Here is a set of principles that can help guide the design of a successful proposal process. They provide a set of standards that you can assess your proposal against. After all, if you don't know your goals, it's difficult to achieve them.
Proposal Process Goals:
It's all about the customer. The process should result in a proposal that is built from the ground up around your customer. Each proposal should directly address your customer's wants, needs, and preferences. Proposals should not over-rely on re-using pre-written content. Often, the time it takes to properly customize pre-written content takes as long, if not longer, than it would to write it properly from scratch. The process must reinforce the importance of seeing things from your customer's perspective. That way, it's harder to make the mistake of delivering a proposal that simply describes your company/offering or is a collection of brochures and boilerplate stitched together.
Opportunity pursuit must be planned and measured. The process must provide a structure to collect the intelligence needed to win an opportunity during the critical period before the RFP is released. Without specific guidance, this critical time is likely to pass without much being achieved. Without a means to measure progress, you will have no way of knowing how far along you are towards achieving your goals during this period. If you don't know whether you are behind where you should be, you probably are behind. Conversely, if your process defines the goals for intelligence gathering and provides a means to measure progress, you are far more likely to achieve those goals and start the proposal prepared with a competitive advantage.
You won't get it if you don't ask for it. The process should guide participants at every step. In particular, the process should focus on providing detailed instructions for proposal authors to ensure that everything necessary for a quality proposal makes it into the document. At a higher level, the process should provide a structure to ensure that expectations are properly set before, during, and after every activity. If you don't tell people what you need and how to deliver it, you are far less likely to actually get it. Good proposal managers may do this instinctively, but it will be more reliable if you build guidance and expectation management directly into your process.
Proposal quality must be defined and validated. The process should identify what is required for a proposal to be successful and validate every aspect of the proposal to ensure that those requirements are met. A "Red Team" without direction to reviewers regarding what to validate just won't cut it. Your process should incorporate making a list of what needs to be validated to ensure success, and then provide some means to perform the validation of each and every item. If you don't define what needs to be validated to ensure success, you cannot consciously arrive at a proposal that includes everything necessarily to be successful. If it's necessary to the success of the proposal, it's worth the effort to validate it.
Plans must be validated. Results should be validated against the plans.Plans should be used to establish a baseline to measure performance against. Assessing results against the plan brings continuity, accountability, and objectivity to the review process. Doing this makes the validation of your plans as important, if not more so, than the validation of the draft proposal. Not doing this increases the likelihood of people ignoring the plans during the execution of the process. In which case, why bother with the plans? Or better yet, why bother with the process? Organizations that have trouble implementing a proposal process are often caught in this trap. If the process validates the results against the plans, then you will improve the quality of the plans as well as the results.
Effort should go into the document, and not into the process. The process should make extensive use of templates and checklists. It should be highly streamlined and efficient. Data accumulated during the process should be stored in formats that make it easy to carry forward. Content plans should evolve into the proposal and not be separate documents. Whenever someone has to put something on paper or type something into their computer, the process should be doing something to make it easier.
The resources assigned to a proposal demonstrate your company's desire to win. While profitability may be achieved by stretching your resources, doing so on a proposal lowers your chances of winning. If the company wants to win, it will staff the proposal with a sufficient number of experienced and capable staff. Period. This needs to be recognized, since at all levels of the company it will be claimed that resources are not available. But the truth is that the company will make resources available in proportion to its desire to win the bid, as compared to its desire to fulfill conflicting priorities. The shorter and easier way to say this is that if the company wants to win, it makes the necessary resources available. Failure to assign those reasons is prima facie evidence that winning is not the dominant priority.