Proposal content planning should give a lot of guidance to proposal writers regarding what to write and how to present it. They should be able to follow the content plan like a set of instructions, that they can follow to create the right proposal on the very first draft.
You can anticipate many of the things that will need to be addressed in your future proposals, based on the nature of the work that you do and how you manage it. The problem is that unless every RFP really is the same, and not merely similar, reusing the text from your past proposals can easily do more harm than good. The good news is that it is far easier, and safer, to reuse your content plan instructions. You can think of them as recipes for your proposals. And you can quickly pull them together and greatly accelerate preparing the level of guidance needed to raise the bar on your proposals.
When you practice proposal content planning, you will discover that sometimes you know just what to specify for the proposal, and sometimes it must be figured out by other people. This directly impacts the guidance you can provide. In addition, sometimes you have options, choices, and decisions to make between alternate approaches. Some may work better in certain circumstances than others. Or you might have recommendations to make but don’t want the writers to feel like they have to take the advice if they have something better in mind. This can all be confusing, until you realize that it’s the secret to organizing the guidance you give to your proposal writers.
Whether you implement a proposal recipe library or are simply giving ad hoc guidance, here are four ways you can organize the guidance you offer to your proposal writers:
- Instructions. These guide your proposal writers regarding what to write about and how to present it. They focus on things like what to include, what to leave out, what points to make, how to differentiate, what to emphasize, what not to forget, and how to incorporate your customer, opportunity, and competitive awareness. If you explain what matters, your writers can put things in the right context on the very first draft. This is a huge accelerator for proposal writing and can turn it into a simple process of elimination when done thoroughly. But it requires knowing how you want to shape the proposal, knowing what should be offered, and already having the necessary details.
- Questions for your writers to answer. When you don’t know what to offer or have the details, you can still provide guidance in the form of questions they should address when they write their sections. You can still lay out what should be addressed in each section, without knowing the details. For example, you can prompt them to address features and benefits in a particular way, without knowing what the features or corresponding benefits might be. This can point them in the right direction and still provide some acceleration. Even if you don’t completely frame each section, just pointing out a few key questions ensures they get attention and leads to a better proposal.
- Options/ things to consider/ recommendations/ examples. A little inspiration goes a long way, providing both acceleration and raising the bar. You can inspire your proposal writers with ideas and choices, with them even being required to do the things you’ve cited. If you leave the door open, you might even inspire them to think of something better than what you recommended. Options, examples, and considerations are eye openers that can prevent writers from getting stuck by not knowing what is expected of them. And that turns them into potential accelerators.
- How to guidance. When you hear the word “guidance” one thing all people think of is “how to” guidance. As in “Proposal Writing 101.” This kind of guidance can be good, especially when you have inexperienced writers. It embeds training into the document specifications. But it’s not the only kind of guidance, so I put it last. “How to” guidance can encompass the proposal process, writing techniques, task procedures, goals, domain knowledge, institutional knowledge, and more. At a minimum, you should provide sufficient guidance so that those assigned to the proposal can complete their assignments.
An example of how they can be combined
When you combine these, you might get guidance like this:
- An instruction regarding how to introduce the section.
- Options for potential win strategies depending on whether your company is the incumbent or not.
- Questions about what matters to the customer so they build the section around it.
- Instructions for how to set up a table as part of the response.
- “How to” guidance related to meeting proposal writing expectations and proposal department procedures.
Compare what you can anticipate getting back from your writers when you provide guidance like this to what you can expect to get from proposal contributors when all you give them is an outline and a copy of the RFP.
Should you create ad hoc or pre-written guidance?
If you build a library of instructions, questions, and options, you can very quickly assemble your proposal content plans. This can be important for adoption if you are currently struggling to plan your proposal content before you jump into proposal writing. You don’t need complete coverage for your content plans to have a large, positive impact on how your proposals turn out.
A recipe library like this is much easier to both create and maintain than a content reuse library based on pre-written narratives. And pre-written instructions won’t hurt your win rate the way recycling narratives will. Even if you don’t have a recipe library, you can use this as a technique to focus on the guidance you conceive of in the moment of need.
Building a library
Start with your subject matter or other domain topics and drill down. When you get to the lowest level, organize the guidance items you have by these four categories. This will stage your material according to your future needs. When you can specify what should go into the document and how it should be presented ahead of time, you’ll have instructions to pass on. When you don’t know the details and you need your writers to figure things out, you’ll have questions to guide them. When you have potential approaches that are good in the right circumstance, you’ll have the options category to draw from.
What we learned by following our own advice
This is exactly what we’re doing in MustWin Now. We’ve built an online tool that accelerates proposal content planning by enabling quick lookup of pre-written instructions, questions, and options that you can drop right into your content plans. But which category you use will depend on the nature of what you offer, your personal knowledge of what’s being proposed, your company’s preparation, and the circumstances you are bidding in. The goal is to have the right type of guidance ready.
In fact, it was in creating MustWin Now and having to figure out an interface that would enable people to deliver pre-written guidance without knowing their circumstances that we discovered this approach to categorization. If you ever want to reimagine the proposal process or how you can support it, try imagining your process as a user interface for other people to implement and you’ll gain tremendous insight into how to improve their performance.