Six things to do when you don’t have the input you need to write the winning proposal
When you can’t get the details to write what you want, you can still talk about things that are related in your proposal, and do it without any input.
The following approaches are examples of how to do proposals, The Wrong Way. They are strategies for dealing with adverse circumstances where the best practices don’t apply. Use them inappropriately and they can cause you to lose. But if you have no choice and will otherwise be unable to submit anything, they can potentially save the day. Or at least let you submit something so that the loss isn’t entirely your fault.
- Describe your approach to figuring out what you will do instead of what you will do. Plan to have a plan. You can position this as a plan for delivery and base the schedule on when you will figure things out after the project starts. You can describe what you intend to give them and the benefits of having it even though you don’t know how it will be achieved. You can strengthen your approach and make it sound well thought through by describing your criteria and methodology for making decisions.
- Talk about things instead of identifying them. Talk about how important they are. Say how committed you are to them. Talk about the benefits of having them. Just don’t say what they actually are. This is great when talking about risks, metrics, or components of things. For example, you can talk about risk mitigation, without actually identifying the risks. Or talk about how metrics are an essential part of your approach, without actually identifying the metrics you will track. In the most extreme cases, you can even talk about your approaches without actually defining them.
- Talk about your experience instead. Talk about how you did it for others and how you’d like to do the same for them. Just don’t say what “the same” means. Talk about the similarity of the size, scope, and complexity of those projects to theirs. You may have to skip the parts where you explain how they are similar. One nice thing about this technique is that you can claim to be experienced, even if you can’t name the projects. Just make sure that you talk about the benefits of having that experience and how you will bring them to the new customer if selected!
- Focus on your capabilities. When you are really stuck and don’t know enough about the customer, what the delivery process will be, or your other projects to attempt the above, then focus on your capabilities. You can be capable of delivering everything the customer requires. If you can’t say how you’ll do it, how you’ll figure out how you’ll do it, what it consists of, or when/where you’ve done it before, spend your time talking about how capable you are of doing it.
- Just state your compliance. If you can’t get input explaining how you will fulfill the requirements, just say that you will fulfill them. This works best for items that get a cursory checklist-mentality evaluation and for proposals where the page limitation is ridiculously short compared to the page count of the requirements you are responding to. For anything else, it can be risky. Most RFPs tell you not to simply repeat the RFP requirements within your proposal and to explain how you will fulfill them. But sometimes the customer just wants you to acknowledge that you’ll fulfill them and make them part of the contract. Your need to get the proposal submitted before your deadline should be greater than your concern about the chance you might not get away with it before you try this approach. If you do, consider lumping as many requirements together as you can into tables where you can respond to them with a single statement and avoid a lot of writing.
- If all else fails, talk about your intent. What would you like the outcome to be? That is what you will deliver. You can look at goals and intent at the individual requirement level, as well as the project level, or even at the organizational level. Instead of competing on what you will do, it’s competing on how much more committed you are to how things will turn out. While this is the weakest form of proposal writing, it requires the least amount of input. This approach can also be done in combination with any of the others.
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