Where do you spend the most time on a proposal? Most people think it’s writing. But if you watch people as they work on a proposal, you’ll find they spend more time on something else.
If you look at a typical proposal schedule, you may see 50% or more of the time dedicated to writing. But most of that time isn’t spent on actual writing. It’s spent on figuring out what to write, with a healthy dose of distraction and procrastination thrown in.
Distractions are really competing priorities. They are best addressed before people are assigned to a proposal.
A big problem that's also completely solvable
Outside of distractions, the biggest thing preventing people from quickly getting proposal writing done is not being prepared. When people are not sure what is expected of them, don’t know how to organize their thoughts, are not sure what to include, and are not sure how to express themselves they put off writing until they have better clarity. Most of the time spent “writing” is really a search for clarity.
Clarity comes from having the information you need to write. It comes from not only knowing what to write about, but also knowing how it should be presented. And when people don't have this information, they start talking to try to find it. Or they procrastinate and hide. When they can't get good information, they talk in circles. On most proposals, more time is spent talking in circles than writing.
To solve this problem, you need the right input. Proposal Content Planning not only organizes the writing, it gathers all the information stakeholders have, including pre-RFP pursuit intelligence and provides a way to ensure that the information becomes what the writers needs to take action based on it. This turns the company's customer, opportunity, and competitive awareness into instructions for proposal writers, allocated to specific proposal sections, instead of a bunch of talk that doesn't provide clarity about what to put on paper.
Having a computer do the wrong thing for you will not help
Your best opportunity to accelerate the proposal process does not come from automation. Editing past proposals takes far more time than people realize and results in a proposal that is written for the wrong context. Acceleration that hurts your win rate does more harm than good. The desire to see a sample before you start is really just part of the search for clarity. When you add in that you will likely put more time into creating and maintaining a proposal content re-use library than you will gain during proposal writing, it has a bad return on investment (ROI).
Your best opportunity to accelerate proposals
Your best opportunity to accelerate the proposal process is to accelerate the search for clarity before writing can start. Instead of leaving it to the authors to individually seek the clarity they need to write, before you start writing you should implement a planning process that defines what to include and how to express it. It should both inspire and guide the authors regarding what to write. It should enable them to begin writing immediately, without additional soul searching.
If your company does a lot of proposals, then ensuring clarity before writing starts becomes:
- A corporate core competency you should develop
- Your best chance to lower proposal costs, which in turn impacts your competitiveness
- The best way to stretch your staff to cover more proposals
- A great way to introduce inexperienced staff to proposal writing
- Your best chance to get your proposal right on the first draft
- Your only reliable way to consistently submit proposals based on what it take to win
- How you win more of what you bid
So will your company put the least amount of effort into this while wishing it would go away, focus on it only until it gets distracted, leave it to staff to figure out themselves, or make it a corporate priority and keep at it until it's solved?
Avoid the worst approach, because it will destroy your proposal
The worst way to approach a proposal is to seek clarity by writing until you find it. This results in an infinite number of draft cycles where the actual proposal is defined by whichever draft you are on when you run out of time. Searching for clarity by writing about it produces draft after draft, and never delivers the clarity. Avoiding this is the single most significant thing you can do to improve your chances of winning.
If a company has this problem, then it will find its best ROI in eliminating it. You can put effort into other aspects of proposal development, but nothing will give you as big a return as implementing an approach that prevents seeking clarity through writing. This generally means implementing a process for planning the content of your proposals before you start writing.Time, motion, and ROI
On your next proposal, pretend you have a stopwatch (or better yet actually use one!), and add up the time allocated to writing and the time spent formatting the document. Then look at how much of the time allocated to writing was actually spent writing and how much was really spent figuring out what to write about and how to express it.
If you could bring a percentage of reduction to any of those phases, which would free up the most time?
Of those phases, which has the biggest impact on your win rate?
How does that impact what you should do during your next proposal?
How does that impact where your proposal department should invest their time and resources for future proposals?
How does the time spent actually writing when you have a content plan compare to when you don't?
How much less time did you spend talking in circles after implementing Proposal Content Planning?
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY