To write a proposal, you must meet seven demonstrable challenges. You cannot avoid them. You cannot skip any of them. You just have to face them.
1. Complying with the RFP. First you have to read it and understand it. Then you have to cross-reference all the requirements across the various sections. Even if your assignment is for a single section, there may be requirements in other sections that are relevant, especially the evaluation criteria. Achieving RFP compliance is part using the customer’s terminology and keywords, part cross-referencing, and part understanding their evaluation process. Cross-referencing can be tricky and often requires interpretation.
2. Writing is easy. Figuring out what to write about is harder. If you want to win, it’s important to avoid the temptation of starting from another proposal. Once you know what should go into the proposal, writing it is pretty straightforward. What we do is follow a process that quickly guides people through considering everything that should go into a proposal and sets them up with a plan for writing it.
3. Articulation. Some people get stuck in the mechanics of putting the words together. They are not sure how it’s supposed to sound. We pay attention to style. But we pay more attention to whether it is simply descriptive or whether it says something that matters from the customer’s point of view. The most important thing to accomplish in proposal writing is to make it reflect the customer’s point of view. What the customer sees on the paper should provide answers to their questions, complete their evaluation process, and practically impel the conclusion that you are the best alternative. You have goals to accomplish, terminology from the RFP to use, and have to put it in the reader’s perspective instead of your own. That can be difficult, especially for people new to proposal writing. But when we review proposals, we often see problems in proposals written by people with many years of experience as well. We provide lots of guidance on every aspect of proposal writing to help people find their voice.
4. Figuring out what to offer. Whatever you do, don’t figure out what to offer by writing about it. This is a recipe for proposal disaster. Figuring out what to offer and figuring out what to write about should be done in parallel. Only after they have both been figured out and reviewed to ensure they aren’t likely to change should you start writing. Figuring out what to offer by writing about it does incredible damage to proposals. We have seen it cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
5. Articulating your bid strategies. The truth is the bid strategies for the proposal should be figured out before the writers ever get their assignments. Bid strategies should be just one of the ingredients that go into what you need to write. You must figure out the bid strategies before you start writing or designing your offering. The proposal should prove the bid strategies.
6. Passing the review. Most companies review their proposals before they finish them. Most companies do a poor job of conducting these reviews. The instructions to writers should reflect the same quality criteria that the reviewers will use. If you use a process to figure out what to write, then the plan it produces can also be used to increase the effectiveness of the review process. If writers are at the mercy of a completely unpredictable and subjective review process, the only way good can come from it is by luck.
7. Winning. If you start focusing on winning your proposals when the writing starts, you are too late. The pre-RFP stage is critical and driven by relationships with key decision makers, influencers, stake-holders and allies. You need to know them. We manage the pre-RFP stage like election campaigns. Know the answers to important questions and know your competition you’re your competitions strengths and weakness. The pre-RFP stage is when you really should be focused on winning. When you focus pre-RFP , you will realize that in order to incorporate what it will take to win into your plans for the proposal, you’ll need answers to questions that should have been asked before the RFP even came out.
Martin Milita is senior director with Duane Morris Government Strategies, a public policy consulting firm affiliated with the international law firm Duane Morris LLP. Martin Milita has successfully advised individuals and corporations on billions of dollars in public procurement’s.