Do you have a written definition for "proposal quality?" And just to make life difficult for those who want to take the easy way out by answering "anything that wins," let's limit the definition to a pre-submission proposal. How do you define "proposal quality" prior to its submission? If you can't define it, then you can't measure it. And if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.
When you don't have a written definition for proposal quality, or when you define proposal quality as "anything that wins," the result is that you have no standard to judge a proposal against. Deciding "what wins" is usually subjective when the customer does it. When you try to think like the customer, you are really just guessing, and your definition of proposal quality is the whim of the person doing the guessing.
Today most companies manage their proposals by bringing in experienced people who are "supposed to know" what a quality proposal is. This is inevitably a hit or miss proposition. An experienced guess is still just a guess.
It is far better to look at the factors that determine whether or not you will win --- evaluation score, price, offering, presentation, etc. --- then validate that you have made the best decision or response you are capable of making for each factor. If you use them to develop specific criteria that define what a quality proposal is, then instead of a seat of the pants approach to determining whether your proposal is "good enough," you can ensure that each aspect of the proposal intentionally reflects the right decisions.
Defining "proposal quality" is easy: A quality proposal is one that implements all of the things you have decided are needed to persuade the customer to select you.
The difficult part is defining your goals. What does a proposal need to do to win? Start by making a list. It might look like this:
- Will it score well against the evaluation criteria?
- Is the outline/organization correct?
- Is it compliant with all RFP requirements?
- Does it reflect your win strategies?
- Are the proposed approaches cost-effective?
- Do the proposed approaches offer compelling benefits and value to the customter?
- Do they reflect the best trade-off between price and other factors?
- Does the pricing reflect the best trade-off between competitiveness and revenue/profit goals?
- Does it reflect your full awareness of the customer?
- Does it demonstrate the relevance of your previous experience at every opportunity?
- Are the reasons why the customer should select you clear?
- Does it discriminate you from the competition?
- Does it have any typographical errors?
- Is the pricing data compliant, accurate, and properly structured?
- Does the pricing account for all costs, direct and indirect?
- Are all assumptions documented?
Every one of these attributes can be validated. In fact, each one must be validated for you to know that you have a quality proposal. This is why we advocate scrapping the Color Team model of proposal reviews, and instead using the Proposal Quality Validation method.
Some of the items above have predecessors or components that can be separately validated. When you arrange them in a sequence, you begin to form a process. Only it's a process designed from the beginning to validate that the proposal reflects how you define proposal quality. It enables you to intentionally manage your proposal by enabling you to measure the results of your proposal efforts against specific quality criteria.
The result is a proposal that is exactly what you want it to be. Whether it wins or loses will always be up to the customer. But you stand a better chance of winning when you have intentionally made and validated decisions than when you accept the "best efforts" of people who are "supposed to know."