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Proposal writing takes courage and determination. The process can be cumbersome, tiring, and expensive. And unfortunately, too often, it takes a back seat to other company priorities and ends up being done poorly.
Some key considerations:
Understanding Customer Needs
An important part of your early sales efforts is (beyond selling your capabilities) developing an understanding of the customer's needs.
Winning proposals are written from the customer's perspective. You have to demonstrate that you truly understand the customer's needs, the solutions that the customer believes are the answer to
his or her problems (not your solutions), and what specific benefits the customer is looking for and how you are going to provide them.
Understanding how agencies evaluate proposals is an essential element of successful proposal writing. You need to write proposals to make evaluators' jobs as easy as possible. Give them the help they need to score your proposal high.
Many people new to government proposal writing write their proposals to win, which seems to make sense, right? In the government market, however, you should write your proposals not to lose.
Why? A committee of evaluators must wade through a pile of many proposals (often up to 20, or sometimes even more) and score them against a set of published criteria. They don't read through them, pick the most stellar proposal and declare a winner. That's not how it works. Instead, they score them one by one and compare total scores. Then they find a natural cut-off point between the qualified and unqualified companies. The fewer qualified companies left the better from the viewpoint of the evaluators, because there's less work.
The evaluators will sometimes contact the remaining qualified companies (those in the "zone of consideration") and ask them to strengthen their weak points. Yes, you heard it right. They don't have to, but evaluators may give all qualified companies a shot at bettering their score.
In short, it's a process of elimination. So you want to write NOT TO BE ELIMINATED. In other words, write defensively. Don't try to hit home runs by over-emphasizing a few points in the proposal. You won't win that way. Be consistent; cover all your bases. It's better to respond competently, if not brilliantly, on all points rather than nail perfectly some points at the expense of others. If you are week in just one area of the proposal, you are giving the evaluator a reason to knock you out.
A few tips for providing the evaluator no reason to eliminate your proposal:
The advice "Only write the ones you can win" may seem trite, but that's exactly what you must do. Select carefully and write the proposals for the procurements that you have pre-sold.
Management should focus on making the best possible bid/no bid decisions. Make a decision based on what you learned about the customer and the competition during the sales process. If the decision is bid, commit 100% to writing an effective proposal.
The best way to win is to start as early as possible in making the bid/no bid decision and starting the proposal itself. If you wait until the last possible moment, you will probably lose. You can bet someone out there has gotten the jump on you.
Choose your proposal leader carefully. This person should be an experienced proposal writer/manager and know the most about the customer. If you can't find this all-in-one superstar, go with the experienced proposal writer and support this person with the people who know the customer best.
Have the proposal leader prepare a proposal outline in the greatest possible detail. Not enough can be said about the importance of a detailed proposal outline. It will become the guiding framework for managing the project and for the writing process itself.
Selecting the best possible staff (technical/scientific/operational) to write the solution sections of the proposal also is critical to success. These folks need to be taught the customer's requirements (if they don't already know the customer) and be able to develop and write the solutions to meet the requirements. Chances are they will not be experienced writers. Use the detailed proposal outline to guide their efforts and to show them exactly what is expected of them in organizational structure, content, and format.
Plan the proposal project in depth. For large projects, it's a complex undertaking involving many people. This involves organizing project tasks, assignments and proposal content in as much detail as possible.
Company management should be involved in all aspects of the proposal project. They should monitor writing status as the proposal progresses and personally review the content and quality of the results.
In summary, management must make a commitment to each and every proposal the company writes. Assign the best people to write the proposal and support them in every way possible. Give the proposal leader the authority and resources to produce a winning proposal.
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