Proposal writing is a team sport, tasking experts from across your organization to collaborate and bring a compelling and persuasive capture strategy to life in the proposal. Together, their knowledge and experience is greater than the sum of their parts; together their writing establishes authority, demonstrates empathy, validates proficiency, and exhibits commitment. All things an evaluator hopes to find when reading and scoring your proposal.
Writing as a proposal team, however, presents a challenge; with more minds comes differing writing styles and conflicting information. If not diligently monitored and addressed, these issues can negatively impact your proposal win probability.
In the second of this four-part Blog series, we will explore proposal management best practices with a focus on team Interplay, or collaborative proposal writing.
Proposal writing can often feel like a race to the finish line; the majority of the team has a full-time job and everyone has conflicting deadlines and shifting priorities. Whether you decide to write a section together all in a single document or you decide to break down the section into different files, the goal is to get everyone on the same page so your proposal reads like it was written from a single, authoritative source.
Challenge: There are a lot of things to consider before writing a proposal section. What are the customer’s pains and goals? How does your solution solve their problem and achieve their vision for the future? What proofs do you have that you can do the work? When your team is out of sync on these opportunity details, discriminators and win themes, hairline cracks begin to appear in the writing. Under pressure and deadline, these hairline cracks grow, creating glaring gaps in your narrative, making it difficult for evaluators to read and understand.
Best Practice: To bring greater accuracy and continuity to the narrative, gather and discuss the capture strategy, proposal outline and scoring criteria for the section. Ask questions and agree on overall proposition, style, voice, word choice, and quantitative supporting details. Break down the high-level scoring categories into relevant questions that might be raised in the evaluator’s mind as they read. Answer each relevant question as part of the writing, breaking down the answers into simple steps and terms. And agree on the writing strategy.
Organizations rely on collaborative teams to ensure their proposals are correct, compliant, persuasive, and quickly compiled. Beginning with a pre-writing plan ensures everyone on the team is on the same page, delivering against capture strategy, and focusing reviews and revisions on improvement rather than correction.
Leverage, but Tailor
No one wants to start from a blank page, or spend time recreating the wheel. Existing, or reusable, content, either from a content library or a past proposal, can speed things up. It can help the team turn around a quick first draft or submit on a tight deadline.
Challenge: We’ve written this before. Can’t we just use that? Yes, but, there are dangers; when your proposal narrative feels “cobbled” together from different sources, evaluators begin to question your attention to detail. And when your proposal doesn’t speak to their specific needs, evaluators begin to question your real interest in their business.
Best Practice: So, leverage your previous content to build your first draft and identify your gaps. Then use these best practices to fill the gaps and tailor your content with a focus on context unique to the customer, and of course, the evaluator.
Start by separating the context from the requirement. The proposal may be similar, but tailoring content within the customer’s context, i.e., capture strategy, win themes, and evaluation criteria, will help engage evaluators, keep them reading, and keep them from skimming.
Focus tailoring on the “what’s in it for me” aspect of your solution. Focus more on the “what” and the “how” and not so much of the “why.” The more specific you are, the better you’ll build credibility.
Make it relatable. People make decisions based on emotions and emotion drives purchasing behaviors. Break content down into easily digestible chunks. Now, infuse each chunk with a relevant, real-life client success story to leave a lasting impression with evaluators.
It may take many drafts to achieve the level of proposal maturity and quality evaluators crave for the win. Tailoring your content will erase the taint of reusable content, and help evaluators better understand, and accept, your solution.
Collaborate with Reviewers
As the team writes, proposal reviews are a critical step in the process. It is here where reviewer reactions and insights advance proposal maturity and quality; where a choppy narrative becomes engaging, where more concise language builds credibility, and where added details drive a deeper understanding of the solution for a more lasting impression.
Challenge: Aren’t we done yet?
Best Practice: Revisions are typically a crossroads for the proposal team. Time is of the essence and the course of action chosen will significantly affect the proposal’s win probability. Experience demonstrates that the more collaborative this Improvement phase, the more productive the revisions.
Ask for Instructions, Not Feedback. Improve time spent in review by asking for specific instructions instead of generic feedback. This small adjustment in mind-set will transform a “this is weak” comment into an “add this proof point to strengthen the section” instruction. Make sure your reviewers understand how each review builds on the last – incrementally improving win probability – and how their reviews are the roadmap that helps the team get there. This is a best practice first brought to light by Carl Dickson over at PropLIBRARY, and further explored in David Seibert's insightful book, Proposal Best Practices: A Practical Guide to Improve Your Win Rate When Responding to RFPs.
Use Reviewer Time Wisely. If the review date arrives and the proposal is not ready, full of gaps and inaccuracies and boilerplate, it’s time to reschedule. When it is time to review, swap the frustrating email search for a centralized review. Reviewers will save time with direct access to the current version of the document. They’ll have visibility into what other reviewers are suggesting, eliminating redundant instructions. They’ll have access to previous reviews and their instructions for context and deliver more thoughtful instructions. Add smart phone and tablet access and on-the-go reviewers will never miss a review again.
Proposal Reviews are All about Consensus; identifying and agreeing on what needs to be fixed and what needs to be strengthened in the proposal. When reviewers have collaborative access to each other’s work real-time, they can build on ideas, discuss differing opinions, and come to consensus during the review. Proposal managers spend less time clarifying weak comments and mediating differing opinions, and the team spends more time on revisions that improve quality.
By harnessing the collaborative energy of your experts and writers during the writing or Interplay phase, teams avoid the pitfalls of differing writing styles and conflicting information, and pave the way for faster, more productive reviews.