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7 things you need to know in addition to the RFP to write the technical proposal

What you need to know to be competitive

The RFP is just one source of requirements that drive what you should offer in your proposal. If all you do is design an offering that responds to what is in the RFP, it will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to a proposal submitted by someone with a deeper understanding of the customer and their requirements. To prepare the winning offer, in addition to the RFP, you need to consider:

See also:
Offering Design
  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. The requirements that show up in the RFP are only part of what matters to them. And it is incredibly difficult to read an RFP and discern what matters the most to the customer. You may think that your offering is technically superior, but if it does not matter to the customer it is an inferior offering. You may think that you have diligently followed the RFP, but if someone else better understands what matters to the customer, they will prefer the way they follow the RFP. To avoid this, treat what matters to the customer as requirements that drive the design of your offering. Discover what matters to the customer. And when you write about fulfilling the RFP requirements in order to achieve compliance, make sure you address how your approach to doing that will achieve more of what matters to the customer.
  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. This is separate from or in addition to how you present what you are offering. Your offering should focus on what matters. At every trade-off, you will make decisions for reasons that matter. Keep track of those reasons. Your proposal should provide the reasons why you are the customer's best alternative. Those reasons will depend on the combination of what matters about what you are offering with what matters to the customer. Successful proposal writing requires more than just describing what you propose. Successful proposal writing is compelling because it 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. They are stakeholders with different agendas. 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. Don't assume you know "the customer" when you only know one person at the customer. Also, 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. The RFP had multiple authors. Sometimes interpreting the RFP requires knowing who participated in writing it. If you simply read the RFP, you may be missing part of the story.
  4. What are the habits and preferences of the customer? Deciding what to offer in your proposal requires making many trade-off decisions. The customer’s preferences should be a factor in deciding which trade-offs to take. When trying to interpret what's in the RFP or how it will be evaluated, it helps to understand the customer's procurement and evaluation habits.
  5. How does your value proposition resonate with the customer? 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 unquantifiable advantages. Second, test your value proposition with the customer before you stake your proposal on it. It helps to understand what the customer values and what their priorities are before you try to substantiate your claim to representing the "best value" for the customer.
  6. How should 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 for winning your proposal.
  7. What is your competitive positioning? What you offer in your proposal needs to be differentiated in a positive way from your competitors. Winning requires being the best alternative the customer to choose from. 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. If you don't know the customer's preferences and values when you start the proposal, all you can do is guess at how to differentiate your offering.

These are things that the RFP usually won’t tell you. But separate from what you say in your proposal, they are all things you need to know to design the best offering. Think of them as things that need to be considered as part of conducting a requirements assessment. Engineering without a full understanding of the requirements results in bad engineering.

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. The same is true for figuring out what to offer. Your ability to design the winning offering depends on just how far your understanding of the requirements goes beyond the RFP, before the RFP is even issued.

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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, 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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