|Yesterday we asked if you should be writing white papers, for
example, to support your RFP submissions? Is the investment in time
worth the effort?
We then looked at how to get started. But that doesn't explain how to
build trust, to connect, to persuade...
Where do most proposal writers go wrong?
Successful proposals place the emphasis on the clients needs rather
than on your abilities, technology, or experience, regardless of their
proposal writers tend to hype their own products/services and relegate the clients needs
to second place.
For example, a proposal for a Content Management system would list must-have
technology features and new bleeding-edge technology.
A more seasoned writer would discuss
why the agency needs a Content
Management system in the first place, and then articulate the business benefits that their
proposed system would offer.
In other words, the second approach discusses a solution to a problem
rather than a
wonderful new product.
Government agencies buy solutions not products.
To keep our proposal client-centric, we need to consider the following:
1. Identify your Proposal's Weakness?
This can be a very tricky area, as the sheer audacity to suggest that the proposal has
weaknesses will often be dismissed with derision by the grievously offended bid team.
Nonetheless, if you are the Bid Manager, it is your responsibility to raise this issue.
Otherwise, you are working with your head in the sand oblivious to the bid's shortcomings.
Business Proposal - Project Costs Breakdown
Refinement is what you are after here. By examining the proposal with an impartial eye,
you can see its weakness and then work to resolve these.
Actually, the last one is the most critical. Ask your bid team this question. If they
hem and haw, it might be time to get an external opinion.
These are some of the most critical issues when submitting a proposal.
Other things for consideration include:
- Any assumptions you make need clear explanations.
- Any recommended course of action (and the consequences of inaction) needs to be
- Human resource issues such as mobilizing staff, scheduling, and contingency plans.
2. How to demonstrate improvements to profitability?
Every bid boasts of value-for-money. The proposal evaluators eyes glaze over when they
read this as would yours, no doubt.
Proposal Manager Toolkit - Cost Breakdown
Instead, of hyping your proposal, demonstrate your ability to:
- Show how you can improve productivity.
- Discuss other projects where you have achieved this.
- Outline the
potential costs savings.
In many respects, there will be some guesswork here, but at least it shows that you are
making a serious effort to understand their business needs. Most of your competitors will
not be so industrious.
3. How to Build Trust?
Building trust takes time in most everyday situations. In the contracting world,
government agencies are often under intense pressure to award contracts very swiftly in
order to accelerate large-scale projects.
Regardless of the quality of your bid,
trust and reliability
will always be an issue; the awarding agency needs to trust the bidder. After all, if they
hand you the contract and you under-perform (i.e. screw-up badly), it will reflect very
poorly on them.
However, during the tendering process you will get several opportunities to build
bridges with the government team. Examples of these include:
Clarifications: always send in clarifications as this demonstrates that you are
examining the finer details and have examined the proposals in detail. When preparing
Request for Proposal, RFIs and
EOIs mistakes can creep in; if you find these, ask for
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In addition, if your own team does not raise any clarification
questions and your
competitors do you may need to consider your teams commitment to the bid.
Presentations if you succeed in getting shortlisted, use the session to *listen*
to what they are saying. Ask open-ended questions.
Use the meeting to
illustrate that you are presenting to them---not just walking through another PowerPoint
presentation. They have seen endless presentations and most all look the same. Again, ask
open-ended questions and take notes.
4. Key Recommendations
Most proposals include a set of
recommendations. These serve as the foundation of your
solution and emphasize the key criteria for consideration. Support your recommendations
with references, endorsements, statistics, benchmarks whatever gives your recommendations
more substance. If you cannot support your recommendations, your words will be dismissed
as mere sales hype.
And, have you suggested (however subtly) what could happen if they do not take your
recommendations on board?
Remember FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
Most experienced sales writers will weave one of these three into their sales proposal;
it is an indirect call-to-action as it implies that if you do not take some action there
could be negative repercussions.
5. Balance between Topics and Sections
Open-ended proposals allow the bidder to submit as much content as they wish. Other
proposals will specifically request that you stay under x number of pages.
In either case, when reviewing the first major draft, you need to consider:
- Inclusiveness Revise all major sections to ensure that you have
included the major themes, selling points, and recommendations around which your proposal
- Focus Note the weaker sections and re-write them with more focus. You
don't need to edit (i.e. reduce the word count) of the entire document, but any sections
that appears to be ambiguous, vague or rambling need refinement.
- Expansions sections that appear to be incomplete, underwritten, or lack
persuasiveness need further expansion. Using tables and graphs is a nice way to
counterbalance pages of text.
6. Use Plain Language
Many proposal writers use a dense, convoluted style of writing in the assumption that
it will impress the evaluators. Proposals choked with multiple adjectives, lengthy
sub-clauses and hundred-word paragraphs make life very hard for the evaluators.
Remember, on large projects, the evaluators will read several thousands of pages when
reviewing the bids.
It is in your
interest to write in clear, concise prose which can be easily understood.
Business Proposal -
Work Breakdown Structure
In IT proposals, writers often indiscriminately throw in new terms, acronyms and
expressions. For example, I read a proposal recently that referred to a corporate
dash-board. Even the proposal writers did not know what it meant; but they thought it
With that said, you have to explain the business/software terminology in language
appropriate for the reader. Remove all cryptic IT references, sales waffle, and
unexplained TLAs (three-name-acronyms, such as B2B).
7. Your Bid versus the Competition
Most government contractors know the competition before they even bid. For example, in
Ireland, under the Freedom of Information Act, you can request the names of those who bid
for a previous project; the size of the contract award is also published.
Before bidding, you should
identify your single most likely competitor. If you
know this, it will make certain parts of your bid very hard to complete, such as the
costs, daily rates and discounts.
There are a few ground rules here. In your bid, never directly insult your competitors
by name. This will make you look petty and will lower the tone of your bid. It is a cheap
shot and will always backfire.
Instead, explore how you can positively pitch your proposal against the competition.
Once you have worked out your respective strengths, weave them
into the response where they are most appropriate, such as in the Executive Summary and
the Understanding of Requirements.
By taking these points into consideration, you will begin to shift from writing product
orientated proposals and start delivering proposals that put the customer right at the
heart of your response.
The first few attempts to make this shift will require a slight learning curve, but
once your mastered it, your target customers will start responding in a much more positive
Tell us what you think about writing proposals. Have we missed something obvious?
the best tip you can give to someone writing a client-centric proposal for the first time?
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