Companies that want to get better at doing proposals often struggle with their proposal process. They struggle with the steps. They struggle meeting deadlines. They struggle with time management. But mostly, they just struggle.
Part of the reason for the all the struggles is their process. It’s not that it needs improvement. It needs replacing. And it’s not just the process that needs replacing. It’s the whole way you look at the proposal process.
Proposals are not completed in steps
It would be more accurate to describe proposals as a flow of information. Information flows from the customer to people in your company where it gets transformed, travels through the RFP, gets filtered into sections according to the outline, and ultimately put on paper. But the information does not flow in a straight line. It meanders. It flows back on itself. It goes in circles. It builds. It changes.
The proposal “process” should not be thought of as steps. That’s how you end up with one step called “writing” that never ends, and another step called “reviewing” that endlessly repeats. The proposal “process” is really a collection of things you do to guide an unpredictable amount of information, from unpredictable sources, in unpredictable forms, from whatever it is at the beginning to what it needs to become in order to win the proposal.
Here are five alternative ways to look at the proposal process that can help you find more success at channeling and guiding this information into what it needs to become:
- Training. If you work with different people on every proposal, then you can think of the entire effort as training. The final exam is the proposal. Or maybe it’s better to think of the proposal as a dissertation with a team of authors. Each thing that you need people to do is an assignment. Sometimes you need to teach how to complete the assignment. You should have rubrics that tell people what is required for successful assignment completion. Tutoring should be available for people who fall behind. You’re showing them how to win a proposal instead of mandating a process for them to follow.
- Questions and answers. Questions are a great way to gather the information you need. Questions can also be used to inquire whether the information is in the right format or whether it’s been transformed in the way needed. Questions can make suggestions or offer considerations. You can script the entire “process” as a series of questions. If you do, there will be a lot of questions. A whole lot of questions. But if you set them up as checklists, they aren’t perceived as a burden. Picture a checklist of questions to determine whether you are ready to start something. Another checklist of questions for what you need to consider when doing it. And another checklist of questions for how to tell when you’ve completed it successfully. Questions can do a lot more to help people contribute to the flow of information than a process diagram.
- Goals. A goal-driven proposal process can leave the steps up to the participants to figure out. A goal-driven process can also improve people’s willingness to follow the process, by giving them an easy way to achieve their goals. After all, following something called The Proposal Process really isn’t important. It’s fulfilling the goals that lead to winning that’s important.
- Quality validation. Can you define success? Can you define success for every activity? Then why not give contributors the success criteria at the beginning? When each activity is wrapped with success criteria, it’s as good as having a “process.” Thinking through and being able to put your success criteria in writing may do more to achieve the desired results than have a “process.”
- Issue tracking. Everything is an issue. Literally. A proposal assignment is an issue to be resolved. A lack of information or resources is an issue. Show stoppers are issues. But so are simple questions. Accounting for what needs to be written and writing to incorporate all of the ingredients that need to go into the section are also issues. Instead of tasking assignments and then dealing with the issues that come up, just track issues. A contributor’s role on the proposal is not to write something that crosses off an item on the outline. A contributor’s role on the proposal is to resolve issues. Individuals can have issues directed to them. But as a team, the goal is to resolve all of the issues that might get in the way of submitting a winning proposal.
Here’s a bonus item that combines them all:
Our new proposal tool is built around gathering information, transforming it, and validating the results. It is structured around accomplishing key goals like being ready to win at RFP release, creating an outline that meets the customer’s expectation, and discovering what it will take to win and building your proposal around it. Before the proposal starts, it uses questions and answers to gather the information proposal writers need. During the proposal it wraps the workspace with training and guidance to help contributors with completing their assignments. When people use it, the process disappears, and people simply do the work using the tool. I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by how it’s completely changed the way I view the proposal process.
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 email@example.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.