What is the best way to accelerate proposals?

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.

Outside of distractions, the biggest thing preventing people from writing 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.

Your best opportunity to accelerate the proposal process does not come from automation. Recycling past proposals will just slow you down and result in a proposal that is written for the wrong context. The desire to see a sample before you start is really just part of the search for clarity. Because 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 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.

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.

If you do plan your content before you start writing, you will get your next biggest ROI by accelerating that process. This means accelerating the search to discover what to write about. You can create tools and resources to help with this.

In our case, we created a methodology called Proposal Content Planning (see also) that is described in the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase. In addition to being an effective way of identifying everything that should go into your proposal, it is also exceptionally efficient. But we accelerate it even further by using Proposal Recipes that identify the ingredients that typically go in various proposal sections, and more recently we’ve introduced Bid Strategy Recipes that help the team quickly determine how to position themselves in various circumstances. The recipes make creating the Content Plans quicker and add more detail to them. Together, they bring clarity so that writing proceed more quickly.

By eliminating the problem of seeking clarity by writing and re-writing, and then accelerating writing by accelerating Content Planning, PropLIBRARY brings much higher ROI than automating document assembly. By making it available off-the-shelf and ready for immediate implementation, we boost that ROI even higher.

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?

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.

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