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Two overlooked ways to speed up your proposals that most people wouldn't think about

Plus 8 topics you'll need to address

Most people overlook the best ways to speed up their proposals. They focus on having a faster start-up, having a re-use library, or automating document assembly. Or they look for AI to write their proposal for them, ignoring how that will never be competitive. But they overlook two critical approaches.

What causes proposal slack time?

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Most of the slack time in a proposal happens when you are ready to take the next step, but can’t because you don’t have the information you need. So you spend some time trying to get the answers. Or worse, you spend more time trying to work around the issue because you can’t get the answers you need.

The first problem is that it shouldn’t have taken you so long to ask the questions. The second problem is that you don’t have the answers you need.

Speeding up proposal development

If you want to speed things up...

  1. Start the proposal knowing what questions you’ll need answers to. The RFP doesn't supply them all. The RFP doesn't tell you all the customer's preferences, or everything that matters to them. It doesn't tell you how to position against the competition or how to make the many, many trade-off decisions you face. When questions pop up during writing, everything slows down. Even worse, you often have to backtrack when the answers force you to change what you've written.
  2. Be able to find at least some of the answers. You'll never get answers to all of the questions you have when writing a proposal. But the ones you do answer will not only speed up proposal writing, they will drive your win strategies as well. Waiting until the proposal starts to think about the questions you should have asked or delivering answers after the writing has started will slow proposal writing down and weaken the proposal.

This is why it's good to build your entire pursuit process around getting answers to your questions. Getting answers starts with asking questions early. When proposal writers start already having the answers they need, it is much easier to build the proposal based on them. 

What questions should you ask?

To create a list of questions to start the proposal with, ask yourself what you need to know about:

  1. The customer
  2. The offering
  3. The competitive environment
  4. How your proposal will be evaluated
  5. The trade-offs you will encounter
  6. The conflicts you will need to resolve
  7. The points you want to make
  8. What the customer will need you to say to conclude that you are their best alternative

You may very well find that most of the questions related to these topics are applicable to all of your proposals.

When you start a proposal, you should review the list of questions. You can accelerate the development of your win strategies and themes by assessing which you have answers for and which you don’t. Then when you start the actual writing, you know where the issues are. You may even have workarounds in mind from the start.

An even better approach is to begin asking those questions the moment the lead is identified. This changes the pre-RFP pursuit phase from an exercise in fishing to see what you can catch into hunting for exactly what you need. It makes the pre-RFP pursuit about seeking specific answers so that when you start the proposal, you already have answers to many of your key questions.

Bad signs

If you are starting your proposals with an outline before you’ve asked the right questions, it’s a bad sign. What's going to happen when you get the answers? What's your win probability going to be if you don't?

If you are trying to create a re-use library so that you can quickly reuse text before you’ve asked the right questions, it’s a bad sign. How do you know you've got the right content? Isn't there a conflict between building the proposal around what you already have written and what the customer wants and needs to hear to make a decision in your favor?

If you are trying to speed up document production because you need more time to work on the text, if it's because unanswered questions are slowing down the writing, it’s a bad sign. It means you're trying to rush to finish after giving up on getting the answers that you needed to write the winning proposal.

What to do instead

If you want to speed up the proposal, start by knowing what questions to ask, and get at least some of the answers before you start the proposal. The rest is easy.

If you think of the entire proposal process as a flow of information, assessment, and transformation ending with a decision support tool, that process is easier to build as a sequence or collection of questions than it is to build as a flow chart.

During the pre-RFP phase of pursuit, we use Readiness Reviews to turn lead qualification and capture planning into sets of questions, with the goal to gather more and better information that produces an information advantage.

At the start of the proposal, we use Proposal Input Forms, which are also based on questions, to aggregate intelligence about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment.

Before proposal writing starts, we use Proposal Content Planning to identify instructions and questions for proposal writers to address in a way that accounts for everything that should be written and how it should be presented. When you start Proposal Content Planning with the answers to questions from Proposal Input Forms and Readiness Reviews, this is straightforward and goes quickly.

When you gather the right information and assess and transform it into what proposal writers need to know, then proposal writing is not only greatly accelerated, but so are proposal reviews. Instead of going through endless iterations trying to change the proposal into something that can win, you start from an understanding of what it will take to win, build a structure for the document based on that, and write to produce something based on what it will take to win in the very first draft. 

Doing a losing proposal quickly is easy. This is how you quickly do a proposal that will win.

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

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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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