3 Keys to Creating Winning Proposals

Creating winning proposals is not the same as writing a proposal. Anyone can write a proposal for government work, given enough time and resources. However, only one bidder writes the winning proposal. The best proposals have three things in common:

  1. They are directed and written by talented people experienced at writing proposals.
  2. They follow a similar, defined process.
  3. They are designed in an environment that creates proposals efficiently.

Your capture and proposal managers bring necessary skills to plan, staff, lead and control your capture campaign and develop your competitive proposal. They work as a team and understand each member’s role. The capture manager leads the campaign, and the proposal manager comes in before a request for proposals is released to focus on developing the proposal.

This team knows that the first step is developing a winning solution. During the capture phase and preproposal phases they work together to:

  • Create a clear win strategy. Win strategies derive from a competitive assessment that focuses on your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these enable you to create a win strategy that highlights your strengths and mitigates your weaknesses while neutralizing your competitors’ strengths and accentuating their weaknesses.
  • Develop and document the solution. Solution development begins during the pursuit phase as a separate exercise from writing the proposal. Create and document your solution, complete design trade-offs, conduct reviews and approve the solution before writing the technical and management response.
  • Build in significant strengths. Every winning proposal is rich in features that evaluators will assess as proposal strengths. These features are engineered into your proposed solution to show that your approach increases your likelihood of successful performance or that your solution exceeds a requirement in a way that is beneficial to the government customer. Those strengths are explained to the selecting official along with your price and used as the basis to differentiate competitors and justify selection of the winner.

Although each proposal is different, the process used to create winning proposals generally has these characteristics:

  • Early proposal planning and development. Great proposals begin during the pursuit stage well in advance of the final RFP. Pre-proposal activities are funded, a proposal manager and support staff are assigned, and proposal development begins. Draft text and graphics are created in anticipation of the RFP. That includes the technical description of your solution, management organization structure and management plans, past-performance summaries, key employees’ résumés, management and technical processes, and data calls to team members. Portions of significant proposals and any proposal designated as must-win should be substantially written before RFP release.
  • A compliant, easy-to-evaluate proposal structure. Winning proposals always comply with the RFP. The proposal structure follows RFP instructions and evaluated information is easily found. Good proposal structures are developed early, validated independently and approved before authors begin writing. The structure must be well crafted because it serves as the foundation for the proposal.
  • Proposal sections designed before writing. Each section is designed using either an annotated outline technique or a storyboard.
  • Responsive and compelling proposal text. Text responds completely to the RFP, assertions are substantiated by evidence — not rhetoric — and benefits are clear to the customer. The proposal is written compellingly and is easy to read and score.

Winning proposals are developed in an environment with a well-established proposal development process, using appropriate tools to facilitate the process. A collaborative workspace for archiving capture data and managing proposal development, workflows and version control is essential. Virtual meeting tools are vital for reviewing documents and hosting discussions. Publishing tools bring efficiency to the process. Up-to-date company databases of past-performance summaries, personnel résumés, prewritten proposal material, proposal graphics and past proposals are equally helpful.

How do your proposals stack up against these characteristics?

By Bob Lohfeld

This article was originally published June 14, 2010 on WashingtonTechnology.com.

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Lohfeld Consulting