Changing the Status Quo

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The way we look at proposal management limits our success. To get out of the box so many proposal professionals find themselves trapped in requires changing the status quo.

Proposal management addresses the techniques required to win a proposal. In practice, it becomes getting by with what you’ve got to work with, and hoping to make incremental improvements in between proposals.

Progressing beyond incremental improvements requires us to change how we look at proposal development. There’s more to it than ‘The Process’. We need to take it to a more advanced level.


What could advanced proposal management encompass?

Here are five key approaches we need to change:

  1. We need to stop looking at proposals as an expense and start looking at them as an investment. Instead of minimising proposal costs, we should try to maximise the return on investment (ROI). Changing a 20% win rate to a 30% win rate increases revenue 50%. Instead of putting less effort into proposals, shouldn’t we be putting more effort into the things that improve win rates?
  2. We need to change how we measure proposal efficiency. Instead of defining proposal efficiency as the cost per proposal or the number of submissions per staff member, we should start thinking of proposal efficiency as:(Value of submissions * win rate) ÷ the amount expended to win the proposalsThis shows the ROI – the amount won for the amount expended. Suddenly the most important number becomes your win rate and not your cost. You can even see how increasing cost is worth it if it increases your win rate. ROI is the “efficiency” that matters.
  3. We need to educate our stakeholders about growth and the role proposal win rates have in achieving it. Proposals are not a necessary evil which people should be forced to do in addition to their ‘day job.’ Proposals are an opportunity to bring growth to both the company and the individuals in it. Winning proposals is how the company creates jobs, opportunities for promotion, and invests for the future. Everyone is a proposal stakeholder and contributing to proposals should be a mark of pride. When proposals are the primary way a company grows, the very mission of the company becomes winning proposals. This is the core of a successful proposal culture. All forms of success – corporate and personal, technical and non-technical – result from it.
  4. We need an organisational model instead of a process model for proposal development. Successful proposal preparation is not primarily driven by steps. Proposals are primarily driven by expectations, decisions, and interactions that should all be based on ROI. Proposal friction results when everyone doesn’t share the same goals and can’t resolve their priorities based on the same criteria. Friction lowers win rates, which negatively impacts ROI and lowers growth.
  5. We really need to define proposal quality and provide the means to measure it. How many companies have a written definition of proposal quality and perform their reviews according to written quality criteria? We need to change all the nonsense related to the colour team proposal model – it results in reviews without a clear scope which rely on a subjective determination of quality. Would a quality methodology like that be accepted anywhere else in business? We’re falling behind.

Much of this change is beyond the authority of the humble proposal manager. Advanced proposal management requires a fully integrated approach that involves the entire organisation. At the very least, a company may need to form an integrated process team and appoint an executive to focus on ROI instead of production.

An organisational approach to growth depends on making the proposal part of ‘our job’ and not ‘their problem’. An assembly line approach will not produce competitive proposals or maximise your win rate and ROI. Let your competitors build proposal assembly lines. They will be easy to beat since they end up competing on little more than price and will make up for losing by bidding in volume.


How I broke out of the status quo

I was giving a presentation at an APMP event years ago on how to improve your red team reviews. In the middle of speaking, I realised the problems can’t be fixed because they are inherent in the colour team model. Thinking about what might replace it, I started by defining proposal quality and created proposal quality criteria with a flexible approach for reviews. This turned the reviews into validation of specific quality drivers instead of fishing for problems. There’s a bit more to the methodology but this approach shows the status quo can be escaped by focussing on what we are trying to achieve instead of following the legacy steps we were taught.

Changing how reviews are done affects everything.

I realised that planning proposal content to fulfil the quality criteria before writing would improve criteria-based quality validation. I then added a way to assess information gathering before the proposal starts to ensure information for preparing the content plan and fulfilling the quality criteria was available. I kept breaking down and rebuilding the ‘accepted’ process until I had created the MustWin Proposal Process – a fully integrated process that makes proposal development more efficient, sets expectations, enables progress and quality to be measured, and increases your chances of winning. It focuses on getting the right information and going through the steps to turn it into a winning proposal. You can read more here:

This is what has me thinking about advanced proposal management. My hope is that you’ll join me to help define it. It’s necessary. Every other part of the companies we serve has adopted far more advanced quality methodologies. The status quo is no longer competitive.

This article was written by Carl Dickson.

Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY. He 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.

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