#e8f3f3 #e1e7f5 #edecf2 #b2d7d1 #b2d7d1

Tired of Trivial Proposal Conversations?

Author picture

Cheryl Smith



4 min

Are you tired of trivial proposal conversations about formatting and numbering? While compliance is lacking, content is missing and win strategy is weak? Lucius Seneca, the Roman philosopher, believed these types of conversations often derive from people who are “at a loss for topics of conversation.”

As a proposal professional, I would never call formatting trivial. It’s critical to readability and engagement and oftentimes compliance. Reviews, however, are important too; with the right topics of conversation they help us advance proposal quality.

So, let’s give our proposal reviewers some topics of conversation that drive productive revisions - and let’s automate our formatting and numbering so they never have to comment on it again.

Topic #1: What is the value-add of the review?

Is the review value-add pointing out a table’s missing number? Or is it providing expert insights for strengthening the bid? Whether we go “pens down” or write and review in parallel, the goal of reviews is content insight, not formatting and numbering critique.

Get reviewers to the value-add:

  • Set review expectations. Clearly articulate what the writing team expects from the review team. For example, are the project activities clearly stated and easy to understand?
  • Set revision expectations. Clearly articulate what the writing team will do with review results. Results are a revision roadmap, identifying and prioritizing improvements.

Giving reviewers context and intent focuses their time on their value-add contribution to the process. Adding a Layout Template eliminates formatting distractions so they can focus on content quality.

Topic #2: Does the proposal reflect the win strategy?

Reviewers are typically part of the strategy team, articulating how the bid can be won. So the review is intended to confirm the strategy they helped establish is articulated in the proposal narrative.

Get reviewers to the value-add:

  • Ask reviewers to refresh their memories on strategy. Make the strategy readily available from a centralized library so they can review and capture changes that impact revisions.
  • Ask the reviewers to read the win theme for each section, stated at the top of each page in hidden text. This focuses them on how the win theme is articulated, or can be better articulated.

Win themes as framework guide the reader, helping them connect the dots between their problem and our solution. Woven into the narrative, they entice the reader to imagine their world with our solution.

Topic #3: Did we answer the questions?

Do they understand our business? What success looks like to us? Answering unspoken questions keeps doubt from lurking in the readers mind, and affecting their feelings about our proposal.

Get reviewers to the value-add:

  • Ask reviewers to write down questions that cross their mind as they read. Mostly likely, they will be questions the evaluators will ask themselves as well.
  • Ask reviewers to provide insights into how those questions should be answered. Answering these questions as evaluators read removes doubt, paving the way for a stronger score.

By identifying questions as they read, reviewers reveal where and how our team can increase our score by section - actions contributors can then prioritize during revisions.

Topic #4: Have we proved we’re up to the project challenge?

We know we have the best solution and the best people. But, are we just claiming that? Or do we prove these claims? Without evidence, evaluators must question every claim before they can read on.

Get reviewers to the value-add:

  • Ask reviewers to look for claims and confirm they are supported by evidence. Remember, claims without proof can just as easily be dismissed without a reason.
  • Ask reviewers to recommend evidence where claims are not supported. Making evidence easy to find with a centralized library helps our team work towards supporting every claim.

Claims are the main points in our proposal narrative. Evidence is the facts that prove our claims are true. By proving our claims, we remove doubt and establish expertise.

Topic #5: Have we proved we perform better than the competition?

As they read, evaluators are comparing proposals, often side-by-side. While we don’t want to rail on our competition, we do want to help the reader compare and weigh our proposal in our favor.

Get reviewers to the value-add:

  • Ask reviewers to review the competition. Make competitor information readily available from a centralized library so they can prioritize and capture changes that impact revisions.
  • Ask reviewers to read with comparison in mind. When they identify gaps in the competitor’s strategy we can make our strategy stand-out.

Topic #6: Have we solved the problem?

It’s easy to get stuck in our own bubble, where what’s important to us, like our solution, must be important to everyone. People, however, care more about solving problems. Reviewing with problem-solving in mind helps our proposal walk more firmly in our readers shoes.

Get reviewers to the value-add:

  • Ask reviewers to read for doubt. Where does our proposal narrative sound hesitant or inauthentic? Where can we better demonstrate that their priorities are our priorities?
  • Ask reviewers to read for perspective. Adding different perspectives reframes the problem. This encourages the reader to connect their old experiences with new, different experiences.

When we help the reader connect their experiences to ours, we naturally shift their focus away from the troubles they experience with the problem and on to solving the problem.

So, let’s get our reviewers focused on how they can help us win - and automate our formatting so we have more time to invest in value-add reviews. Sometime Seneca agreed with when he referred to time as invisible; it's easy to spend without proper consideration to its value.

Related article: What is proposal management and how to make it easy

crack the proposal time-saving nut ebook

Author picture

Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith is our Senior Content Writer. She has additionally been writing and managing proposals since 1998. Shipley trained, she has helped establish proposal centers and advised on capture strategy, coached orals teams and lead marketing, communications and knowledge management programs. Cheryl is a graduate of The George Washington University with degrees in Theatre, Communications and Literature. When she’s not sharing her passion for work, she loves drawing, writing, cooking and exploring the Virginia woodlands with her husband, their dog Chase and the fuzzy guests they host for Rover.

Etiam arcu faucibus ultrices quisque odio. Venenatis nunc ut blandit urna.