If you asked most people what makes for a successful proposal, the most common answers would be a compelling narrative and a competitive price. These are great answers: developing a solid proposal requires both technical writing skills and the ability to develop a sound budget.
I am here to argue, however, that the most important factor for successful proposals is not the art of writing or cost estimation. The key to proposal success is having good processes in place!
If you have ever submitted a proposal for either grant funding or a client contract, you know that most applications and requests for proposals (RFPs) contain multiple components, provide a lot of instructions, and require all sorts of information. This is especially true if the funding source is a government agency. For example, you may be required to participate in a bidder’s conference, or submit your intent to respond by a specific date. You may be instructed to structure your proposal according to chapters, or submit different volumes to different addresses. You may be asked to provide information about personnel qualifications, the company’s financial history, or a detailed understanding of the subject matter – all of which require input and contributions from different sources.
To make things even more complicated, proposals are like snowflakes – no two are ever just alike. Two RFPs released by the same funder around the same time may include very different instructions for respondents to follow. In fact, it is not unheard of for a funder to include a seemingly obscure requirement as a way to weed out respondents who don’t pay close attention to the specifications!
The only way to keep track of so many moving parts is by having a process that outlines the steps and expectations for every phase of proposal development, from bid decision through submittal. The process doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should include the following components at the very least:
- A template for proposal development schedule
- A matrix for capturing all instructions and requirements
- Tools to track writing assignments, deadlines, and the status of each section
- Guidelines for quality assurance and content review
- A checklist to verify that the final proposal addresses all RFP instructions
Having a defined proposal process ensures that every proposal you submit meets basic quality standards and addresses all requirements from the RFP. This is critical, because failure to comply with even the most mundane specifications can result in disqualification – even if the technical writing is flawless, the proposed methodology is unmatched in innovation, and the pricing offers best value.
Don’t let your proposals get tossed out due to little errors. AIS Collaborations can help you get a customized process in place for your proposals today!
Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll share a case study of how I implemented a comprehensive proposal development system for a rapidly growing small business!