things to think about. You can provide lists of possibilities and details that might apply. You don’t have to be certain. The writers can decide what’s applicable. Maybe they’ll think of something else that wasn’t even suggested. But they won’t have to start from scratch.
- Help them prepare their plans. It’s difficult to prepare a plan in advance for a set of unknown requirements. But you can address what should go into a plan. Your instructions to the proposal writers can suggest things to include in their plans.
Maybe reusing content is not the problem
Sometimes it’s not the details. Sometimes the writers just need to know what points to make and then they can supply the details. The points you should be trying to make might include:
- Address strategies as well as approaches. When your company wants to position as the lowest risk, highest quality, better, stronger, or faster, do you have positioning and proof points to suggest? Or do you want to leave it to the writers to figure out? What about your differentiators? Sometimes you follow the same strategies in certain circumstances (incumbent, not the incumbent, introducing new technology, reducing cost, etc.). Sometimes providing strategic options and considerations that match common circumstances is more useful than trying to anticipate or recycle approach details.
- Proof points that match circumstances. In addition to strategies and approaches, some things like qualifications do not change frequently. Metrics can be very useful as proof points, but difficult to gather. Keeping track of data and proof points relevant to certain circumstances can be very helpful.
The same applies to creating quality criteria for your proposals
Now apply all of that to your proposal quality criteria:
- Which are the same from proposal to proposal?
- Which are conditional?
- Which are optional?
- What should be considered?
With a good script, you can very quickly assemble bid-specific quality criteria. Instead of reuse of proposal content, consider simply creating proposal quality criteria and making it easy to tailor by explaining what to tailor and how. Giving writers the same quality criteria that your reviewers will use can be even more helpful than giving them some content to recycle when the reviewers will pick it apart and question its applicability.
Faster proposals do not come from quick copying of something that’s similar and not the same. At least not if you want to be competitive. Faster proposals that don’t compromise your competitiveness come from faster thinking about your strategies, deciding on your approaches, making your points, and having the right quality criteria. And these come from faster Proposal Content Planning instead of recycling narrative.
Recycling narrative may not be all bad in the right context. But by the time you do the things that have a bigger impact, the amount of content recycling that makes sense gets smaller and smaller. Recycling proposal narratives becomes a small addition only applicable to a few minor parts of the proposal that you can consider at the end instead of being a place to start.