The other day a new OST client commented on another company that used Shipley processes, and seemed to do everything right to organize their proposals, but kept losing one bid after another.

I said that there are many things that make a difference between winning or losing – there are entirely too many variables. One thing, however, makes a HUGE difference. The biggest secret to a winning proposal is pre-proposal work. With that, it is not just any pre-proposal work – it has to be a highly structured capture effort, with very specific decisions made, types of information collected and documented, and results achieved by the time the Request for Proposal (RFP) gets released.

As a consultant, half the time I get invited to help prepare a proposal after an RFP hit the street, and there are only a few weeks left to react. When I get invited late, it becomes a game of trying to beat the odds of losing something the company could have easily won had it started early.

Companies often invite consultants late because they look to save money since it seems like a waste to pay someone for something that they can do themselves (the only problem is, rarely is it done or done well). They also do not want to pay for capture months in advance because proposals themselves are expensive.

I saw somewhere a metric that a page of a Government proposal, from a storyboard or draft to the final printed customer-ready copy (with an accompanying cost and contractual volume) costs $2,000! Multiply this by an average of 50 to 100 pages that RFPs require these days, and you get a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 for the proposal effort alone, not counting capture! This is about what large companies spend if they are looking to win multi-million dollar contracts or multi-billion dollar IDIQs or GWACs.

It is a definite investment in future growth, and it can pay off in spades. Even if the company is a small business, has a lot less to spend, and goes after a smaller proposal, it still costs a lot – it is around $30,000 for the most basic consultant support, and is usually a $60,000 investment to really make a difference and blow the competitors out of the water.

What is unwise is to be ready to make this kind of an investment into a proposal, having not stacked the odds in one’s favor through advance capture. People tend to overestimate their level of preparedness, not realizing just HOW MUCH they need to have done.

Here is an insight from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) survey. Apparently, the companies that consistently win and grow aggressively spend on average 60% of their proposed budget on pre-proposal work!

The secret for winning that amazing lucrative deal is to start at least several months in advance and to get the help of a highly trained capture manager. If you don’t have one internally, or your internal capture manager is overwhelmed with other work, hire a consultant.

It is (somewhat) easy to say for the big guys. If you are a small company that does not wield huge business development budgets (yet), the solution is not as simple.

There are two ways to do it. One is to train your internal staff. At the very least, you have to invest a few grand in training to really understand what needs to be done in the capture, and how. After all, this is a whole profession, just like marketing and public relations are their own professions.

Another solution is to bring in a highly knowledgeable consultant with expertise specifically in capture management well in advance of the RFP for very targeted support. This consultant should structure your capture effort, help prepare a good capture plan, introduce the right templates and checklists, set everything up, and conduct the right brainstorming sessions such as customer analysis, competitive analysis, and win strategy development. This way, you will end up spending less than you would be paying someone full time, and prepare well at the same time. Not every consultant is ready to take on a part-time assignment, but you can find people who can.

To read Part 2 of “The Secret of High Win Rates,” Click here.

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