Writing a proposal without formal and informal reviews is as absurd as making a blockbuster movie without dailies and other review meetings to scrutinize every camera angle or editing decisions. Just like in the film industry, missing a key detail or making a continuity mistake undermines your credibility in the eyes of the audience. It can outright ruin the impression you want to make with just a few gaffes, or even open you up to ridicule.
Although nearly everyone understands how important proposal reviews can be, they are often not particularly productive. Large and small companies alike tend to commit the seven (almost) deadly proposal review sins. These sins make reviews as effective as beer without the bubbles. They are not only useless but tend to turn you off the entire process. Here are the sins, in no particular order of priority:
- Not issuing invitations on time. Many proposal managers work without a checklist of what they have to do at every proposal stage, and therefore they tend to forget the important details. Like, for example, inviting the right people to reviews well in advance, as soon as the RFP is out and the proposal schedule is ready. Then, not herding cats and making sure they do show up, by calling and confirming that key reviewers got their invitations on their calendars and they indeed plan to come. And, not issuing all the pre-reading documents well in advance to ensure the reviewers use their time effectively on the review date. On a side note, some organizations do provide the service of organizing and presiding over the reviews to the bid team -which is a good practice to follow to help an overtaxed, over-busy proposal management team.
- Inviting the wrong people to the reviews. Proposal managers tend to invite too many managers, and too few subject matter experts (SME). Managers tend to be good at finding the problems – but they rarely know how to fix these problems. Their best path is to delegate the fixing to the already overworked proposal team. If that proposal team only has one or two days for the review team “recovery”, then the problems don’t get fixed. SMEs could fix those problems right away, or discover even deeper issues with the proposal. Also, proposal managers shouldn’t invite more reviewers than there are proposal writers. Generally the rule of thumb should be three reviewers per section-with multiple sections for each reviewer.
- Not training the reviewers on what’s required from them. It is a grave mistake to assume the non-professional reviewers invited to your review will know how to review proposals, even if they have done it before. Their feedback quality is normally poor, ranging from grammar and spelling edits to comments such as “this section is weak – it needs strengthening.” Many proposal managers fail to deliver just-in-time training to their reviewers and clarify expectations prior to starting the review. Speaking of expectations, proposal managers don’t enforce the requirement that the reviewers read and analyze the RFP prior to the review date. My former boss, Tim Hannigan, used to include strongly worded promises to hold an RFP quiz prior to the review start to ensure everyone has done their homework.
- Lack of clear review agenda and questions. Every RFP and proposal circumstance is different, and it is a sin to use your boilerplate review goals and cookie-cutter approach for every review. Instead, tailor the review goals to match the exact stage this proposal is on. Ask the smart reviewers to vet some of the specific solutions your team has developed. Don’t forget to tell about your struggles to the reviewers, such as not knowing where to cut text to come under the page count. Ask to help you with articulating the specific benefits of your approach.
- Failing to tell the reviewers to roll up their sleeves and fix stuff. Many proposal managers don’t feel empowered to manage the reviewers and ask them to do stuff for the proposal instead of just critiquing the writers’ work. They fail to use the power of the review team to come in and fix whatever is broken or incomplete. The reviewers are there for the day with their cell phones and email, connected to the rest of the world. Sure they can not only instruct the proposal team to get the answers, but also issue data calls and get some answers on their own. Also, the reviewers should not forget to caucus at the end of the review and prioritize the topmost issues that require fixing in order to get the proposal to the winning quality.
- Not issuing specific reviewer assignments. Proposal managers who fail to determine which sections each reviewer should look at first risk getting something like ten redlines of the executive summary, five redlines of the technical section, two redlines of the management section, and none for their resumes, past performance, and other important proposal pieces nobody likes to read. Reviewers should have specific assignments to ensure the entire proposal document gets the scrutiny it deserves.
- Leaving the reviewers to run the show, instead of being in charge. Many proposal managers are products of their company cultures where they report to the review teams and not the other way around. The review teams composed of senior management are clearly in charge and come down from on-high like a ton of bricks on the proposal team’s heads, playing a higher authority’s role on the proposal. Some proposal managers even have to report how they have addressed every single comment by keeping painstaking track of the reviewers’ feedback in a spreadsheet. As if they had plenty of free time to do this rather than work on the actual proposal. The reviewers should be supporting the proposal manager, instead of the other way around. At many companies, proposal managers are not welcome to participate in the reviewers’ caucus and are only invited to the review debrief. The most useful information, however, comes from the debates between t he reviewers during the caucus prior to the authors debrief, instead of only getting the valuable consensus data at the end. Leaving the decision of whether a proposal manager should attend the caucus to the reviewers is a mistake.
Avoid these sins, and your reviews will result in improving your proposals’ quality. You may also want to invest in inviting a professional reviewer.