Q&A or point-by-point proposal formats are so easy. You don’t have to give much thought to the outline. But that’s not the reason to choose them.
What should drive your approach to creating an outline for your proposal is what the customer wants to see in your proposal and where they expect to find it. You do not want to lose just because the customer didn’t see things where they expected them and didn’t go looking for them.
The first goal for proposals is to not get thrown out. If the customer has given you instructions regarding the outline or proposal organization and you do not follow them, they may throw out your proposal without even reading it.
If there is an RFP, you should start there. Your outline should make it easy to find what they will be looking for. Usually, this is best done by putting things in the sequence and terminology used in the RFP. Within the structure mandated by the RFP, you can add more headings of your own underneath theirs if needed.
That might lead you to a Q&A or point-by-point low level outline. Or not. If the RFP itself specifies a Q&A or point-by-point response format, then you are lucky because it is clear what the customer expects and you’re not just doing it because it is easier.
As long as they don't conflict with the RFP, there are many ways to organize the material you want to present. A Q&A format is best when you can anticipate the questions that the customer will have. A point-by-point response is best when that suits the nature of your offering. This can happen when there are specific locations, components, or details about your offering that fit with the customer’s needs or understanding.
But not all offerings lend themselves to a Q&A or point-by-point response. A proposal to provide complex services or a solution might not have a finite set of objective components to structure your response around. They might be better suited to organizing based on results, a process, functions, work breakdown structure, or something else. If telling a story is part of your proposal strategy, a Q&A or point-by-point response format can also make it more difficult.
If the customer will have a formal evaluation process, like they do in government procurement, you might organize your response first around the RFP instructions, then the evaluation criteria, and then the offering in response to the statement of work. Organizing around the way the customer makes decisions or will perform their evaluation is a powerful way to build your outline.
The best outline format is one that the customer thinks is best, and not necessarily the one that you think makes the most sense. Q&A outlines have the advantage of helping to make sure you answer all the questions that a customer might have. But not all subject matters are best organized around questions. You should choose the outline format that will:
- Not get you thrown out
- Meet the customer’s expectations
- Best support the customer’s evaluation or decision making process
- Facilitate telling your story
- Help guide them to realize that your proposal is their best alternative
Consider each of these carefully before committing to a Q&A or point-by-point outline format for your proposal.