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7 things you need to know in addition to the RFP to figure out what to offer in your proposal

The RFP is just one source of requirements that drive what you offer. If all you do is design an offering that responds to what is in the RFP, it will not be the best offering. To design the winning offering, in addition to the RFP, you need to consider:

  1. What matters to the customer? The customer will make their selection not only on what “meets their needs” but also on how they will be impacted or will benefit or perceive how your offering aligns with what they value. You may think that your offering is technically superior, but if it does not matter to the customer it is an inferior offering. To avoid this, treat what matters to the customer as requirements that drive the design of your offering.
  2. What matters about what you are proposing? If there are aspects of your offering that are important or will benefit the customer, they should be emphasized in your design (separate from or in addition to how you present what you are offering). This feedback loop is a key part of how you design an offering that matters.
  3. How much consensus does the customer have or need? Never treat the customer like they are a person. They are many people with many influences. What matters to one may not matter to another. This makes it tricky to understand them and their requirements, especially if you only have one source at the customer. Keep in mind that the proposal evaluators and decision makers are ultimately the opinions that have the most impact on whether or not you win.
  4. What are the habits and preferences of the customer? Offering design is full of making trade-offs. The customer’s preferences should be a factor in deciding which trade-offs to take.
  5. How does your value proposition resonate with the customer? Your customer may like what you say, but what are they willing to pay for? Just because you are impressed with your value proposition, that doesn't mean the customer perceives the value the same way you do. For example, you might be offering long-term value to a short-term focused customer. First make sure that your value proposition actually represents value and not some ambiguous advantages. Second, test your value proposition with the customer before you stake your proposal on it.
  6. How do you balance value and price? Will the customer select you over a lower priced competitor if you offer a greater value? Usually. Maybe. It depends on whether the customer perceives enough value to justify the difference. What you think about it is irrelevant. Note that the closer what you sell is to a commodity, the more important price becomes. The further you get from being a commodity, the more important value becomes. Striking the right balance for this customer with this procurement is critical to a successful offering design and pricing strategy.
  7. What is your competitive positioning? The design of what you offer needs to be differentiated in a positive way from your competitors. Winning a proposal is about being the best alternative the customer has. No matter how you claim to be better, the customer will focus on the differences and weigh them according to their preferences and values. Positioning your differentiators in alignment with the customer’s preferences and values is key to showing why you are the best alternative.


These are things that the RFP usually won’t tell you. But separate from what say in your proposal, they are all things you need to know to design the best offering. If you are going to design your offering before you describe it, then you also need to have researched these questions before you start writing. Often the difference between creating a good proposal and creating a great proposal has nothing to do with how well you write it, and everything to do with how well you do your homework before you start writing.

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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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