Even with experience and a clear-cut strategy, climbing a mountain (we’re talking the ‘Everests’ of the world) is tough – it takes a huge amount of tenacity. Climbing that same mountain without any plan, direction, or support would not only likely be impossible, but quite frankly, reckless. Not many would bother proceeding (and rightfully so!).

The same is true when it comes to the proposal process. We don’t really need to explain the mountain reference – you know what we’re getting at. It can be daunting and without a plan of action, starting the process could end up being a move that wastes valuable time, steers your team off route, and causes them to stumble along the way.

Does your team have a proposal process?

While almost all team leaders would say that they do, that’s not always the case in reality. They might have a documented process, but not many of their team members bother to follow it – and that, as we alluded to earlier, can lead to ‘disaster’: wasted time, a chaotic and stressful compilation process, fewer successful proposal submissions, and missed chances to win new business.

It’s a worrying scenario, especially given that plenty of teams are seeing an increase in the number of proposal requests. We saw this in our recent State of Proposal and RFP Management Report 2020/2021, where almost half of our respondents (45.7%) said that this was the case in the six months leading up to that point.

That being so, we’re sure that many teams are scrambling to keep up! And if your team is one of those that doesn’t have any sort of ‘action plan’ or that has a non-effective process in place, we’re sure you could use some help.

Enter ‘the Shipley proposal process’.

This process, as defined by global professional services firm, Shipley Associates, comprises a whopping 96 steps (don’t worry – it’s not critical to follow every single one!) that guide you through the entire business development lifecycle.

We won’t dive into each step here, but to give you an idea, the various steps are grouped together into seven phases, namely:

  • Phase 0: Market segmentation
  • Phase 1: Long-term positioning
  • Phase 2: Opportunity assessment
  • Phase 3: Capture planning
  • Phase 4: Proposal planning
  • Phase 5: Proposal development
  • Phase 6: Post-submittal activities

The Shipley proposal process is the most popular starting point for many bid and proposal managers, including most of our clients. And, as mentioned – not everyone relies on all 96 steps. Many teams simply use them as a starting point and whittle them down to create a process that works for their business.

View the full Shipley process by Shipley Associates here.

If you’re new to proposal processes, we recommend that you spend some time considering the Shipley process, before starting to work out what a good process looks like for your team.

We also think that you’d benefit from our free proposal checklist that will help you take the pain out of creating proposals.


Our top tips for ensuring a brilliant proposal process
  1. Keep the process simple

    We love the idea that Albert Einstein shared: ‘If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.’ Can’t argue that.

    So, with that in mind, we recommend keeping your proposal process as simple as possible! It doesn’t have to be as detailed as the Shipley proposal process to be effective – and ‘effectiveness’ is ultimately what you should be after.

    Your process should be clear, well-defined, and free of unnecessary clutter. Keep reinforcing the process by offering templates that offer helpful prompts and guidance at various stages.

  2. Keep your content and bid libraries up to date

    Maintaining a content library requires time and discipline, but it’s absolutely worth it!

    Did you know that the majority of sales reps can’t find content to send to prospects? The risk is that, in the scurry to get a proposal to prospects, will use outdated content that lacks impact or may even be incorrect.

    Having access to a content database makes a huge difference to our RFP and proposal processes here at Qorus. We store proactive proposal and presentation content sections, as well as a huge number of RFP question and answer pairs, in our library. These are all assigned owners and entered into regular workflows to ensure that each piece of content is checked and updated at least every six months.

    This gives us a good foundation for streamlining the proposal process, as most RFP questions can be answered pretty quickly and the remainder can be farmed out to various subject matter experts.

    If you’re not sure where to get started, check out our two guides on setting up content libraries.

    SharePoint Library Guide

    Teams Guide

  3. Don’t underestimate the value of training

    Not only does training equip your team to quickly get to grips with the process that you’ve implemented – whether that’s the Shipley proposal process or another – but it’s also a great way of boosting morale by investing in the growth of your team members.

    Our clients often tell us how important it is for them to make sure their teams are properly trained on the ins and outs of proposal management. We’ve seen the same internally, and would seriously recommend that you investigate APMP certification: ‘the world’s first, best and only industry-recognized certification program for professionals working in a bid and proposal environment.’

    It’s also a good idea to get the team to attend a couple of conferences, events, or workshops every year to keep everyone on track with the latest best practices and trends. And as your team gets bigger, consider encouraging more experienced members to train up new members!

How do you know if your proposal process is working?

It’s simple: You can be sure that your process is working when it guides your team’s actions; when everyone involved is clear on their role in the process and what is expected of them.

Moreover, it’s working your team is creating a greater volume of accurate, compelling, and error-free documents; when they’re able to compile proposals in a snap (even if it’s with the help of proposal management software).

It’s working when you and your team get to enjoy the peaks after making your way up the mountains!

Remember, your process should also include feedback mechanisms that help avoid mistakes before they occur. It should constantly evolve and get better with time.

Talk to us about improving your process

Are you already using the Shipley proposal process? How many steps do you use? Or are you using another process? We’d love to hear your thoughts over on our social pages!

If you need some help, ensuring that you can get the best out of your proposal process and equipping yourself with the fastest way to win business, please reach out or try out our demo below!

Build proposals and RFP responses faster

Editor's note: This post was originally published on February 16, 2016 and recently updated on February 26, 2021.