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How to use proposal input forms to improve your win rates

Getting what you know into the proposal

When a pursuit starts before RFP release and you have time to gather intelligence, what do you do with what you’ve learned? How does it impact the proposal needed to close the sale and capture the win? 

When a pursuit starts at RFP release, how do you quickly assess what you know and what you don’t know? And how does that impact the proposal needed to close the sale and capture the win?

If you are like most companies, you talk about it. A lot. And somehow very little of that talking makes it onto paper. You can't map a conversation to the relevant places in the proposal, let alone identify what words to put there all while simultaneously matching the RFP instructions and evaluation criteria. Some of the talk is relevant, but most of it isn’t. And a lot of time gets spent on it.

In the past we’ve recommended using proposal input forms as a way to:

See also:
Pre-RFP Questions
  • Aggregate what you know in a form that is relevant to what will go into the proposal
  • Quickly assess what you know and what you don’t know so you can finalize how you will articulate your win strategies
  • Drive your intelligence into the proposal so that your insights and information advantage can increase your chances of winning

In practice, proposal input forms become a gateway. When the RFP is released, they are one of the first action items to be completed. They provide vital information about what to say about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment in the proposal. Proposal input forms enable proposal writers to combine what you propose to do with why it matters, and do it in a way that is optimized to win.

You can do this on paper, and in the past we have recommended that. After we created the online compliance matrix and content planning tools for MustWin Now, we created a Pursuit Capture Form tool. It provides a quick and easy way to implement Readiness Reviews and what amounts to an online capture plan. But it also enables us to make proposal input forms easier to implement. Instead of just a paper reference, you get something that’s not only an easier way to collect information, but it also provides better guidance to proposal writers.


We started off by created seven forms, each with a number of questions (61 in total) that cover everything we’d like to know when we sit down to write. They provide a bridge from pre-RFP intelligence gathering to proposal writing. Here are the topics we built our forms around:

See also:
Pre-RFP Readiness Reviews
  1. Insight about what matters. You can't write a proposal that matters if you don’t know what that is. It’s important to write about why your features, approaches, qualifications, etc. matter. As a proposal writer you can respond to the RFP requirements, but you need insight about the subject matter if you’re going to write about what matters.
  2. Proposal sections and approaches. Writing before the RFP is released is problematical. But there are some section specific things you can do to prepare. With proposal input forms you’re not trying to pre-write each section. But you can start identifying what will go into them and how you will need to present things.
  3. Change. It really helps to know what has changed and what is going to change when you are writing the proposal. In the proposal you might want to support, manage, or adapt to change.
  4. Data calls. The sooner you know what data you will be needing, the sooner you can get it.
  5. Graphics. Graphics and text can be co-dependent. Sometimes the graphics should come before the text. Early identification of some of the graphics you know you will need and what your approach to developing them will be can help expedite the writing as well as the production. Just simply knowing what messages will be delivered by the graphics vs the text can be helpful. 
  6. Teaming. Ideally the team will be in place before the RFP is released. But this is often only partially the case. So at the start of the proposal you need to find out exactly what the status of your teaming efforts is.
  7. Transition. What you have to do to successfully accomplish the project transition can potentially impact your proposal in lots of ways. You need to know what they potentially might be at the beginning so you can put things in the right context.

We know that some of the questions will not get answered. But the ones that have answers we turn into instructions. It’s a simple step where we display the answer and enable the user to create instructions based on it. We do this just before RFP release is anticipated, or immediately after.

The result is great. In less time than it takes to talk about it, you get substantive material out of people that you can use in the proposal. If only a few of the questions gets useful answers, you start the proposal better off than you were.

Once you have some answers in your proposal input forms, you are ready for the really cool part. When the RFP is released, you build the compliance matrix and proposal outline using MustWin Now. Then MustWin Now automatically sets up the content plan shell for you using the proposal outline, and it pre-loads all the RFP requirements from the compliance matrix. Then the very next step is to map the instructions from the proposal input forms to the proposal outline. This works the same way that MustWin Now links the RFP requirements to the outline when building the compliance matrix.


With simple drag and drop motions the instructions from the proposal input forms show up in the relevant proposal sections as instructions for proposal writers. This is the bridge. It directly connects your pre-proposal intelligence and strategy development with the specific places in the document where you should talk about them, while also providing guidance on how to talk about them.

Your insights about what matters and what it will take to win become guidance for your proposal writers. It makes it easy for the proposal writers to know what context to put their response to the RFP requirements in, and what points to make while doing it. And that context is the difference between being merely RFP compliant and winning.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

More information about "Carl Dickson"

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.

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