16 things that need to happen long before proposal writing starts

It's how you get into position to win before the proposal even starts.

What you need to win a proposal depends on what happened before the RFP was released and the proposal effort kicked off. This means that winning proposals can depend on what you did before the proposal even started. So let’s take a look at what happens before the proposal starts:

What the customer does before the RFP is released

This is what the customer has to do, starting from RFP release and working backwards:

See also:
Pre-RFP Pursuit
  • The RFP is released. 
  • But before that: The customer announces there will be an RFP.
  • But before that: The customer decides what will go in the RFP.
  • But before that: The customer decides whether to release an RFP.
  • But before that: The customer decides they have a need and can allocate funds to fulfill that need.

You might want to know the exact steps your customer follows, and all of the little details that fall in between these generalizations.

What you do before the RFP is released

This is what you do, or at least should do, working backwards from RFP release:

  • The RFP is released. You are ready to bid at a high win probability because you have an information advantage.
  • But before that: You find out there’s an RFP coming and begin preparing.
  • But before that: You (should) help the customer figure out what should go in the RFP.
  • But before that: You (should) help the customer determine whether to release an RFP.
  • But before that: You (should) help the customer determine what they need and how much it will cost to fulfill that need.
  • But before that: You (should) have developed a relationship with the customer.
  • But before that: You decide which potential customers to target.

Most companies aren’t able to complete the “shoulds” because they never formed a relationship with the customer, which is critical to gaining the information advantage. They are left trying to win by being a little better at responding to the RFP requirements. They are at a serious disadvantage to anyone bidding with an information advantage.

What comes before targeting customers for relationship marketing and prospecting?
There are things you need to do before you even have customer targets. So starting from customer targeting and working backwards:

  • You begin reaching out to your customer targets.
  • But before that: You must identify points of contact at each.
  • But before that: You must determine which customers buy what you sell.
  • But before that: You need strategic planning to identify what to offer, how to position it, and what markets to explore.

If you find yourself looking for RFPs to bid, it’s because you haven’t been reaching out to enough of the right customer targets to fill your pipeline. You’ve gone from bad (no information advantage at RFP release) to worse (no customer insight at all against competitors who do have it). You’re trying to fill your pipeline anonymously because you don’t have the targets and contacts you need. You’re trying to make up the deficit at the back end instead of fixing it from the front end. And your win probability will suffer as a result.

Play it all back in reverse

Start from the bottom of each list and work your way up. That’s what you need to do to achieve a high win probability.

Judy Bradt of Summit Insight says that “People who start from databases and websites are starting in the middle and at a disadvantage.” The key is knowing who buys what you sell so you can form relationships with potential customers and fill your pipeline with high win probability leads. Judy shows companies how to get into position to explore their customers’ needs and gain an information advantage as they work towards releasing an RFP. 

Do this before the proposal starts and the proposal becomes a simple exercise of turning your information advantage into a competitive advantage by having the right win strategies and driving them into the text. This makes figuring out what to write in your proposal a solvable problem and leads to a high proposal win rate. 

If you don’t know what your win strategies should be, what to say in your proposals, or have a low proposal win rate, making sure that you are starting with an information advantage is the first thing you should improve. 


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 MustWiin 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. 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 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.