5 Rock Solid tips for proposal success

calgary business

I’ve been involved in proposal writing and review for over 15 years for all kinds of industries from the legal field to oil and gas, and from marketing to education. I’ve been a team member on some great proposal teams and a few not-so great teams – and I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. Over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons on what it takes to land the contract. Here are my top 5 tips for proposal success!

#1 – Take a Long-Term View

Decision makers want to see determination and tenacity in almost all aspects of business but none more so than the bid process. The newcomer has an uphill battle fighting against the incumbent and more often than not they lose out – simply because they are unknown.

If you want to work with a certain company be prepared to take a long-term view: build relationships, develop rapport with the key players and know that you may lose the first few bids until you’ve done your homework and proven yourself.

#2 – Know Your Value

With every proposal there are two stories being told. The first story focuses on the guts of the proposal: the details of how the job will be done, the pricing and the timelines. The second story is the soul of the proposal – the value that your company will bring to the table that your competitors can’t. This quality is harder to identify and even harder to explain.

And don’t discount that it can be the cachet of your name or location that resonates with the decision makers. This largely explains how Santiago Calatrava was chosen as the architect to Calgary’s $25 million Peace Bridge. Really narrowing in on your value is vital and it almost always transcends the short timelines of a single proposal.

#3 – Give a Damn

At one organization, I wrote the request for proposal (RFP) for a telecommunications project and then we put the request out for bid to several different companies. What we received was rather dismal because people just didn’t give a damn. The proposals were boring, clearly using a proposal template response with no life in them what so ever.

Only one really stood out – and it was because the company put a major personalized effort into the response. The messaging was on point, the graphics were interesting and most importantly it was customized to our request. They won the work even though they were not the least expensive option.

#4 – Summarize the Proposal

It’s no surprise to say that most proposals I’ve read in the past have been boring. Bypass the issue by creating a summary that highlights the key points. This is NOT just a bullet point summary, so don’t be deceived by the shorter length.

This document will take time to craft and create and it is likely the most important part of the whole proposal. It should contain the highlights both as a narrative and graphically. It ultimately should read much like a magazine article – interesting and informative.

#5 – Do a Final Review

Proposals are a rush: there are often unrealistic timelines, people aren’t in the right place to help out and everyone is stressed. But one key aspect of proposals that will make a massive difference is recruiting help from outside the core team for a final review. Involving people who can take an objective view of certain aspects of the proposal is vital to the overall success of the proposal.

Have one person look at the big picture message, have someone else dive into the numbers, have a third person focus on grammar and spelling, and lastly have a fourth person focus on graphic details – photos, graphs and charts. Then get them all on a Skype call and debrief to make sure no detail has been missed. Make the final edits and ship it out the door.

If you already do all of these 5 points, Congratulations! You likely have a great win rate. If not, then it’s time to throw those crappy proposals in the garbage and rethink how you are going to WOW your customers next time.

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