Our goal is research as much about the proposal process as possible, so we can provide you with the best advice in order for you to continue to increase your proposal winning rate. To that effect, we’ve started to ask your proposal writing colleagues on networks like LinkedIn questions that we think you might want answers to.
Today, we present and analyze the first: What do you think is the most important part of a proposal? Some of the answers might surprise you…
They did surprise us a little. More than anything else, it seems that professional proposal writers value things slightly differently than their clients, or, at least the clients of Quote Roller’s clients.
About ten days ago, we started our search for the most important part of a proposal by asking members of the Bid and Proposal Management Professionals group on LinkedIn for their two cents. So far, we’ve had 82 responses. We did our best to fit the wide range of responses into the pie chart below, as well as summarizing the long debate and discussion that followed, which we hope you’ll add to at the end of this post!
First conclusion was that, no matter how much everyone wanted it to be something else, everyone admitted pricing was important, if not the most important thing. This makes sense because, by a mile, your clients — at least the clients of Quote Roller’s clients — are spending the most time looking at your pricing tables.
This, of course, means you should be very clear and concise in what you’re offering for how much money. As Mike, proposal professional and self-proclaimed graphics guru says, when companies are just solely betting on price, they end up selling themselves short. Of course, as another commentator John pointed out, your potential client may be looking for what he calls the LPTA — lowest price, technically acceptable — combination, where the lowest bid that meets the basic requirements wins. We aren’t advocating on just offering the lowest price just to get the deal, but, in case the chips fall this way, make sure you have ever detail of what you can offer clear, so you at least meet the technically acceptable threshold.
According to those who responded, the executive summary is the second most important part of your proposals. In our experience, after your clients are finished examining your pricing sheet, this is where they will spend the second most amount of their time.
Government contracts blogger Dave Storey tells us that whoever tells the best story wins. Often you won’t be able to present your proposal, but your executive summary is a great alternative to do just that, using it as a way to channel your voice. And if your voice is focused on the client, it’s sure to be a winner.
As we talked about before, there are three parts to your executive summary: the problem, the opportunity and the solution. The first two should focus on your client and the third should focus on how your company can help your client take the opportunity to let you provide the best solution for them.
Our five categories were:
- Cover Letter
- Executive Summary
- Other (list it)
I think we at Quote Roller were most surprised by how unpopular the Services part was, considering your proposal in general is an outline of your services, as a promise of solutions. Besides pricing, this is high on our list of what your clients are spending the most time looking at, but we guess you could consider the service + pricing chart to be interrelated, thus coming back to the unavoidably epic importance of pricing.
What we learned was that one part, usually used in applying for public and big RFP bid processes, was totally left out of our poll: The compliance matrix. This chart simply lists the requirements of the company or requester against you and your competitors’ solutions. While this isn’t necessary for many of the small businesses that are Quote Roller’s yummy bread and butter, we think the exercise of creating a compliance matrix is a great idea for all proposal sizes. As Robert, the first to comment on our survey, reminds us to ask ourselves “Did we provide a solution for EVERY aspect that the requisitioner sought out?” After all, solution-based sales is the surest way to close a sale.
We think the simple act of lining up the client needs with your solutions, even if you don’t end up including it in the proposal you send, is an important action. As another group member François says, you must be sure that you are addressing both the stated requirements and the underlying needs, which could include pricing and timing that maybe aren’t on their printed list. On the other hand, while it seems like a good activity for you to perform, as Ray, British bid writer and tender analyst, says, that compliance matrix is merely a tool you can use to direct your clients on what they should be looking at. It’s making sure that you are answering their questions that’s important, not how you fit those answers into the compliance matrix table.
When all else fails…
Make sure you make it about them and not you. Your clients want to hear solutions, not to be presented with a treatise of your awesomeness.
So, what do YOU think is the most important part of a proposal?