In Praise of Pre-Proposal Planning

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“Ah”, they murmur: “Writing the proposal’s the easy part. These days, it’s all about ‘capture’. That’s the future for our profession. That’s what the clever people are all doing now.”

And, of course, ‘capture’ is indeed key to winning business. Working out the right overall plan for the end-to-end campaign. Determining how best to learn about, and influence, the client from the earliest days. Understanding the competitive landscape – and how to scare the competition!

Determining how to develop the best proposition. Identifying the right people internally to be on the team – and, often, which external partners need to be part of the family. Coaching them to design a great solution and financial model that will appeal to the client and optimise the balance between quality and price. Making sure that senior executives internally are on board with, and can contribute appropriately to, the plan.

I know many top-notch salespeople who can do this superbly without needing an extra pair of hands to facilitate the process. And I also know many in our profession who are great at making this stuff happen smoothly and effectively. Indeed, I have colleagues in Strategic Proposals who are brilliant at it; who love doing it. And as APMP’s #1-ranked Approved Training Organisation worldwide, we’re looking forward to helping people pass APMP’s new capture “micro certification” after it recently launched at the association’s Capture Conference in Virginia.

But there’s a real danger here that, as our profession jumps on the capture bandwagon, we lose sight of the fundamental importance of great proposal management – and what that really entails. And I’m fundamentally a proposal guy.

It’s the age-old discussion, understood by too few and fudged by too many, that bid management and proposal management are different (albeit closely related) disciplines. Bid managers – shaping and co-ordinating the overall campaign – often make spectacularly poor proposal managers: the skill sets are so very different, and the competing demands for their time so overwhelming.

I say ‘danger’. Actually, there’s opportunity, for those who understand the real value-add of the high calibre proposal professional. Because great proposal management doesn’t start when an RFP lands: it’s not about opening the exam paper and starting to answer questions.

I want to be confident that we have more momentum behind our proposal effort than anyone else in the race by the time the RFP lands. I’ll have fired up my team, making sure they’re motivated, hungry, excited. I’ll want us to have determined who’ll be reading the document and approving the decision, and what makes them tick. I’ll want to be confident that my proposal (note the slightly inappropriate possessive) will be sown onto fertile ground.

We’ll have worked out our likely story. We’ll have predicted what we’re going to need to write – and started developing that material, rather than waiting to craft content against the clock. Cats are easier to herd if you have a little time and they’re not feeling hunted.

In short, I’ll want us to have used structured, well-polished tools and techniques for pre-proposal planning. And I can’t help but think that many of those in the proposal world could bring more benefit to their organisations by adopting a stronger approach to this core proposal discipline than by joining the rush to embrace ‘capture’, currently so in vogue.

So here’s to those who are brilliant capture managers. I love working with them, and it makes my life so much easier if they’ve done their jobs well.

But here too is to those who are great at proposal management – and those too who are great at writing, editing, document management, design. Proposal disciplines, which risk being viewed as poor relations in the great new capture world. Give me the right team and the chance to develop a great proposal, without a capture plan, and I may very well help win the deal – much as I sometimes wish I had a business card that reads ‘miracle worker’, rather than ‘proposal manager’!

This article was written by Jon Williams.

Jon and his team work with clients worldwide to help them establish winning proposal capabilities and to capture major deals. He has built and led numerous bid and proposal centres; managed, reviewed and benchmarked countless proposals; worked in over thirty countries; and trained many thousands of course participants.

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