You can’t write a great proposal unless you have a great offering. Trying to write about something in a great way when you haven’t figured out what that something even is, is just a recipe for failure. You need to start the writing already knowing what your great offering is going to be. In fact, making up a great offering by writing about it is a great way to ensure that you end up with a poor offering that is poorly explained. That’s a major way that companies end up with a low win rate, and it's completely avoidable.
Great offerings are not simply made up. They are engineered. Even if you offer a service that is far removed from engineering, the process you go through to design your offering will resemble engineering.
Most offering design efforts focus on what should be included in your offering design. However, to engineer your offering, you also need to focus on the process. The specifics of your engineering methodology for capturing the specifications of what you are offering will vary because they depend on the nature of what you are writing. But there are some goals that all offering design efforts have in common.
- You should validate your offering design with the customer before you propose it. You are not the judge of whether you have a great offering. Only the customer is. If you want to be sure that your ideas are impressive and reflect the customer’s preferences, you need to test your assumptions by running them by the customer. You can’t do this if you wait until you have the RFP to start designing your offering. You can’t do this if you don’t have a customer contact plan in mind. You need to be able to anticipate the customer's goals and preferences.
- Having an offering design in mind will help you know how to influence the RFP. What would you like to see in the RFP? Or not see in it? What should guide the customer’s decision? It depends on what you are offering. You can’t influence the RFP with your offering in mind unless you start talking to the customer about it before they start writing the RFP. It’s not enough to start discovering the customer’s requirements that early, you have to start designing your offering that early as well.
- Offer design is driven by value. What is your value proposition? How do you add value without adding cost? How do you make trade-offs to arrive at the best value? How do you win when the value you add is intangible?
- Is what you are offering competitive? A great offering design that will cost too much is not a great offering design. If the customer loves it but can’t (or won’t) afford it, it’s not a great offering design. To be the best alternative for the customer, you must consider the price of your offering compared to their other alternatives.
- Your offering design process also needs to be validated within your company. Is it the best your company can offer? Are the risks acceptable? What is your company’s decision or approval process, and how does that impact the process for your offering design?
- Finally, your offering design process needs to anticipate the information that will be needed to write a great proposal. Note that I didn’t say you should start writing. That would be a mistake because you can’t tailor the writing to win the RFP until you have the RFP. But you can anticipate the information you will need. You want to be in a position where you can combine all the details about the RFP’s requirements, the customer’s perspective, the evaluation criteria, etc., with the details about your offering. You want to accelerate your Proposal Content Planning so that the writing can reflect everything it needs to, without creating additional editing cycles to fix a narrative that’s not only worded wrong but structured wrong because it didn’t anticipate everything it needed to. Don’t write until you’re ready. But absolutely do design your offering and be prepared when it’s time to describe it in writing.
From these items, you can arrange a sequence and milestones. Then you have a structure with which you can address all of the details you want to represent in your offering design, based on the nature of what you offer. When your process and schedule are complete, you not only have a better flow of information towards a proposal that is more likely to win, you have a means to better integrate the talent throughout your organization towards the common goal of winning and growing.
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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