5 simple criteria to assess your proposal positioning and improve your reviews

It’s important to be able to define proposal quality if you want to make sure that the proposal you develop reflects it. We define it as a proposal that reflects what it will take to win. We define what it will take to win as part of our process, reaching all the way back before the RFP is released so that the questions we ask and information we gather enable us to say what it will take to win.

We use Proposal Content Planning to bring what it will take to win together with the other things that should go into writing the proposal. What integrates writing about fulfilling the requirements and addressing what it will take to win is how you position yourself.

You must position yourself against several things in a proposal:

See also:
Goal: validate that the draft reflects your quality criteria
  • The RFP
  • The evaluation criteria
  • The competitive environment
  • The customer’s preferences and issues
  • The requirements of the opportunity itself
  • The results desired from what is being procured
  • The resources required
  • Your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Your history and experience
  • The customer’s history and experience
  • Pricing
  • Terms and conditions

Depending on how granular you make it, this list could become infinitely long. The short list is positioning against:

  • The customer
  • Opportunity
  • Competitive environment
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • The RFP

Everything else fits under these five. This makes them easy to remember and use.

Because positioning is how you implement what it will take to win in writing, it becomes a shorthand for proposal quality. In the formally identify the elements that drive what it will take to win and then turn them into quality criteria that we use to validate the proposal. But you can do a quick and easy informal assessment just by looking at the positioning. Ask yourself how your proposal is positioned against:

  1. The customer’s preferences and issues
  2. The requirements and desired results
  3. The competitive environment
  4. Your own strengths, weaknesses, and history
  5. The RFP, especially the evaluation criteria

In many of the proposals we have reviewed for our customers, it’s really a question of “if” there is any positioning instead of “how” the proposal is positioned. If you read the proposal and it isn’t clear how it is positioned, then it’s not well positioned. If positioning is hidden or subject to interpretation it isn't positioning.

If you read the proposal and it:

  • Doesn’t address the customer’s preferences or issues
  • Only addresses fulfilling the requirements, without addressing the results or benefits you will bring
  • Ignores the competition or the fact that the customer has alternatives to consider
  • Treats the customer like a stranger or only addresses your strengths
  • Positions yourself against the RFP as being (merely) compliant

Then your proposal does not reflect what it will take to win and is a low quality proposal. If it reads positively for some, but negatively for others, then it is only partially positioned to reflect what it will take to win. In other words, it's vulnerable to losing.

Because positioning is the context for your proposal, it is critical to review your positioning before you begin writing. If you try to change the positioning after the proposal is written as a narrative, it will be extremely labor intensive to change the context of every sentence. If you try to discover the right way to position your bid by writing and re-writing, you will likely run out of time and submit whatever you have, instead of a proposal that reflects what it will take to win. In the a review of the Content Plan before turning it into a narrative, so that we can make sure the positioning is correct.

This is also the reason why recycling narratives usually hurts a proposal more than it helps. When you re-use a narrative, it will not be positioned correctly. All five of the key positioning areas described above should be different for every customer, and probably every bid. Changing the positioning means changing the context of the narrative. This requires changing most of the words, and not just some of the words.

But the good news is that if you start writing the proposal understanding how you want to position your bid, then it is much easier to know what to say about each requirement. And instead of a proposal that merely meets the requirements and is full of unsubstantiated claims, you get a proposal that substantiates the positioning and shows how your approach to meeting the requirements adds up to the best alternative for the customer.


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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.

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