A Fresh Eyes Review… The Key To Getting Any Business Proposal Approved (And a Promotion)

A second fresh perspective opinion is the key step in getting executive approval for any proposal.

Descriptors – proposal approvals / a fresh eyes review – how to – <3 min. read

Fresh Eye Reviews – Why They Work

A Fresh Eyes Review (FER) is when a critical person from outside of a team is asked to review one of its new business proposals. The goal is to identify every major/minor error and omission in the proposal document (or PowerPoint presentation). These FE Reviews are effective first because they come from an outsider’s perspective. The reviewer is likely to see errors/omissions that team members (that may be “too close to the problem”) may have overlooked. And second, because the criticisms from these outsiders will be more candid and frank (because they have few strong team relationships). Third, these fresh eyes reviewers will also suggest which questions the evaluators are likely to ask about the content of the proposal. This advanced warning will allow the team to better prepare powerful answers to these proposal approval-killing questions.

The Many Benefits Of A “Fresh Eyes Review”

The benefits of this FER process are both powerful and numerous.

  • It will increase your proposal approval rate – because this review process will catch almost every error and most omissions. It will dramatically improve your proposal approval rate. And that will save you from the embarrassment and career damage after your proposals are repeatedly rejected due to content that should have been spotted and fixed.
  • This process will get inexperienced leaders funded faster – if you have a number of new leaders who need to acquire funding or approvals rapidly. This approach will give them the support and guidance they need to get funded much faster than most rookies normally would.
  • Qualitative leaders may need to include more numbers – when a qualitative leader is putting together the final proposal. They will likely also need the support of a quantitative person who would be able to add in some supporting numbers and data.
  • Big-picture leaders probably need help with the details – when a big-picture leader is finalizing the proposal. They will also likely need a detail-oriented person to add in omitted important details, and vice versa. Also,  realize that an overly positive leader may need the help of a more cynical reviewer to present a more balanced approach.
  • This review may increase the proposal’s focus on business impacts – regardless of the functional area of the proposal. It’s always absolutely critical to include business content like its dollars of business impact, ROI, or performance metrics. So, a review by an outsider with a strong business perspective will go a long way in ensuring that the proposal is more business-oriented. 
  • Most need help with writing at the executive level – when executives will review your proposal. Your chances of success improve dramatically if the proposal is written in “executive level style.” That style means that you don’t use a single word that will turn off executives. And that the content is extremely brief and easy to scan. These reviewers can also help you to fix any acronyms that higher-ups may not be familiar with.
  • Grammar perfection is required because many executives won’t tolerate a single error – because executives have been known to reject sound proposals simply because they contain a single grammar error. So, never only rely on grammar-checking software alone to find errors. 
  • Delegation may cause important content to be left out – because most proposal work is delegated to multiple team members who work independently. A lack of coordination may mean that important parts of the proposal content may be inadvertently left out. Because the leader or another teammate simply assumed that the content was being included by someone else.
  • Fresh eyes can give you a diverse perspective – if your fresh eyes person has a diverse background or perspective. They may be able to help you identify any biases in your work and your conclusions. 
  • Many creative leaders are not good at finding errors – It’s important to note that having a leader who can create a new approach doesn’t automatically mean that that leader is also skilled at finding proposal errors and omissions.
  • This review can mitigate a team’s tunnel vision and groupthink – because team members who have been completely immersed in developing this proposal often develop “tunnel vision,” Which is when their focus is so narrow that team members literally miss seeing and appreciating the importance of significant changes. That may occur within your organization and in the external business and economic environment. These reviewers may also be able to spot groupthink, where the team downplays the strength of opposing internal and external forces.
  • Most reviewers will do it for free – if you agree to reciprocate and review their work later. I have found that most internal or external fresh eye reviewers will do it for free. 


Require Your Reviewers To Follow An Evaluation Checklist

Be aware that it is a common error to let your fresh eyes reviewers “wing it” during their review. Instead, you need them to focus on several very specific things. You must prepare in advance and provide them with a one-page checklist covering three critical areas, your evaluation guardrails, questions to anticipate, and common omissions to avoid. 

  • Guardrails to guide your evaluation – in your checklist, ensure the reviewer is aware of the guardrails for this proposal evaluation. Those guidance areas should include your goals for the proposal document, your high-priority content, and the titles of your likely executive reviewers and their expected proposal evaluation criteria. 
  • Suggest anticipated questions from executive evaluators to ensure you have sufficient time to prepare for tough questions. On the checklist, ask your reviewers to note at least five anticipated questions that they expect to be raised by the executive evaluators.
  • Ask the reviewers to check for common omissions – finally, ask the reviewers to determine if any frequently omitted content areas have been omitted from this proposal.
Success Metrics
DEI / Legal issues
Information sources
The business case
Potential problems
Duplicate content
Business impacts
Action steps
Definitions / Formulas
Best practice examples
An executive summary
Quality control/assurance


Secrets For Getting The Most Out Of Your Fresh Eyes Reviews (FER)

Although the fresh eyes review concept is straightforward and intuitive. There are some effective proactive actions that you can take to significantly improve the quality of your “fresh eyes” reviews. They include:

  • How to identify the best potential FE reviewers – obviously, having great reviewers is essential for success. And the best way to identify potential FE reviewers is through referrals from people you know and respect. First, ask colleagues in your own organization to identify team leads that are known to have a high proposal acceptance rate. Also, ask them to refer individuals who have previously served as a successful proposal reviewer. Next, ask your consultants, major vendors, and the officers at the relevant major professional associations for referrals (or to be reviewers themselves). On your own, look for critical individuals who ask tough questions, are detail-oriented, or have experience in auditing. Also, consider asking individuals who work in your function but in another business unit, industry, or state. Next, ask popular authors in your field if they would be willing to help. And finally, pick someone from your own personal learning network
  • Don’t trust, verify the capability of your reviewers – no matter their qualifications. You simply can’t afford to assume that a potential fresh eyes reviewer is good at proofing, spotting errors, and being forthright about disclosing problem areas. So, the only way to verify their capabilities is by pretesting them with a flawed section of a past proposal.
  • Response speed is essential – because an end-of-the-project rush for completion is inevitable. Fresh eye reviewers must agree to complete their review within the allotted time frame. Those that can’t must be dropped.
  • Consider a midway and an end-of-project review – often, waiting until the end of your proposal development to have a reviewer evaluate your work is a mistake. If you conduct a review midway through your proposal development process. You can spot early mistakes and avoid continuing work in areas that will add no value later. 
  • Using multiple reviewers at the end will dramatically improve your chances of success – if you can get two or more independent “fresh eyes” reviews of your final proposal. It is likely the only way that you will be able to avoid triggering a single executive “proposal knockout factor.” 
  • Sometimes, just stepping away will give you a new perspective – simply ignoring your partially developed proposal for as little as a week may be enough to allow you to spot several important errors and omissions.
  • Ask team members to review the proposal anonymously – often, some of your team members will already know about serious errors in your proposal. However, their fear of being disliked or chastised by the leader or teammate may prevent them from speaking up. One way to minimize their fears and still get honest criticisms is to require all team members to complete an anonymous critical review of your proposal. 
  • Don’t criticize the FE reviewer if you expect blunt and unfettered criticism. Realize that it is unforgivable to criticize the “fresh eyes” reviewer for the harshness or volume of their criticisms. 

Final Thoughts

In today’s shaky economy, you can expect every budget to tighten continually. And with that continuing competition for budget funds. Leaders who seek new funding must learn to expect a continuous raising of the minimum passing “funding score.” And after decades of research and practice. I have found that if you want to reach that high approval bar. The content of your written (and verbal) proposal will now have to meet every single funding factor. While at the same time containing literally zero errors and zero omissions. So, I heartily recommend “fresh eyes” reviews. They are the best and cheapest way to make your proposal bulletproof.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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