What’s the point of your proposal? And what should it be?

Does your proposal even have a point? Is it a meandering response to what was in the RFP, shifting from requirement to requirement, with the point being that you'll do whatever they want? Is the point how great your company is? Or does it scream “Pick me! Pick me!”

If your proposal doesn’t have a point, then what exactly do you expect the customer to get out of it? A proposal should have a thesis. It should have a premise that you go on to prove. And it should establish a hierarchy from the first sentence, to the section level, to the individual paragraph level. Everything you write should lead to a conclusion. That conclusion should be the point of your proposal.

It doesn’t have to be one thing that you are trying to prove, but it shouldn’t be too many either. You want the customer to finish reading your proposal and say, “I get the point. I see why they said what they did. I agree with what they want to do. That’s why I want to select them.”

Some points are broad and can be used throughout the proposal. Points about risk, trust, and quality often fall into this category. Some points are specific to a given section, such as a point about why your technical solution is superior. You should make sure that your points reflect any evaluation criteria included in the RFP. How the evaluation criteria are structured is what should guide you to decide whether you address something like “quality” throughout the proposal or in a specific section. You should make points where they’ll earn you the highest evaluation score.

Make sure the point the customer gets is what you thought it would be. If you make your proposal about yourself or why your company is so great, what the customer hears might be that you are shallow, self-absorbed, and just want their money. The best way to avoid this is to make your proposal about the customer. If your point is that the customer is going to get something great by working with you, then all you need to do is prove it. Every section and every paragraph becomes about what they will get and why they should believe it. You have something to prove.

One good thing about having something to prove is that you can build your proposal around it. Instead of simply telling your proposal contributors to respond to what’s in the RFP, you can instruct them to respond to the RFP requirements in a way that proves your point. It also helps you when you’re starting a paragraph and you’re not sure what to say. Ask yourself, “What’s the point that I need to make here?”

If you’re trying to prove the point that your company is responsive, you’ll write your response one way. If you’re trying to prove that you’re more efficient, you’ll write it a different way. And if you’re trying to prove that you can anticipate and prevent potential problems, it will be different still. Etc. It is much easier to find inspiration when you have a point to make.

If you are starting the proposal and you don’t know what the point is, you should reconsider whether you should be bidding. Think about it. What do you have to offer the customer, other than a willingness to take their money? How can you beat a competitor that does have a point to their proposal, let alone one whose point is a result of conversations with the customer and reinforces their existing customer relationship? Sometimes you can overcome all that and steal it away, but only if the customer is more comfortable with the points that you make. If you don’t have a point, you can’t get there. What is the point in bidding?

You shouldn’t start writing until you know what points you’re trying to make. It will take less time to figure out your points and then write it, than it will to write it and have to rewrite it to address the points after you figure them out. If it seems like it’s taking too long to figure out the points and you’re starting to feel the deadline pressure, re-read the part about reconsidering whether to bid.

If people want to start writing because it’s taking too long to figure out what points you need to make in your proposal, that’s a really bad sign. The problem isn't with planning before writing. It means that you have no positioning, no strategies, no themes, and no opinions and are struggling to find some. That’s not a recipe for winning.

Sometimes people have trouble committing to a point. They worry about whether the customer will agree. You might lose the proposal if you emphasize the wrong points. But you’ll definitely lose if you don’t make any points. So think about what matters and why it matters, take a stand, and prove your point.

And sometimes people aren’t sure what points to make. Focus on what matters to the customer instead of what matters to you. What is important? What should they consider? What do they need to know to make a decision? Do they have evaluation criteria or a process to follow? Can you make your proposal easier to evaluate by matching your points to their criteria?

When you have a point to make in a proposal, it should not be about you. It should be about what you can do for them. When you have a point to prove, it should demonstrate to the customer that you’ve already starting thinking about their needs and are already providing them with service. Just pretend like you’ve already won and put your creativity and energy into showing the customer how helpful you are and excited about how much better off they are going to be. To the customer, that's the whole point behind the procurement in the first place.



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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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