Sometimes you have all the advantages. Sometimes a proposal is yours to lose. And while you can easily lose if you make mistakes, you can’t win if you only play defense.
Playing defense in a proposal means compliance. It means giving the customer exactly what they asked for. It requires understanding the RFP and not making mistakes. I have seen proposals lose after spending a great deal of time scrutinizing the text, only to accidentally leave out a copy of one form from the submission copy. A simple oversight, right where you weren’t expecting one can ruin all the care you put into everything else. It’s enough to make a production manager paranoid.
But compliance also means addressing everything the customer expects to see, in the language they expect to see it in. Compliance means mentioning everything, even when the RFP is 300 pages and the proposal is limited to 25 pages. That’s enough to make a proposal manager paranoid.
You need detailed, disciplined quality assurance procedures to ensure compliance:
- You need to make sure that everything the customer requires has a place in your proposal, and make sure that place is where the customer expects to find it. Your best guide for this is the RFP. However, RFPs can get complicated. Creating a compliance matrix is crucial. Just make sure that your compliance matrix is valid. When we built the compliance matrix tool for MustWin Now, we created the means to validate your compliance matrix because it can take as much effort to validate your compliance matrix as it did to create it and a mistake here can ruin your proposal.
- You also need to create a production checklist. A compliance matrix is not enough. While the issues are similar from RFP to RFP, you can’t recycle this checklist. It must reflect the particular RFP precisely. Every document that must be included should be itemized. Every production requirement for every document should be detailed. It should be impossible to overlook anything if you follow your production checklist. Don’t forget to validate your production checklist.
- Don’t forget to prepare a production checklist for the pricing and business volume. Last minute pricing changes happen. If you don’t already have the checklist to accelerate quality assurance, mistakes can happen. Mistakes in the pricing volume have a very high risk of proposal failure.
- For the written portion of the proposal, to avoid mistakes you need quality validation instead of subjective reviews. You need to validate against defined quality criteria instead of relying on opinions. Be careful to construct your quality criteria to prevent mistakes in the writing.
- You should also review more than just the document. You should also review your decisions. You make dozens, if not hundreds, of judgment calls and trade-off decisions in preparing a proposal. If you’re playing defense and trying to avoid mistakes, each and every one of them should be double checked.
But wait, there's more...
You can avoid losing due to mistakes. But that may not be enough to win. Compliance alone is not enough to win.
If the opportunity is yours to lose, that’s only true if your advantages make it into the proposal. If you can’t articulate your advantages in the proposal in a way that maximizes your evaluation score, then no matter how important you think they are, your advantages literally don’t matter. If you only play defense, you can end up with a fully compliant proposal with no mistakes and lose because someone else scored better.
If an opportunity is yours to lose, you need to turn your advantages into the highest score in writing. The good news is that if your advantages are real, this should be relatively straightforward. If you are bidding at a disadvantage you might have to take risks in order to achieve the highest score. But if the opportunity is yours to lose, your strategy might be to avoid risks while articulating your advantages without making any mistakes. This is how you avoid losing.
Everyone else will be taking risks to overcome your advantages. If they make a mistake, well, the odds were against them anyway. So even if you're writing a low risk, defensive proposal, with a high win probability you might need a way to defend against high risk attempts to steal your win away from you.
In the end, there is very little difference between bidding to not lose and bidding to win. The difference is the amount of risk you're willing to embrace and where you put your focus. The nature of risk is that it can’t be eliminated. It can only be managed. All proposals have risk. Even the ones that you think are yours to lose.
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 email@example.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.