Using boilerplate in a proposal
Careful thought is required before assuming you can re-use existing proposal content or “boilerplate.”
- People are often tempted to recycle proposal content from past proposals or “boilerplate.”
- Unfortunately, this only works for certain proposals. For others, it actually makes things take longer and reduces the effectiveness of the proposal.
- Boilerplate and re-use material can destroy your chances of creating a great proposal.
When you make all the changes needed to customize it, you may find that re-using files does not save time and may actually introduce problems. In fact, improperly using boilerplate or even failing to thoroughly optimize it for the current proposal can cost you the bid.
Whether it makes sense to use boilerplate in your proposals primarily depends on:
- The type of offering. If you are proposing a unique or engineered solution, you may not be able to employ re-use material effectively. Even if you are responding to similar requests, the number of edits required to adapt it may exceed the time it would have taken to write it in the first place. If you are proposing a product or a commoditized service, you may be able to employ re-use material effectively, if your customers’ concerns are also consistent.
- The consistency of RFPs. If your RFPs are very consistent, you may be able to use re-use material effectively. If your proposals don’t have a written RFP, then whether you can effectively employ re-use material will depend on the consistency of your customers’ concerns and evaluation processes.
In addition, the following concerns can also impact whether or not using boilerplate works in your environment.
- The consistency of customer concerns and evaluation. Even if you are proposing the same thing, if your customers have different concerns or follow different evaluation processes, you will need to customize your response to reflect this. Since your proposal should show how your offering responds to the customer’s concerns, a difference in customer concerns can totally change the context and how you describe your offering.
- The strength of your writers. If you have weak writers, you may want to rely more on re-use material. Instead of training and guiding them through the process of creating winning proposal copy, it may be easier to write something good once and then re-use it often. However, this can be dangerous. Even if you provide detailed checklists and guidance, if the writers are weak to begin with, you may find that you are submitting proposals that are not customized and your win rate will suffer.
- The value of the bid. If the value of the bid will not cover a proposal customized to win, you may need to recycle your proposals. But then you should adjust your proposal process accordingly, because you are in a business where volume is critical.
- The evaluation criteria. If the evaluation criteria ignores value, then customizing around your value proposition is not needed. If the evaluation criteria focuses on price (i.e. Low Price Technically Acceptable), there is no point in customization beyond RFP compliance. The opposite of each of these is also true.
When you look at the nature of your offering and the RFP, you can actually see where boilerplate might be applicable.
This model shows us that:
- Boilerplate works best when you are offering the same services/products on every bid and the RFP is the same each time.
- Boilerplate requires time-consuming edits when you offer different services/products on every bid and the RFPs are different each time.
In between these are two conditions where boilerplate may or may not be a good solution:
- When you offer the same services/products on every bid, but the RFP is different each time.
- When you offer different services/products on every bid, but the format, structure, and content of the RFP is the same each time.
Another consideration is the strength of your writers. If you have weak writers, you may want to rely more on re-use material. However, this can be dangerous. Even if you provide detailed checklists and guidance, if the writers are weak to begin with, you may find that you are submitting proposals that are not customized and your win rate will suffer.
The most important thing to remember when re-using proposal content is that there is a big difference between being similar and being the same. Most of your offerings and most of your RFPs will be similar. They may be about similar things. But unless they ask for exactly the same things, in the same order, using the same terminology, and evaluate them against the same criteria, the response will have to be different. The amount of that difference is what determines whether boilerplate helps or hurts.
The Content Planning process will make it very clear whether the boilerplate meets your needs because it gives you a set of specifications you can compare the boilerplate against. After you copy the boilerplate into your Content Plan, you should note any deviations in the content from the instructions that are already there. Then you should add new instructions for how to correct them.
If the goal is to win, you should be prepared to throw away the re-use material and write what you need to win. Having a comprehensive Content Plan will accelerate the writing even more than having the re-use material (once you consider how much time it will take to modify it).