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Writing Proposals and Bids: 8 Things You Need to Do Differently

Writing Proposals and Bids: 8 Things You Need to Do Differently

Writing proposals and bids, whether it’s a three-page sole-source proposal or 100-page response to a public RFP takes time and effort to write and you don’t want to waste that effort.

In my experience helping suppliers write large, successful proposals and helping buyers procure and evaluate proposals and bids received from their suppliers, I’ve identified some key things that differentiate a good proposal from a bad proposal. While your pricing still needs to be competitive, in some cases what you write will tilt the scale in your favor.

While the fundamental requirement is a proposal that responds to their questions and makes it easy for the evaluators to read and evaluate, there are a number of other things that go into a successful bid. Here are some of them:

1. Differentiate Yourself

Your proposal shouldn’t be just about your attributes and benefits. You need to clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors. With this in mind, you have to write your bid response taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of your competition.

For each question you respond to, you need to convince the evaluator that what differentiates you from the competition is to their benefit. Don’t just regurgitate your selling points, put it in the context of the question being asked and what your potential client might think about your competition. Frame your sales material by the benefits and value to the client and answer the question “why us?”

2. Skip the Sales Pitch

A good proposal is a combination of selling and substance. Don’t be tempted to simply include your sales pitch and your typical sales collateral in your proposal, particularly if you’ve already been through a pre-qualification process where the client has already learned about your capabilities.

Instead, focus on the questions that are asked and the reason they’re being asked. Provide facts and evidence the evaluators can use to compare with the evaluation criteria.

Often, this means taking your original sales material and rewriting it to address the purpose of the questions you are responding to in the RFP. Don’t simply make a sales pitch — convince and influence the evaluators.

3. Follow the Format

Always follow the format of the RFP. Sometimes the RFP will specify the format and structure you should use, but if it doesn’t, your safest approach is to follow the format and structure of the RFP itself and the questions they’re asking in the order they ask them.

Where possible, combine the structure of the questions with the structure of the evaluation criteria. For instance, if there are five criteria that apply to each of the questions, structure your answer so you’re answering each of those five criteria within each question.

Repeat their questions as headings before your answers. You can paraphrase them slightly, but make it clear which question you are answering. This makes it much easier for the evaluator when they’re reviewing your proposal.

4. Understand the Requirements

While you need to understand the client’s requirements to successfully price and respond to an RFP or proposal, it’s also important to make it clear to the client that you understand (and can meet) their requirements.

In each of the questions you respond to, make reference to the client’s specific requirements and even the specifications if relevant. While this will take a little extra time, you’re demonstrating to your client that you fully understand their requirements and that your proposed service, product or solution is designed to meet those requirements. But don’t just refer to it. Put it in context of your solution and your response so they know you’ve given it thought.

This is also where you can differentiate yourself from your competition by specifically addressing requirements and clearly identifying your unique solution. Of course, this means you can’t use boilerplate material as is; you need to rewrite it to the specific needs of this proposal. Your potential client will appreciate your effort.

5. Don’t Assume Familiarity

While you should avoid making the proposal a pure sales pitch, particularly if you are already familiar to the potential client or you are the dominant player in the industry, you shouldn’t assume that everybody reading and evaluating your RFP response knows you and your capabilities.

So where possible, you need to remind the potential client of who you are and what you’re capable of without making it a sales pitch. As always, put context around what you’re saying and provide details and examples rather than simply talking generally about your organization.

6. Don’t Use Marketing Fluff

Marketing fluff always leaves the evaluators and your potential client with an empty feeling after they read it. It’s usually boilerplate sales material and claims that are unsubstantiated by details or examples.

The evaluators are looking for specifics around your capabilities and benefits as well as your specific offering. By making empty claims or answering questions in highly general terms, you’re telling your client that you don’t have a real answer.

Scrub out the marketing fluff from your proposal material and answer each question with specifics and details that refer back to the client’s requirements.

7. Show Them You Care

If you put effort into your proposal, your potential client is more likely to believe that you’ll put effort into the service or product as well.

While it takes effort, you have to put enough into the proposal to ensure the writing, the packaging, the examples, details, information, references to the client and their needs. This will demonstrate that their business is important to you. Don’t submit a generic boilerplate proposal.

You also need to make it easy for them to review and evaluate, that you respect their time. Keep it short and concise, well organized, well structured and designed to enable them to easily review and see the information they need to evaluate you with.

8. Don’t Use Boilerplate Material

As mentioned before, never submit boilerplate material. You need to adapt and edit your boilerplate material to the specifics of the client and their RFP document.

Influencing the client and the evaluators is so important that you have to get the details right and boilerplate material is not only generic by its very nature, your client will recognize it for what it is. Not only does it tell them something about your level of effort to pursue their business, it will be much harder for them to give you a higher score on their evaluation criteria if they’re basing it on generic boilerplate material.

With an evaluated proposal, every point you receive could mean the difference between succeeding and failing in your bid, so make the effort to gain an advantage with a custom proposal, not boilerplate.

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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