Twenty years of proposal writing experience has taught me that a highly disciplined and methodical approach significantly boosts your chances of success. It provides a business writing discipline, guides you to focus on what is really important, and ensures that your key messages are conveyed to best effect. It has two phases.
Phase one is about creating the organisational framework within which to produce your proposal. This covers everything from requirements capture to the means by which your proposal should be submitted. It requires little creativity and involves a checklist, a detailed worksheet and a proposal management plan.
The checklist enables you to see which activities need to be completed as you build your worksheet. The worksheet contains a summary of your prospect’s vision and requirements listed in logical order. It enables you to cross reference each component of your prospect’s requirements against each component of your offering. At this point you can work out your win themes for each part of your proposal. If you have multiple writers, the proposal management plan enables you to manage who needs to deliver what by when.
The second phase is creative and runs in parallel with the first. This phase is about how you wish to communicate, rather than what you wish to communicate. It includes your proposed offering along with your reasoning, logic and deployed style – words, phrases, images – and the tone you intend to use.
This is your starting point. You need to ensure that you can comply with every stipulation that your prospect demands. Any doubts need to be addressed and resolved before writing begins.
Next, you need to ensure that your proposal matches the evaluation process of your prospect. This is critical. In some cases, the prospect will provide a question and answer template. In other cases, you may have creative freedom. Either way, you must respond to your prospect’s requirements in the precise order in which the proposal invitation is structured.
To ensure your proposal is as appealing, clear and logical as possible, the order in which your content is presented is crucial. Irrespective of the section you are writing, ensure that what comes first is the most important point, and what comes second is the second most important point and so on. Only you can decide on the correct sequence.
The main body of your proposal, or offering, should be produced in an effective hierarchy. Information presented at a higher level should be a summary of the information at a lower level. For example, say your offering included a series of dissimilar products: apples and pears, and cars and motor cycles.
Apples and pears could be grouped under a heading of fruit. Cars and motorcycles might be grouped under a heading of vehicles. If you then wished to put both groups together, this should be done at a higher group level, perhaps called products. The key point here is that groupings need to be hierarchical and logical.
Good reasoning is a characteristic of persuasion and gives your proposal credibility and appeal. Reasoning demonstrates your understanding of your prospect’s requirements.
The two usual methods of reasoning are deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning reveals a conclusion which necessarily follows from a set of indisputable facts. For example: you press a light switch on, it causes an electrical connection and the bulb illuminates. One effect follows from another indisputable cause.
Inductive reasoning on the other hand requires probability and creative thinking to arrive at a conclusion. For example: “A new hospital is proposed because of increased demand.” This statement would require the support of facts, figures, estimates, trends and much more. This is why reasoning is so important. It needs to be credible, logical, appealing and persuasive.
The purpose of a value proposition is to provide the most important reasons why a prospect should buy your product or service (and not someone else’s). A value proposition needs to be created before your proposal is fleshed out. It should cover your prospect’s vision and requirements followed by your offerings capabilities, performance, benefits, cost savings and advantages over the competition. Everyone on your proposal writing team needs to have a clear understanding of your value proposition.
In essence, a value proposition is a condensed version of your proposal.
The executive summary is the most important part of your proposal and may be the only part read by a decision maker. Within your executive summary, there is one part which is more important than any other: it is your first paragraph. Those first few sentences need to give a compelling description of how perfectly your proposal addresses your prospect’s requirements.
It should go on to explain how your offering connects to your prospect’s vision and requirements. It should contain a statement of the problem, an analysis, a summary of your offering, costing, timelines and benefits.
Ideally, an executive summary should be no longer than a couple of pages. There is no fixed rule. Whilst it should be as short as possible, it should also be as long as necessary.