Writing A Winning Proposal

Maximising P(Win)

One of my previous posts Maximising P(Win) covered some of the basics of deciding whether to bid, getting the right people working on the team and thinking about ghosting. In this post I will talk more about creating a winning proposal.

Is there a formula for a Winning Proposal?

We all understand that our bid will be assessed against against the customer’s requirement but we tend to forget that it will also be assessed against the other bids received using some structured criteria and a marking scheme. Very quickly the tender assessment team will establish some kind of ranking of the proposals received, so how do we go about ensuring that we achieve the top spot?

First of all you need to get hold of the assessment criteria and their weightings. Many government procurement organisations have to provide this to tenderers as part of policy but if you are bidding into a company this might not be offered. I would suggest you ask, of course the company will have to offer this to all bidders but at least you know how to best place your efforts.

6 Areas Your Proposal must Score in

6 Areas You Must Score In

6 Areas You Must Score in to Win

Regardless of the assessment scheme a winning proposal has to score well in the following 6 areas:

  1. Compliance against the requirement, make it obvious and include a compliance matrix against the requirement even if its not asked for
  2. Flexibility and responsiveness, how easy are you to work with and how tailored is your solution to the customer
  3. Commercials, pricing and terms
  4. Document Structure, is it easy for the customer to navigate and find information, is it easy to separate into assessment areas?
  5. Quality of writing and diagrams, are they clear, consistent and attractive
  6. Aesthetic Design, will the customer feel impressed and drawn to the document.

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that compliance and price are all there is! Of course these are important but the customer is also selecting on how easy you will be to do business with, how confident he/she is in your ability to mobilise and deliver and how risky your implementation approach and schedule is.

Research Your Customer

You really will have to do some research into your customer to understand:

  • Who the decision makers are and what their goals and issues might be
  • Any political factors that you should be aware of
  • The business or operational benefits the customer is seeking to achieve
  • The kind of return on investment that the customer looking at

Assess and ‘Ghost’ Your Competition

You also need to look at your competitors:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and their solutions?
  • How will they be answering this RFP?
  • Ghost their responses alongside yours, do an objective ranked assessment yourself to see how you fare, what can you do to improve your ranking?
  • What do you offer that is truly unique and that is likely to be valued?

From this you should be able to determine which competitors are your greatest threats and why.

You can then make sure your proposal emphasises your solution’s strengths and mitigates any weaknesses whilst at the same time subtly downplaying the strengths of the competitors which are your greatest threats and again subtly highlighting or surfacing their weaknesses. The type of market you are in will determine how subtly or overtly you can be in mentioning your competitor. If in doubt don’t do it, try a subliminal approach.

Include a Value Proposition & Win Themes

You will have to clearly lay down your ‘Value Proposition’, by spelling out the benefits to your customer and the timeframe for realising them, make the uniqueness of your solution clear in realising these benefits, don’t rely on the customer coming to this conclusion themselves.

You will also need to develop some ‘Win Themes’ based on the unique benefits that your solution offers and make sure that these are woven into the very fabric of your bid, not by pasting them liberally in each section but by being consistent in your wording and in ensuring that important benefits are consistently written about across the assessment areas.

Make it Attractive

Don’t forget to make your proposal visually attractive:

  • Use Sans Serif fonts wherever you can for readability, use 10/12 point fonts for body text
  • Use ‘takeaways’ on complex diagrams and tables so that the customer gets the message.
  • Make the caption of your photographs or graphics meaningful not just a statement of the obvious.
  • Make your page layouts uncluttered and clean.
  • Make all of your diagrams look like they are consistent not pulled from other documents, this goes for styles, colours and fonts within the diagram.
  • Make sure any complex diagram is readable, often diagrams in proposals are too small to read and the same diagram gets used in bid presentations and is equally unreadable on a projected slide.
  • The rule is think about the purpose of inclusion and if it doesn’t work leave it out or if its too complex consider dumbing it down until it works.

I have seen one proposal written on grey paper because it was meant to be easy on the eye when in fact it just felt drab and dull to read.

Make it Coherent

Plan your approach to writing, don’t just divide up the topics to your experts for them to write sections and then pull it all together and hope. Putting it all into the same document template may make it look good if you just scan it but the document  has to be coherent. I was once with a customer who was questioning a supplier on a very large proposal, the dialogue went something like this:

Customer: “It looks as though some sections in the proposal were written by different people, the style is quite different.”

Supplier: “Well you have to understand that this is a complex solution and we have lots of specialists and people writing different sections of a proposal of this complexity, no one person could have the knowledge to write it all.”

Customer: “Yes, I understand that but I would have expected at least one person in your organisation to have read the document before delivering it.”

A Structured Approach

  • Produce an outline first, quite literally a contents list.
  • Embellish the outline, write a paragraph under each heading to say what it will contain.
  • Write a simple storyboard to make sure it all hangs together
  • Embellish this into a more comprehensive storyboard
  • Only then produce a first draft.

I cannot over emphasise the importance of reviews, review the outline, the storyboard, the first draft. Use reviewers that are not writers of the material, use experts from your organisation but please make sure that they understand the requirement and the customer imperatives and that they have a copy of the RFP otherwise your reviewers comments could in fact dilute the strength of your proposal. Keep an audit trail of comments and a log of editing actions so that if on the final read through something doesn’t sit right you can determine if it was changed due to a review comment and who the reviewer was.

It should go without saying but always perform a final document review, don’t just admire the final copy and the folder!

Use your team and the previous reviewers and make sure that you have allowed time to incorporate any changes that might come out of this final review before delivery to the customer!

Good luck!

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