At the heart of every winning proposal lies a deep understanding of the client’s needs, concerns, and objectives. Before diving into the proposal writing process, take the time to thoroughly research and analyze the client’s requirements outlined in the request for proposals (RFP).
Understanding the Client’s Needs: The Foundation of Winning Proposals
Savvy proposal writers know that within the lines of a solicitation (and between them) lies a treasure trove of client concerns. By carefully reading and interpreting the document, you can gain valuable insights into the client’s anxieties, priorities, and desired solutions.
- Leveraging this information to craft a highly targeted proposal can give you a significant edge over your competitors. Generic responses rarely address specific worries, leaving clients unassured and unimpressed.
- Highlight relevant experience and capabilities in a way that addresses the client’s issues, demonstrating how your past successes translate to solving their unique challenges.
- Propose tailored solutions that address their anxieties and priorities.
Anticipate potential issues. Be sure to address any concerns not explicitly mentioned but hinted at in the solicitation, demonstrating your understanding of the broader context.
Government procurement agencies often provide valuable guidance in the proposal evaluation criteria. This includes the identification of key factors, sub-factors, and their relative importance. Common factors considered include technical approach, corporate capabilities, management approach, and cost, with weights assigned to each to reflect their significance. The assigned weights may not be explicitly stated but may be gleaned by a careful reading of the evaluation factors. Additionally, some agencies may employ page constraints for specific sections as an alternative method of conveying evaluation criteria.
Generally speaking, the technical approach will be the most heavily rated or at least equal to any other section. This article can’t provide a cookie-cutter approach to your technical solution, but we can provide general guidelines to help craft a winning proposal:
- Be clear, concise, and professional: Use simple language and avoid technical jargon that some client reviewers may not understand.
- Demonstrate how your solution directly addresses the technical requirements and solves the client’s problems. Be specific and avoid making unsupported claims.
- Structure your approach logically: Organize your content in a way that is easy for the reader to follow. Consider using headings, subheadings, and bullet points to improve readability. Where possible, address items in the same order as in the RFP.
- Showcase your team’s technical expertise, relevant experience, and proven track record. Use data and evidence to support your claims.
- Identify any potential risks associated with your solution and explain how you will mitigate them. Be transparent and demonstrate your ability to provide low-risk contract performance.
- Pay close attention to the evaluation criteria outlined in the RFP and ensure your approach addresses each point directly.
All of the above points can be ascertained by “listening” to the client by reading and re-reading the RFP. We mean, re-read that RFP until you can clearly see both the written and unwritten requirements and concerns.
Corporate Capabilities and Management Approach
While these two may often be called for in separate sections/volumes, they invite your statement of what your company has done in the past (not necessarily Past Performance) and how you intend to perform the required work on this contract. For your corporate capabilities, be sure to highlight experience that fits in with the current requirements. It might not be appropriate to highlight too much detail. But be sure to show how you interacted with your past clients, any unique approaches you took, and any positive client feedback you received.
Evidence in the call for a “management approach” often shows past struggles with contractor performance. Dig deeper! The lack of specific requirements like staff recruitment and retention could indicate two possibilities: Either the previous contractor excelled in those areas, rendering them historically unconsidered, or the client currently underestimates their significance. Given the critical importance of these areas, provide a conclusive response that demonstrates your recruiting prowess and commitment to staff retention, presenting a clear advantage over potential competitors.
An Example: Leveraging Your Recruiting & Retention Strength:
Winning a contract with a demonstrably strong “Recruiting & Retention” section feels like a golden opportunity. Can you reuse that content in future proposals? Absolutely! Especially if you’re up against competitors with known weaknesses in attracting and retaining talent.
However, remember that a stellar “Recruiting & Retention” section alone won’t compensate for a subpar overall management approach. Instead of relying solely on past successes, consider:
- Tailoring your “Recruiting & Retention” section to each proposal: Highlight specific practices relevant to the current project and client needs.
- Ensuring a holistic management approach: Address all evaluation criteria comprehensively, demonstrating excellence in various areas, not just one.
- Presenting evidence strategically: Showcase achievements and plans effectively but avoid overwhelming evaluators with irrelevant information.
While cost is often presented as the least important factor in winning proposals, be wary of complacency. Although true in absolute terms, its relative importance increases as non-cost factors converge. When combined technical scores across multiple offers start to become equal, cost may well become the determining factor. The client won’t pay more for minor non-cost advantages, especially when differences are statistically insignificant. In such scenarios, non-cost scores might as well be equal. Be sure to closely follow all the requirements stated for the cost submittal to ensure that you can perform on the resulting contract while making a reasonable profit for your company.
Page Constraints and Prioritizing Content in Winning Proposals:
In today’s proposal world, page limits are king. Every page dedicated to unrequested topics diverts space from areas the contracting officer (CO) explicitly cares about and has point scores to award. Remember, your competitors are vying for those same precious pages to showcase their strengths aligned with the CO’s priorities. The tendency is that our writers like to focus on telling a “story.” Consider the following points:
- If you can easily tell your story within the page constraints, then have at it; however, it won’t be worth the pain associated with trying to shoehorn a size 12 story into a size 8-page count.
- Consider that, particularly in large responses multiple evaluators may review your submission. A recent trend, certainly when there are a large number of responses, is that evaluators may actually “word search” your submittal and only read those portions where they receive hits. This will dilute whatever story you may be trying to build. In any case, if you write to the requirements, the evaluators will get the best story you can tell.
A Worldly Wise Story for Winning Proposals
Our more senior consultants are masters at RFP interpretation. They say that, reading the RFP enough times opens a channel into the minds of the reviewers. This includes both the written material and reading between the lines. Some of them have a record for being able to develop enough insight to win the contract, even when the company was unable to do a normal BD / Capture workup. Warning: We don’t advise this approach.