Don't start writing your proposal before you do these 9 critical things

Sometimes it’s good to put process aside and just look at what is the minimum required to accomplish a task. While there are a lot of logistical and other considerations for a proposal that should be addressed early, today we are just looking at it from the perspective of the writer. The writer just wants to focus on completing their assignment. So can we start writing now please?

If you start by putting some words down on paper, anticipating that you’ll add to them as you discover new things that should be included, and changing what you wrote as you discover new things to focus on, you’re going to make writing your proposal take longer and produce a lower quality proposal. You need to work through all the considerations so that you can put every sentence in the right context. If you don’t, you will have to go back and change every sentence.

There are things that you need to do first, before you start writing. The good news is that doing them will make it quicker and easier to say what you need to say in your proposal. Before you start writing, make sure you:

  1. Make contact with the customer. Ideally you should have a relationship with the customer. It might be rare, but sometimes it makes sense to bid on something you found out about when the RFP was released. But even then, you should at least make contact with the customer. If not you, then someone else at your company. You might not learn anything, but then again you might. And you’ll be more than a document to the customer. Don’t bid without making contact.
  2. Maximize your information advantage. Gather what you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. Assess the information and convert it into points you want to make, reasons, and details to include in your response. Put special emphasis on what you know that your competitors might not know. Make sure that every part of your proposal shows the customer that you know more than what was in the RFP.
  3. Are able to explain how the customer’s evaluation process will impact what you need to write. If they included the evaluation criteria in the RFP, how does that impact what you say and how you say it? What does it tell you about the process the customer will go through in evaluating the proposals? Can you anticipate what their evaluation forms will look like? What should you say throughout your proposal that will help them evaluate your proposal so that you earn the highest score?
  4. Demonstrate that you understand what it will take to win. What would the winning proposal look like? What would the winning offering contain? What do you need to do to get from here to there? What do you need to do in every sentence to reflect what it will take to win?
  5. Are able to explain what the customer is going to get from what you are offering. The customer wants more than offering that meets the specifications. They want their goals fulfilled. So beyond the specifications, what is the customer going to get as a result of what you are proposing? How does every sentence you write relate to what the customer is going to get?
  6. Are able to articulate the reasons why you are the best choice for the customer. The customer always has alternatives, even if it’s to do nothing. So why is what you are proposing the best alternative? Is that enough to motivate them to take action? Every single sentence in your proposal should be part of the explanation for why the customer should select you.
  7. Are able to explain why your offering matters. It is not enough to give the customer what they asked for. You need to make it matter to them. So what is important about your offering? Why is that important to the customer? What do they get out of it? Every single sentence in your proposal should say something vital or get deleted.
  8. Have identified and made a decision regarding each of the trade-offs involved. There are always trade-offs in procurement. So which trade-offs will you make (i.e. speed, quality, cost) and why? Being able to explain why you made the trade-offs you did is critical.
  9. Practice articulating it all from the customer’s point of view. You don’t want to tell the customer what you propose in writing. Instead you want to show the customer what they are going to get as a result of what you propose. Describing what you propose or are going to do makes the proposal about you. Showing what the customer will get and why makes it all about them. The only reason they will read your proposal will be to see what they are going to get. So that’s what you need to need to write.

As a writer, think about what it will take to fix things later if you skip any one of these. Imagine all the changes that you would need to make throughout your proposal to address something you skipped. How many cycles of re-writing would each skipped item cause? That is why you need to make sure that you can do each of them before you start writing.

If do your homework and think through these nine things before you start writing, then the act of writing will go quickly and smoothly. Better yet, what you will write will stand a much better chance of winning.


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Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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