JP Richard, SJ&A
In the last issue, we discussed Competition, the fourth of the five C’s of proposal preparation. To refresh your memory, the other four were Compliance, Capabilities, ConOps and Compelling. Let’s move on to the last one: Compelling.
To compel, according to Webster, means to drive or to bring about by force. That’s not a bad description of what we are trying to do with our RFP responses. How can we make our proposal compelling? How can we “force” them to pick us? The easy answer is that we must be compliant, demonstrate our capabilities, show how we can do the work best and stand out above the competition—essentially accomplish the four first C’s discussed in this series. Highlights for a compelling proposal include:
- Make a good first impression—come out swinging! Many proposals begin with, “ABC Company is pleased to submit this proposal…” Know that your prospective client does not care about you or if you are pleased—they only care about their bottomline. The first few paragraphs of every proposal section or chapter are crucial. Ensure that you engage them by focusing on their wants and needs at the top, summarizing key points at the beginning. Ensure that every sentence has meaning for them; superfluous information about your company is neither wanted or helpful.
- Convince the reader—features tell/benefits sell! Keep your proposals to the point, focused on the benefits of your product or service, not just the attributes or features. For example, just stating that you have an ISO certification is not convincing. Expound on what that means to a potential client—for example, that the client will receive service in a clear, consistent, and predictable manner with a rigorous documented quality control program.
- No boilerplate—ensure that the potential customer feels “special.” Each project and potential customer is unique and the proposal should reflect that. While it is tempting to re-use text and graphics from a previous proposal, you must ensure that your language reflects the opportunity and requirements at hand. Stay focused on this customer and prepare a solution for them. Evaluators can “smell” boiler-plated material and it is a turn-off.
- A bored evaluator is not an engaged evaluator—be creative! The goal is to compel the evaluator to keep reading—do not risk disengagement. Grab and keep the attention of the reader through the use of present-tense verbs, graphics, headings, and even descriptive figure and table captions. Be concise; use clear, plainly stated language, not jargon.
- Regurgitate—yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! While most RFPs do not want you to merely repeat the Statement of Work in the proposal, you must assure them that you have heard and understand their requirements. This includes those items that you have learned from the customer during the Capture phase that are not specifically articulated in the RFP. Know your customer, and speak their language.
- Write Well! You’d be surprised at how many proposals are dismissed immediately because there’s a typo in the first paragraph or it is sloppily prepared. Use a fresh pair of eyes to review the proposal or a professional editor prior to your Red Team review.
- The proof is in the details—be specific! It’s not enough to tell the potential client that you can provide the service or product. If you are confident that your approach can increase their productivity by 35 percent, for example, then say so! Then, provide the “prove-it” points. Back up your solution with credible facts and figures or a case studies—qualify and quantify your text wherever you can. Use examples of where you have provided the scope of work previously and the specific performance metrics that you achieved; a graphic illustrating it is best. Empty phrases such as, “we have experience in providing XYZ” or “we understand the requirements and therefore should choose us” is not compelling without proof.
Let’s add another vital element— our attitude!
- Show Your Enthusiasm and Commitment! To be truly compelling, your proposal must demonstrate that you really want the contract. When a proposal team is motivated to secure a win, it is reflected in the document. Your dedication to the project shows. Often, “it takes a village” to prepare a compelling proposal—technical experts, writers, editors, cost and contracting specialists, and graphic specialists. Providing a well-crafted document with a single voice requires a concerted effort by a group committed to the win. This commitment should start from the top corporate management who should pay attention to the proposal initiative and the team, demonstrating the importance of the win to the company. Only if the proposal team is convinced of its importance and a possibility of a win, can they convey a compelling message themselves.
If you would like to discuss ways in which we can support your proposal development needs, contact JP by e-mail at email@example.com or call him at 703-568-6417.