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What points should you make in your proposals?

What are you trying to prove?

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 only point being that you'll do whatever they want? Is the point how great your company is? Does it scream “Pick me! Pick me!” If it does have a point, is it the same point other companies bidding will make? For example, is the point that your company has experience or that you can do the work?

See also:
Great Proposals

If your proposal doesn’t have a point, then what exactly do you expect the customer to conclude from reading your proposal? 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. No one else made any points as strong as theirs. 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. The points you want to make give you something to prove, and makes figuring out what to write so much easier.

When you have something to prove, you can build your entire 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 the points you want to make. 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. Is a customer going to accept a proposal that is, quite literally, pointless? 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 the contract away, but you can only do this 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.

Once you know what points you want to make, you should review those points and validate that they are the ones you should make before you build your proposal around the wrong points. Reviewing the points you want to make is more important than reviewing the draft proposal. The review of the draft proposal is simply to see whether you did a good job of proving the points.

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. You are hoping that your proposal writers will somehow trip over the right points to make. 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 to the customer and about what they will get? 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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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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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