Best Practices and Best Avoided

Our seminar staff recently completed one of our monthly seminars on proposal writing. As we do in every class, we discussed how proposals should be written to be the "last proposal standing" or, said in Fedmarket-speak, a defensive proposal. Our definition of a defensive proposal is as follows:

  • One that is written with the goal of surviving the elimination process.
  • A proposal which is customer-centric. It presents a practical solution from a customer's perspective.
  • A proposal which is limited to responding to the customer's requests. It gives them what they want; no more, no less.
  • One which meets each and every requirement of the RFP.
  • It is clear, concise and devoid of sales puffery.

Seminar attendees asked that we discuss how to create a defensive proposal. We have condensed that discussion into a series of bullet points designed to give you a snapshot guide that will help you create your very own defensive proposals. We invite you to print this sheet, post it near your desk, and refer to it any time you find yourself asking the question, "How are we going to get through writing yet another proposal?" The advice is simple and straightforward and is meant to bring you back to the basics of writing winning RFP responses.

Best Practices

  • Solve the customer's problems as THEY perceive them. Write a proposal that focuses on them, not on how YOU perceive their problems.
  • Give the customer everything asked for in the RFP. Don't try to think for the customer. Give them what they want, down to the tiniest detail.
  • Address each and every solicitation requirement, even if it appears to be meaningless on the surface. Remember, evaluators love to eliminate proposals to save time and effort or, sometimes, to help their favorite company.
  • Explain how you will meet each and every requirement in a clear, concise manner.
  • Don't stress your "unique" capabilities unless you can be convincing and the uniqueness stands up to scrutiny.
  • Avoid any ambiguities in staffing and personnel qualifications. Develop a concise staffing and project management plan.
  • Rewrite resumes of staff members to specifically address the RFP requirements. Interview proposed staff members to determine the specifics of their experience and its relevance to the requirements.
  • Tailor your corporate qualifications (and general information) to match the specific requirements of the RFP.
  • Differentiate yourself from your competitors and ghost them. Know your strengths and weaknesses and your competitors' strength and weaknesses, and write to all four of these points.
  • Find ways to present your solutions as unique while still meeting the requirements of the RFP. Write to the specific benefits of your company, your project team, and your solutions and substantiate each of these.
  • Have your proposal writers present answers to questions. The proposal manager should formulate the questions. The writing should focus on these questions exclusively and should not be hijacked by the techie who says "I know what they want." If the proposal manager sets the questions, it helps in two ways: 1) everybody is answering the questions that are pertinent to this RFP; and 2) the writers don't start from a blank page. They just need to put what's in their head on the page and have prompts to help them.
  • Always adapt boilerplate.

Best Avoided

  • Don't postpone until there isn't enough time to produce a high quality proposal. This is probably the biggest single mistake companies make.
  • Don't think that your company is the answer to the customer's prayers. Everyone thinks this way. Don't get caught in the trap. Your confidence means nothing unless it's backed up with references, performance data, facts and... pre-selling.
  • Don't boast. If you must boast, prove it in words and with statistics.
  • Don't overuse boilerplate.
  • Don't write a novel. Use simple, easy-to-understand language. Avoid long-winded sentences, and run-on paragraphs.
  • Don't present extraneous or marginal material. If in doubt, it's extraneous. Evaluators hate extraneous material.
  • Don't give evaluators more than they've asked for. Give evaluators precisely what they asked for in the RFP. If they ask for resumes for three key persons, give them exactly three resumes (even if you have additional resumes that fit the requirements). If they ask for four descriptions of corporate experience, give them four descriptions (even if you have additional corporate experience that perfectly matches the work requirements). Evaluators hate reading information beyond what they asked for and including it can lose you points rather than impress them.

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