Winning the Business

Stick to the Process

Why not to cut corners in the proposal process

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For some professionals in the proposal field, proven doctrines of persuasive writing don’t come into play until after the “real drivers”—page count limits, filling white space, and focusing on scored sections—have been satisfied. But when faced with a looming deadline, there is the temptation to cut corners in the proposal process.

These proposal writers pour their corporate capabilities into the mold of compliance—or worse still, into the mold of the previous proposal. Win themes? They can be glazed on afterward rather than baking them in. Outline? That was a kick-off deliverable left in the dust of the chaotic writing activity that goes on as the clock ticks toward the deadline.

If this sounds familiar, then you are caught in a familiar pattern of following the shiny lights of dollar signs rather than practicing and elevating the craft of proposal writing. But do these fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants methods work?

Feeling the Pressure

Businesses with scarce resources, thin budgets, and stretched staff can fall victim to this pattern for obvious reasons, but this practice is not limited to small businesses. The appeal of a quick-turnaround formula it that it seems easier—giving the illusion of saving the team time, money, and energy.

Yet these bids have to stand up against more polished bids orchestrated by entities where best

practices are evident. And, proposal professionals know better! The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) provides tested best practices backed by evidence of wins across every business size, team size, and type of customer, and the truth is that veering from the BOK formula is often what leaks dollars from company funds.

Taking Back Management of the Proposal

As Howard Schultz, former Starbucks CEO, said: “I believe life is a series of near misses. A lot of what we ascribe to luck is not luck at all. It’s seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future. It’s seeing what other people don’t see and pursuing that vision.”

There are many people who don’t see the vision in Schultz’s quote. To turn around a series of near misses in contract competition can add up to big money fast. As APMP professionals, it is up to us to take responsibility for the integrity of the proposal, even when everybody else wants to let just this one slide by.

You should be managing the why’s, what’s, and how’s of the proposal. After all, your expertise in this area is why your company hired you in the first place. Don’t give up on what made proposals your thing.

The next time you’re participating in a proposal meeting where parts of the response are being weakened by space-saving techniques, message-diluting verbosity, crippling grammatical errors, banal graphics, absence of the customer’s voice, or lack of a structured and compelling executive summary, don’t allow it to happen. Instead, stand your ground and do what you do best: Manage the proposal.

Sherry Simburger, CF APMP, is director of proposals at Subsystem Technologies Inc. She can be reached at


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