Improving the quality of proposal content with the APB writing model – Part 2

In the last post of the APB writing model series, I argued that training your proposal team to follow a standard writing model is the best approach for improving proposal content. In this post, I’ll introduce you to the APB writing model you should implement and describe the benefits this writing model achieves. After reading this post, you’ll be ready to transform your bids.

The APB model stands for approach, process, and benefits. I liken the APB model to a police officer’s All Points Bulletin. A cop’s APB makes what they’re looking for abundantly clear so other officers won’t miss it. In the same way, your writing needs to make your strengths abundantly clear to evaluators so they won’t miss them. The APB structure gives the evaluators all the detail in an easy-to-read format so they can find and record those strengths and rate your proposal as outstanding. In addition to making it easy on evaluators, this model provides structure for inexperienced writers and helps reign in writers who know a lot of information but can’t write well.

In practice, APB is a model for developing paragraphs of text within your response:

  • Approach: The Approach is the first 1–3 sentences at the beginning of your paragraph that briefly summarizes your approach and benefits. It’s your elevator speech. These sentences overview what you will do for the client and what benefits your clients will receive.
  • Process: The process section is the meat of your paragraph, containing all the details and graphics the government needs to evaluate your solution. Include the steps, tools, and methodologies you will use to accomplish that approach. This section includes all the features you identified in pre-proposal planning.
  • Benefits: The benefits explanation forms a logical end cap. While you previewed your benefits in the approach summary section, conclude your paragraph with 1–3 sentences that fully explain how the process yields those benefits. You can include proof points and substantiation in the benefits section to conclude your paragraph, or you may include them immediately after you introduce a feature in the process section.

While the model is based on a paragraph structure, you may scale this up or down to suit your needs. If your requirements and page count call for more detail, make the A, P, and B each their own paragraph. If you go this route, you may even break the process section up into multiple paragraphs with strong transition sentences. On the other hand, if you’re responding to very simple requirements, you may want to shrink APB into just a few sentences in a very small paragraph.

However you scale the model, packaging your text into APB makes it easy for evaluators to find the content they’re looking for. Evaluators don’t read proposals, they score them. Putting key words and benefits at the beginning and ends of paragraphs makes it easy for skimmers to identify the strengths of your proposal.

To exemplify the power of the APB model, consider this fictitious example. Let’s say our client has put out a requirement for us to protect a wood deck for at least 5 years. I generally see two kinds of non-APB responses:

  1. We will protect your wood deck for at least 5 years with industry-best tools and equipment.
  2. Two of our senior carpenters will protect your wood deck for at least 5 years by applying two coats of Behr waterproof stain with a three-inch bristle brush.

The first is the bare minimum of written text. It parrots back the requirement without adding any value. The phrase “industry-best tools and equipment” is so vague it doesn’t mean anything to evaluators. This kind of non-APB writing is asking the government to trust us that we can do what we say we will do for them.

The second option is better, but it lacks the compelling features of an APB structure. The second option adds value by explaining how we’re going to fulfill the requirements, but it makes the reader do all the work about what benefits they’re going to see and what the strengths of our approach are. This is a problem because we need to do the work for our readers.

In contrast, the APB example below contains the same information, but packages it so that an evaluator can easily score the section.

A: We will protect the deck for 10 years by applying two coats of waterproof stain with tools to deeply penetrate the wood.

P: Two of our senior carpenters will use a three-inch bristle brush to apply two coats of Behr waterproof stain in dark brown. The bristle brush penetrates the wood, whereas spray painting simply sits on top of the wood.

B: Because our carpenters use a bristle brush, your deck will be protected for 10 years—twice the minimum requirement.

The approach summary is an effective signpost for skimmers because it contains the key words about protecting a wood deck, and it successfully previews special tools. In the process section of this example, we’ve got information about who is doing the work and what tools we’ll be using. This section also ghosts the competition by explaining how our method is superior to the spray painting approach our competitors may be pitching. In the benefits section, we connect the dots for the reader by explaining how our approach exceeds the minimum requirements—a clear strength. The government could copy and paste the last sentence into their source selection justification text.

The biggest difference between option two of the non-APB paragraphs and the APB version above is how easy it is to score the APB paragraph. Even if you knew nothing about wood decks, the APB structure makes it clear what the strengths are. Written this way, you could easily select this proposal over a competitor’s pitching a spray paint stain. We want to make it that easy for the government to pick your proposal against your competitors’ proposals.

Now that I’ve explained what the APB model is, in the next post in this series I’ll share how to indoctrinate this methodology in your team so that your content is consistently rated as outstanding.

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Julia Quigley has worked on a variety of Federal Health IT task orders and large federal proposals. With a Master’s in Rhetoric and Composition, she has created proposal writing strategies and conducted training to help technical subject matter experts (SMEs) understand how to respond clearly and compellingly to solicitation requirements. Prior to joining Lohfeld Consulting Group, Julia managed proposals for small and mid-sized federal contractors and taught introductory writing and persuasive writing classes at Texas State University. She applies the lessons she taught as well as lessons learned to all her writing and training projects.

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Lohfeld Consulting