How to manage a Request For Proposal — Part 2 : proposal building workflow

Luc Dumont
Jun 7 · 7 min read
Proposal building workflow

Ok, you have decided to bid on this request for proposal because you have the right team and the skills to match your customers needs. Now you have to build it. Let’s dive into a worklfow that crosses all the checkpoints to make an exhaustive proposal in the most efficient time.

This diagram might feel a bit complex at first. But don’t worry we will break it down. It is just common sense and cross validation to secure the content of your document. This process has been experienced and validated by hundreds of companies of any size. Whatever the size of your team, it can be adapted to your projects.

Who are the protagonists ?

Each color represents a different person on the project. So in the best case scenario you have:

  • a customer (orange)

So if your project calls for 3 fields of expertise, in the best case scenario the project team contains 8 people + 1 customer. But we do not live in a perfect world so in the real life several roles are usually played by same people. For each step we will describe how several tasks can be done by the same person and still keep a high quality level.

The process

Without any further ado, let’s dive into the workflow step by step!

1 — Dispatch

The analysis has concluded that your company shall bid on this request for proposal (see our previous article to get all the details on this analysis). Sometimes the team that performed the analysis is not the same that will build the proposal. So the project manager shall at least brief again all the team members on their specific tasks:

  1. Identify all the technical writers of the proposal and give each of them their specific perimeter: a set of customer’s requirements or a specific expertise.

2 — The writing / review / editing loop

Here we will only consider one expertise but the process will be the same for any number of expertise.

After the manager has dispatched the tasks to all the team members, the writer can start writing his part of the proposal. In a future article, we will detail the content of the proposal document and explain how to make it the most exhaustive possible.

Once the writer considers he has finished his part and has covered every customer’s needs from his perimeter, he sends his production to his technical reviewer and his quality reviewer.

As we mentioned earlier, those two different reviewers shall be called in the best case scenario. But if the team is reduced, the technical review can be performed by another writer. Both technical and quality reviews can be done by the project manager.

The reviewers shall not modify the content produced by the writer. They shall list all their remarks in a reading sheet (see our dedicated article for a description of what is a reading sheet). Once they have enlisted all their remarks, they send their reading sheets to the writer so he can take them into account in a new revision of the document. This loop goes on as long as there are remarks left open in any of the reading sheets. See our article about the document review for more details.

After all remarks have been closed, we can consider that every part of the document is finished and mature enough to be send to the customer. We can proceed to the next step.

3 — Assemble

The manager is in charge of gathering all the parts of the document coming from all the writers. He will merge them into one document (or into one set of documents) as the customer expects the proposal to be.

Thanks to the quality review of each text, this part should be really easy and quickly done. It only should be a matter of merging documents and making a final check to validate that everything is OK. Then the manager sends everything to the customer through the dedicated channel: by mail, through a specific exchange platform, etc.

4 — At the customer’s

Obviously your customer will review your proposal, and just like your own internal reviews, this one may end up with remarks.

If so, the customer will send them to the project manager and he shall dispatch them to each concerned writer. So we loop back to the dispatch step but with a much faster editing / review loops. This time, the reviewers shall focus on the management of the customer’s remarks and must not add their own new ones. The purpose here is to come up with an updated proposal as quickly as possible. Because if the customer took the time to send you remarks, it is because your proposal caught his attention. But you may not be the only one on the short list!

Once you have matched all of his requests, he has no more remarks and he will be able to take his decision…

5 — The final decision

OK, your customer has given his decision to you. Whatever it can be, you always shall do a report about it.

If it is a Yes, gather all your documents (analysis, reading sheets, proposal, customer’s remarks) in a folder and tag it “Accepted”. In the future, such a folder in your archives will be an important asset if a similar request for proposal comes to you. You will know exactly what to respond or have a clear idea on how to kick start your proposal.

If it is a No, still gather all your documents but this time tag it “Rejected”. Your customer will probably tell you why he didn’t choose you. If he doesn’t, ask him! This will be a precious feedback for the next time you apply to a request from this customer or just for the continuous improvement of your company. Just like once said Nelson Mandela: “I never loose, I either win or learn.”

I insist, the main point here, whatever the outcome, is to turn all the work done into a living asset, a source of knowlegde for the future. So nothing shall ever be done twice!

Conclusion

There is no secret in the management of a request for a proposal. Everything is a matter of organization. The trap is to loose time in a moment you really have not so much of it. Because if you received this request, your competitors also did.

OK, they can win this one by being cheaper than you. It is a wrong easy way to win in a short time because being outrageously cheaper means they didn’t spend as much time as you did on the analysis and so they took bigger risks. If those risks turn to be real, you can be sure they won’t stay noticed by the customer, and this customer won’t do the same mistake twice the next time they have to decide between 2 suppliers.

What about you?

Do you use a similar workflow?
How do you manage the document reviews before sending it to the customer?
Do you have other tools? Do you use software or hire suppliers to help you build your proposals?

📝 Contribute to our Study of documentation on business projects.

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