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The Right Things to Worry About on Your Proposal

Instead of worrying about the wrong things on your proposal , you should make sure that you worry about the right things. Here are eight things that should keep you awake at night...


  1. Why will the customer select you, as opposed to a competitor? In every section of the proposal, you should base your response on answering this question. If you don’t know the answer, how can you possibly articulate it for the customer? While you’re at it, you might want to consider why the customer might select a competitor instead of you… and what you are going to do about it. You should worry about this until you are confident in your competitive advantage. And then continue to worry about it.
  2. What is not going to get done because you don’t have enough of the right staff assigned? If you don’t have enough people with the right skills, knowledge, and background working on the proposal, then those who are working on it will be rushed. If you have a few key people who are stretched thin, then they will be late meeting deadlines, take short cuts, and won’t have time to polish what they wrote or fix any problems. How is that going to impact your evaluation score?
  3. Can the writers deliver what you need from them? Separate from the issue of resource availability is resource capability. Can they deliver? Do they have the writing skills and knowledge needed? Your odds of getting what you need go up in direct proportion to the amount of planning detail you provide to them before they start writing. Once they start writing, you should watch closely for weakness (schedule or content) so that you can prepare contingency plans.
  4. Are the people you are counting on to provide customer awareness reliable? If the people advising you on the customer’s preferences are either biased, wrong, or covering up problems then you may be preparing a proposal for the wrong audience. Validating your customer awareness is tricky because you must address issues like bias and customer relationship problems objectively.
  5. Is the customer reliable? Does the customer understand their own requirements and what they are asking for? Will the customer follow through on what they have said they will do? Do they have internal consensus? Can they make a decision and stick to it? Will they deal openly and fairly? Can you trust them?
  6. What does the customer care about? You need to know this at every level: technical, management, compliance, evaluation criteria, etc. If you don’t know, then the success of your whole proposal rides on your ability to guess.
  7. Have you got the scope right? What are the limits on the project? How much? How long? How many people will it take? What should be included or excluded? Often a big difference in pricing isn’t the result of different rates or unit prices. It’s a result of bidding too many people or units, or including too much in the scope of the project. You should worry more about whether you have bid too much work or units rather than whether your rates or unit prices are too high.
  8. How do you get your reviewers to focus on the right things and not overlook anything? The more guidance you provide your reviewers, the more reliable the results. However, because reviewers tend to be senior managers, you’re often trying to direct people who have more authority than you have. The validation process we recommend is based on defining specific criteria to help ensure that you get what you need from the reviewers. However, you still need to make sure that the reviewers do not overlook anything. For example, you validate your plans to ensure they are correct before you start writing to them. The risk is that something will occur to them after the review, resulting in back-tracking, re-work, and lost time. There is more riding on whether you get the review of the plans right than there is in later reviews. That’s something worth worrying about.



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