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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Applied to Proposals

When most people review a proposal, they try to consider everything all at once. They generally don’t do a good job of it. One reason why they don’t consistently do a good job is that the review does not reflect their priorities. Some issues are more important than others. A good way to understand this is to consider how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be applied to proposals.

First, at the bottom of the pyramid, is compliance. You must achieve compliance to even be considered. If your proposal is thrown out because of non-compliance, nothing else matters.

The next step up is maximizing your evaluation score. Once you have achieved compliance, maximizing your evaluation score is the most important thing you can do to ensure a win.

Next you must achieve in writing what you think is necessary to win. This implies that you’ve developed enough understanding of the client, opportunity, and competitive environment to know what it will take to win. Some of what is necessary to win will be in the RFP, some of it will not be. Once you have an RFP-compliant proposal that is optimized against the evaluation criteria, you need to make sure that the proposal reflects your win strategies.

After that, you can worry about presentation and graphics. Once you have achieved your win strategies in writing, you can think about how well they are presented and whether you have maximized your use of visual communications. Until you have compliance, optimization against the evaluation criteria, and fulfillment of your win strategies, you don’t have anything to communicate --- visually or otherwise!

Next comes proofreading and editing. While some people behave as if a typo is the end of the world, the truth is that you are more likely to survive a typo than a proposal that does not communicate your win strategies. So, as important as they are, proofreading and editing are near the top of the pyramid.

Only after you have achieved compliance, optimized against the evaluation criteria, incorporated your win strategies, perfected the presentation and checked it for accuracy should you devote resources to perfecting the style, making it speak with one voice, etc. This is the very top of the pyramid, and few ever make it to here.

It’s not that editing and style are not important, it’s just that you must focus on the things that most affect your chances of winning first. Your best chances of winning come when you work yourself all the way to the top. But if you are constrained by time and resources, you must focus your efforts. When reviewing your next proposal, make sure that you get the basics right first by starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working your way up.

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By Carl Dickson,
Founder of and PropLIBRARY

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