3 Best Practices: Post-Proposal-Review Improvement

Post-review revisions, or proposal Improvement, are typically a crossroads for the proposal team; the course of action taken determines your proposal quality. The quality of your proposal, how it is read and scored against the competition, determines your win probability.

In the fourth and final Blog in this series, we will explore proposal management best practices with a focus on post-review proposal improvement.

Narrative and Story

Proposals are purchasing vehicles. Where business writing, such as documentation, is designed to inform and instruct, proposals are designed to get inside the mind of the evaluator and bring them around to your way of thinking. Quality proposals use narrative and story to engage readers and communicate a clear message about you, your business, and your solution.

Challenge: The proposal was difficult to read and follow. I couldn't connect the dots between the prospects challenge and how we address it. 

Best Practice: Storytelling in proposal writing works the same way as creative storytelling. Except that most elements, such as characters, plot, and setting, are already clearly defined. Improve your narrative and story by focusing on three elements: 

  • Improve Setup. The Setup sets the stage for what business looks like right now; current process, structure, and systems. What is your prospect's Setup? Maybe they have a legacy system that is no longer supported. As with any engaging read, the Setup lays the foundation for Conflict and Resolution.

  • Improve Conflict. The Conflict embodies the events that pushed the prospect to put out the RFP; challenges they are experiencing in their current state. For example, aging technology and a mandate to improve constituent services. Speaking to each one of your prospect's Conflicts in context will lay the groundwork for clear and persuasive Resolution.

  • Improve Resolution. The Resolution presents your company as the solution to the prospect's Conflicts. It doesn’t focus on how great your business is. It focuses on how great you can make your client’s business. Address each Conflict with a Resolution - followed by a brief description of how. Add proof to elevate your solution above the competition. 

Strategic repetition plays an important role in narrative and story as an effective way to subtly remind evaluators about your proposition as they read. Targeting strategic repetition in your cover letter, executive summary, solution overview/approach boosts readability. It also helps evaluator's pick up the narrative no matter what page they start on. Revise by rephrasing the same point, swapping in a client story or quote, and adding a visual to reinforce your point. 

Intent and Context

Writing with intent means your team has an objective; use the win strategy details to send your message. Context is the background, or Setup, that couches your win strategy in the evaluator's circumstances to help them accurately interpret your message. Quality proposals use intent and context to help evaluators absorb and understand your solution.

Challenge: The proposal answers the questions but the answers are generic, they are not aligned with the prospect’s perspective.

Best Practice: The details of intent and context should be defined as part of the pre-writing, or Interplay, phase of proposal development. Enhancing intent and context is one of the goals of the Improvement phase of proposal writing. Improve by honing your intent with these three questions:

  • Why is the team writing this proposal? Obviously, you're writing this proposal to win new business. But your intent is to persuade the evaluator. Assume nothing. Revise so that every answer, headline, bullet point, and graphic clearly connects the dots between your prospect's Conflict and your Resolution. 

  • Why is the evaluator reading the proposal? Yes, sometimes it is as simple as information acquisition or a scoring checklist. But it's probably more about how you think, organize, and solve problems. Revise with a focus on what the evaluator wants to hear from you. Consider what questions will arise in their mind as they read and answer them. 

  • What's your walk-away? Whether the evaluator reads the entire proposal, or just skims it, you should have a clear walk-away message that compliments your win theme(s). Revise with a focus on "What impression do you want to leave with the evaluator?" and "What is the action you want them to take?" 

By clarifying your intent, context ensures evaluator's accurately interpret your meaning. Context also helps forge a relationship between your team and the evaluator. There are different types of context, but for our purposes of proposal writing, we'll focus on the physical context; the environment in which your proposal story takes place, i.e. the prospects Setup and Conflicts. Here are a few ideas for adding context to your proposal:

  • Be creativeReview your win strategy for details. Dig into the sales team's conversations with the prospect. Read their website and town hall notes. Follow them on Social Media. If you're the incumbent, talk to client support and the delivery team. Leave no stone unturned for examples of how your prospect is feeling in their current state. 

  • Revisit your goal. Review each Conflict. Now, imagine your Resolution's context; what will the world look like when your Resolution addresses their Conflicts? Context can take many forms, however, it's defining characteristic is relatability. 

  • Be mindful. There is such a thing as too much context. It can slow down the read and muddy the message. Include only what is necessary to demonstrate your understanding of the Conflict. Include only what is necessary to help the evaluator understand, and feel the impact of, your Resolution. 

Intent and context give evaluator's a sort of framework for interpreting your Resolution. When proposal teams write with intent and context, evaluators are able to look at the proposal through the lens of relevant perspective.

Tone and Authenticity

Tone is the expression of your business attitude, and specifically, how your audience perceives your words. It begins with how your writers feel about the subject; self-confident and enthusiastic, yet relevant, candid and sincere. It is conveyed by your writers through diction (choice of words and phrases), viewpoint, syntax (grammar and how you put words and phrases together), and the level of formality.

What makes your proposal authentic is the meaning it has for the evaluator. Evaluators are, for the most part, reading your proposal as an inquiry; what is the best way to solve the challenges. Quality proposals use tone and authenticity to up the ante. 

Challenge: The narrative is choppy and the proposal feels “cobbled” together from different sources. I see how we solve the challenges, but it "feels" like documentation. 

Best practice: You need to harmonize your content within the context of your evaluator's perspective. The details of how to set tone should be defined as part of the pre-writing, or Interplay, phase of proposal development. Correcting and smoothing, or harmonizing, the tone and authenticity is one of the goals of the Improvement phase of writing. Improve proposal tone and authenticity by asking these questions:

  • Is it positive? You want your proposal to say, "your project is important enough for us to write a proposal that helps you understand our solution at a deeper level". And you want your proposal to say; "your project is important enough for us to write a proposal you want to read and defend".

  • Is it cooperative? Your word choice—used to evoke positivity and collaboration—uses the pronoun “we” work together to invite mutual participation toward a shared goal.

  • Is it tasteful? Every audience is different, even if you’re selling the same solution or service. Time to revisit the win strategy for evaluator and decision maker details. Keep in mind it’s your audience’s taste that matters, and taste is subjective. 

  • Is it assertive? Exude confidence and authority by being straightforward and mindful of too much context. An assertive tone is most often used to persuade an audience about a topic.

  • Is it encouraging? Being understanding and supportive provides evaluators with reassurance, helping them overcome their fears and take action.

Your proposal says a lot about you, your business, your people, your solution, and what you're like to work with. And your tone and authenticity are a powerful way to communicate the right message. Think of it this way, if your proposal was a person, who would they be? Would you want to work with you? The appropriate tone and authenticity are often remembered far longer than a solution description. 

Crafting a winning proposal is a time-consuming business investment. It may take many review and improvement cycles to achieve the proposal quality today's evaluators crave for the win. At this crossroad, take the high road; revise to improve quality and elevate your win probability.

Miss this series? Start here

1-Minute Read: Messages That Undermine Your Proposal