Just like a great chef can only do so much without great ingredients, a great proposal writer can’t win it for you on their own. A great proposal requires great input.
But you don’t need a mountain of raw input. Collecting customer documents and gathering whole conversations will not necessarily do the proposal any good. In between what you’ve gathered and the proposal, you need to do an assessment. You need to turn what you have into what you should do about it and what you should say as a result of it. When the input gets to the proposal writers, it needs to explain how to position the things they’ll be writing about and how it should impact the decisions they will make about the writing.
For proposal writers, it’s all about context. It’s not simply about describing your offering, your approaches, and fulfillment of RFP requirements. Great proposal writing requires making points that matter to the customer, while responding to the RFP. Great proposal writing requires showing that the points you’ve made add up to making you the best alternative for the customer. It’s about helping the customer make their decision and not simply describing your company and your offering. To write a great proposal, proposal writers need great input.
So instead of random tidbits of intel that you happened to stumble over, here is how you should inform your proposal writers:
- What it will take to win. You can’t build a proposal based on it if you don’t know. It’s the most important ingredient. If you think you know, but you haven’t talked to the customer, then you’re really just guessing.
- What the customer will find compelling about what you are offering. If you figure out what to offer by talking to people in your own company, you’re really just guessing. To find out what the customer finds compelling, you have to talk to the customer about what matters. If you want to write a proposal that’s meaningful, then you have to know what matters to the customer about what they are procuring.
- Not just the features and benefits of your offering, but what are the right features and the right benefits from the customer’s perspective? Most features can have multiple benefits: speed, quality, efficiency, effectiveness, etc. Which matters the most to this customer? Did the customer tell you or are you guessing?
- How the customer makes decisions. Is it consensus driven or authoritarian? Who is involved? Is it formal or informal? Is it a rigid point scoring evaluation system with a lot of paperwork? Or is it personal? If you are going to write a document that influences the customer’s decisions, you need to know.
- Who is the customer? Is it the buyer, the users, the decision maker, or someone else? Just how many stakeholders are there and how much influence do they have? Is the customer one person? Does the customer have a consensus or are there multiple agendas? Is any one department or group in control?
- Make sure you have the full perspective. If you are talking to programs, operations, or technical staff, do they have any influence over contract types, vehicles, or the evaluation process? Do they even know anything about how their organization handles the procurement process? If you are talking to a contracts specialist, do they know anything about the technical subject matter? Do either the programs staff or contracts staff know what their organization’s future plans and priorities are? Have you talked to an executive at a high enough level to know how this procurement fits into the bigger picture? If you’ve only talked to one person at the customer, the answer is “no.” If you want to maximize your win probability with a great proposal, you need to understand the procurement process, organizational trends, and what the program staff need to fulfill their mission.
- Why should the customer select you? Start by considering what makes you different. What makes you better? Combine that with what the customer finds compelling. Then add in what you know about how they make decisions and what their proposal evaluation process is.
- How should you interpret what the customer said in the RFP? If the RFP is well written, then every competitor has it and knows what to write to be compliant. So what is your information advantage? If the RFP is broken, then every competitor has it and no one is sure about what to write. So what is your information advantage? What is the customer expecting to see in response to the RFP they wrote?
Optimal positioning, how to differentiate what you are offering, customer insight, and competitive assessment are all things that your proposal writers can help you articulate, but they can't make them up on their own. Instead of the phrase software developers like to use "garbage in, garbage out," with proposal writing it is more like "nothing in, garbage out." If you don't know or don't tell them the things they need to know about the things about, your proposal writers will still try to sound compelling. They'll just be faking it. And that's not a great strategy for being competitive.
Guessing is not necessarily bad. If you haven’t talked to the customer, guess and guess well. Be aggressive and take risks. Because that is all you can do. But if you are guessing and someone else knows, you are at a competitive disadvantage. So don’t fool yourself into thinking you know something when you are really just guessing.
Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY
Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.