40 Super Tips for Super Smart Business Proposal Writing

Us at Quote Roller asked the true business proposal experts — members of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals — one simple question:

What is one piece of short, but priceless proposal advice you can share?

And here we are today presenting this priceless advice to you, so you can jump right into the deep end and get more business proposals signed! (We especially love #17 and #36!)

business proposals just keep swimming

40 Great (though not always easy) Proposal Tips!

  1. Be open to new ideas and never stop learning!
  2. Deadlines are not suggestions.
  3. Schedule to follow up.
  4. Make executive summaries first. (Start with the big picture. Macro to micro.)
  5. Stir the pot ’til it’s done. (Keep those contributors engaged and motivated.)
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from people who are qualified and capable of giving it to you.
  7. Don’t engage resources on bids that have been quantified as losing propositions when those same resources can be deployed more productively on projects you are more likely to win.
  8. More information will not make your proposal better. Proposals that are longer than they need to be don’t get read, and all of the relevant points you make are lost in a sea of irrelevant text.
  9. Always, always, always, have professional editors, graphic artists, and desktop publishers so that your proposal not only reads well but is a professional, consistent, and cohesive document that is, what’s that word, oh yes, compliant!
  10. Assuming the bid as been authorized regardless of market position, remember, you get what you pay for… If you use direct labor subject matter experts and don’t incentivize, if you use consultants that you have not worked with on prior bids, if you expect your management and proposal manager to write it for you, if your pricing analyst is simply a spreadsheet jockey than the result is pre-ordained. Though you can win a “blue-bird” now and then, you are not building a bid and proposal capability that can sustain long term and that should be the goal.
  11. Get your win themes right and then use them! I must declare an interest that I sell a software tool that is all about making sure your Win Themes are clear and consistent but the software was designed because win themes are so important not the other way around.
  12. Succeed gradually, but fail fast. Keep working your process and be courageous as long as you have a good shot at winning, but cut your losses and don’t fight fate when the gotchas pile up and Doom takes a seat at the table.
  13. Breathe!
  14. What works for one customer, may not work for another. A winning idea/proposal can turn into a losing one with a different audience engaged. It is not a one-size-fits all. Re-use cautiously.
  15. Don’t think you know better than your potential customer. Keep it a simple story that meets or exceeds their expectations.
  16. The executive summary is the part of your proposal that decision makers are most likely to read. Rather than self-praising boilerplate about your company, it should be customized based upon their evaluation criteria and your win plan. It should not be looked upon as a summary of the proposal, but rather as a tool for helping key people make a decision in your favor based upon their organization’s needs. Once a decision has been made, it will help them justify that decision to others who also have a stake in the decision.
  17. Ask you the following question: Would you buy the product after you read the offering documents?
  18. Take time to analyze the request, determine your themes, and map out the response before you start writing.
  19. Don’t put anything in print that isn’t true!
  20. Include well-placed graphics that capture the evaluators attention and visualize the benefits, not features. Win themes are also important, take the time upfront to get them right.
  21. Focus on the client/prospect. Use their name more often than your company’s name.
  22. One happy hour is worth 100 strategy meetings.
  23. Always develop your compliant outline from a blank sheet of paper… Reuse is fun and oh-so wonderful, right up until the point you lose!
  24. Always give the client what they ask for or want, not what you think they should want!! Never assume more is better because it definitely is not!!
  25. Run a text-to-speech application to read my proposal sections and make changes accordingly.
  26. Always write it on the assumption that the Executive Summary and the Pricing are all the reviewers are going to read. Works a treat!
  27. Don’t get caught up in your own fabulous-ness… Remember the customer!
  28. Provide clarity to your team on roles, responsibilities, standards and deadlines and don’t accept sub-standard inputs.
  29. Rule1: read the question. Rule 2: see Rule 1.
  30. Differentiation. You must clearly articulate why your business/solution is both different and better than competing solutions. If you don’t give the buyer a compelling reason to choose you over the competition, they probably won’t.
  31. Know the in’s and out’s of what your business provides its customers, and sell the benefits of that service/product. Remember to show the big picture of why you’re important to THEM.
  32. Filed under the heading “Cliche,” how about, “Answer the mail.” Too often the request asks, “What time is it?” Please do not respond with “How to build a watch.”
  33. Differentiate your Solution/Response from those of the Competitors. Also take note of the Compliance Table, if non-complying then better to submit an apology than to submit an alternate proposal.
  34. Don’t underestimate the value of a pre-RFP Black Hat Review. Realistically compare yourself to your competitions and assess your weaknesses as well as your strengths; don’t just assume you are the best, especially if you are the incumbent.
  35. Be up-to-date, have a schedule, create templates and use them, and drink coffee.
  36. In the name of all that’s holy, don’t submit multiple losing proposals for very similar pieces of work. Two strikes and then stop. Do some follow up. Understand why you lost. Think about what you can change. Then, maybe, have another go. Six losing proposals in a row will not endear you to anyone nor will it “put you in the frame” for anything other than the assessment panels recycling bin.
  37. READ the solicitation; read it, understand it, comply with it. But start with READ IT!
  38. Write what the customer wants, not what you want to say.
  39. if the Executive Summary is not requested or, for that matter, read by the customer, there is great value in having a draft at the kickoff meeting so contributors can understand the messages you need to convey within the body of the proposal.
  40. And a bonus one from us and Dory… Just keep swimming!

Business Proposal Tips

Now, what do you think should be #41?

Photos: Fotolia

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Based in Barcelona, also loves writing about businesses in Spain

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