To write a proposal, you must overcome eight challenges. You can’t avoid them. You can’t skip any of them. You just have to face them. To help out, we’ve included links to many other articles we’ve written that are relevant to the individual challenges:
- Complying with the RFP. First you have to read it and understand it. Then you have to cross-reference all the requirements across the various sections. Even if your assignment is for a single section, there may be requirements in other sections that are relevant, especially the evaluation criteria. Achieving RFP compliance is part using the customer’s terminology and keywords, part cross-referencing, and part understanding their evaluation process. Cross-referencing can be tricky and often requires interpretation.
- Figuring out what to write about. Writing is easy. Knowing what to write about is hard. If you want to win, it’s important to avoid the temptation of starting from another proposal. Once you know what should go into the proposal, writing it is pretty straightforward. What we do is follow a process that quickly guides people through considering everything that should go into a proposal and sets them up with a plan for writing it.
- Figuring out how to say what you want to say. Some people get stuck in the mechanics of putting the words together. They are sure how it’s supposed to sound. We usually pay little attention to style. But we pay a lot of attention to whether it is simply descriptive or whether it says something that matters from the customer’s point of view. The most important thing to accomplish in proposal writing is to make it reflect the customer’s point of view. What the customer sees on the paper should be what they need to get answers to their questions, complete their evaluation process, and be persuaded that you are the best alternative. You have goals to accomplish, terminology from the RFP to use, and have to put it in the reader’s perspective instead of your own. That can be difficult, especially for people new to proposal writing. But when we review proposals, we often see problems in proposals written by people with many years of experience as well. We publish lots of guidance on every aspect of proposal writing to help people find their voice.
- Figuring out what to offer. Whatever you do, don’t figure out what to offer by writing about it. This is a recipe for proposal disaster. Figuring out what to offer and figuring out what to write about should be done in parallel. Only after they have both been figured out and reviewed to ensure they aren’t likely to change should you start writing. Figuring out what to offer by writing about it does incredible damage to proposals. We have seen it cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
- Articulating your bid strategies. The truth is the bid strategies for the proposal should be figured out before the writers ever get their assignments. Bid strategies should be just one of the ingredients that go into what you need to write. If you get your assignment and it includes figuring out the bid strategies, you need to do that before you start writing or designing your offering. The proposal should prove the bid strategies. It’s difficult to write like that if you don’t know what they are.
- Meeting deadlines. Even when you know everything that should go into your proposal, getting it all down on paper before your deadline can make it a huge challenge. However, there is a difference between knowing the kinds of things that should go into a proposal and having a list ready to go for this particular proposal. The best way to accelerate proposal writing is to accelerate figuring out what to write and to have writers who understand how to write from the customer’s perspective. Figuring out what to write can be done as a part of a process that makes writing go faster, with much less risk than handing writers a copy of the RFP and telling them to have at it.
- Passing the review. Most companies review their proposals before they finish them. If you start focusing on winning your proposals when the writing starts, you are too late. You should focus on winning when you figure out what should go into your proposal, before the writing starts. You should focus on winning when you figure out your bid strategies and offering, before the writing starts. When you do, you’ll realize that in order to incorporate what it will take to win into your plans for the proposal, you’ll need answers to questions that should have been asked before the RFP even came out. The pre-RFP stage should be driven by what you will need to know to close the sale in the form of a proposal. That is when you really should have been focused on winning.
Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY