The Proposal Writing Key to Pre-RFP

All too often, teams jump into writing without the details they need to write a proposal. But many of the writing techniques teams use to write compelling proposals rely on in-depth, contextual details that help your team communicate what evaluators must understand in order to be persuaded over to your solution.

By capturing the following details pre-RFP, your team will invest more time in writing to win strategy, and less time revising, and deliver a more compelling proposal evaluators actually want to read, understand and defend to decision makers.

Proposal Details and Context

Your win strategy articulates your solution, identifies your audience, and outlines how you rank against the competition. When it comes to writing your proposal, however, it is the details and the context behind each of these data points that actually delivers a compelling proposal.

  • Details are individual features, facts or items that connect evaluators to your proposal world, team and solution.

  • Context is the setting for the details that clarify your meaning, helping evaluators more fully understand and assess your proposal.

Think of it this way; your written proposal should establish a bridge for evaluators to follow from their current challenged reality to their future desired reality. Details in context ensure they understand your meaning while sparking their curiosity and compelling them to cross the bridge and imagine what the future will look like with your solution.

Proposal Writing Techniques

Proposal writing techniques help teams construct the bridge that promotes the acceptance of their understanding. It also drops self-identifying “breadcrumbs” along the way so evaluators don’t get confused or lost. By capturing the details pre-RFP, your team will secure what they need to deploy these proven proposal writing techniques.

  • Win Themes. One or two central messages the prospect really cares about. Subtly echoes the main point of your win strategy throughout your proposal. Reminds evaluators of your value proposition each step of the way across the bridge. The more specific the details and the more contexts you can add to each detail, the more compelling your win themes.

  • Proposal Themes. Section-specific feature/benefit or benefit/proof statements explicitly stated in the content. They set the stage for what the evaluator will encounter on this leg of the bridge. Proposal themes provide clear and convincing answers to questions raised in the evaluator’s mind as they read (and score) so they keep moving forward.

  • Proposal Story. Description of the hero (your prospect), the challenges they face and the decisions they must make. The story helps sparks evaluator curiosity and emotion.

  • Proposal Narrative (The Hero’s Journey).* The unfolding of the hero’s story. Provides context to the story, or hero’s journey, to engage evaluators and point them in the direction of your conclusion, your solution.

Compliance may keep your business in the evaluation game. But it’s these techniques that provide the framework, details and context that engages evaluators, keeps them reading and persuades them over to your solution.

Your Prospect (Hero)

Quality proposals focus on the prospect’s challenges and goals, not you and your solution. But when it comes to writing to win strategy, knowing who the prospect is and what they want is only half of the proposal writing challenge. Capturing these details pre-RFP prepares your team to write a proposal story evaluators see themselves in.

  • (Win Themes) Who are the top three evaluators? Decision makers? What are each of their top three challenges, concerns and goals?

  • (Proposal Themes) What does each care about in each proposal section?

  • (Proposal Story: Setup) By section, what is their reality or what does the business look like to them right now?

  • (Proposal Story: Conflict) By section, what challenges are they each experiencing in the current reality?

  • (Proposal Narrative) By section, what are they experiencing in their current state because of these challenges?

You may not know the exact proposal section outline, but based on experience executive summary, solution and technical overview and past performance are a sure bet. Use your experience to outline the anticipated sections and how each will connect the dots between the prospects challenge and your solution.

Your Solution

Without prospect details, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making your proposal all about you. But when you write about your solution as a deliverable, you miss the mark. Prospects don’t buy deliverables, they buy results. Capturing these details pre-RFP prepares your team to write a proposal from the evaluator’s point of view so they understand, absorb and value your solution.

  • (Win Themes) In what context does each of the top three evaluators and decision makers experience their top three challenges, concerns and goals?

  • (Proposal Themes) What specific details of your solution do they care about in each section? What will help clearly communicate an understanding of your solution?

  • (Proposal Story: Resolution) By section, what is the new reality that change will create or how great your solution will make their business?

  • (Proposal Narrative) What anecdotes and visuals can you use to bring your solution to life from their point of view?

Knowing what the prospects current state and desired state looks and feels like is a crucial part of your solution win strategy. When you use details and contextual anecdotes to write about your solution from the prospects perspective you spark their imagination; “What will the future be like with this solution in our business and in our lives?”

Your Benefits

You might interest evaluators with cool solution features and functionality. But when it comes to persuading them to select your solution it’s all about the value of the results. And a big part of communicating that value lies in the benefits. Capturing these details pre-RFP prepares your team to write a proposal evaluators can see themselves deploying to achieve their goals.

  • (Win Themes) What benefits will each of the top three evaluators and decision makers receive/experience when it comes to each of their top three concerns?

  • (Proposal Themes) By section, what specific benefits do each really care about?

  • (Proposal Story) By section, in what context will they care about the benefits?

  • (Proposal Narrative) By section, what benefit anecdotes can you use to bring authenticity to your story?

Don’t be mistaken; there is nothing wrong with sharing the features and functionality of your solution. They help evaluators understand and follow your logic. However, by sharing those details from the prospects point of view you figuratively put yourself their shoes, or, on their side of the decision process.

Your Evidence

Evaluators are reading your proposal to help them make a decision. Strong evidence impacts the evaluator’s point of view, influencing their line of thinking and serving as a catalyst for the decision. Evidence also supports your solution claims, persuading evaluators to accept your reasoning and the validity or your value proposition and perspective. Capturing these details pre-RFP prepares your team to write a proposal evaluators can, and want to, defend, to decision makers

  • (Win Themes) What evidence proves each of the top three evaluator and decision maker’s top three benefits?

  • (Proposal Themes) By section, what evidence frames in the section, reminding them or your benefits?

  • (Proposal Story) By section, what evidence supports your solution as the answer to achieving their desired reality?

  • (Proposal Narrative) What evidence connects the dots for them between their challenge and your solution? What creates a sense of urgency?

Sharing those details from the prospects point of view, especially when it comes to benefits, will position you and your team as a known asset, not an unknown risk.

Your Competition

Shipley defines ghosting as “a proposal tactic where you highlight a competitor’s weakness or downplay their strengths without naming them.” When the competition is fierce, you need to know what your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Capturing these details pre-RFP prepares your team to write a proposal that illustrates why your solution is the best choice, while refuting any ghosting on behalf of the competition.

  • (Win Themes) Based on the top three goals, what makes your benefits stand-out against the competition? Where will the competition attempt to “ghost” you, or hint at why you aren’t the right choice?

  • (Proposal Themes) What will the competition say or try to counter with?

  • (Proposal Story) What story will the competition tell? How can you counter that with a more informed context?

  • (Proposal Narrative) What demonstrates why your proposal’s opinion is correct and why the competitor’s proposal opinion is incorrect to lend your narrative logic?

Competitor details help enforce your benefits, alleviate evaluator doubts, and further persuade prospects to work with you. They also subtly force evaluators to consider the downsides of working with your competition. Remember, naming names is bad form. Let evaluator’s connect the dots.

By capturing details in context now, before the RFP drops, you prepare your team for success. When the RFP drops, they will have all of the details they need to quickly craft the themes, story and narrative that engage evaluators. They will stay on track writing to your win strategy and they will deliver a proposal that better persuades evaluators and their desire to defend your proposal to decision makers.

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*Note: The hero’s journey is a story structure identified by the American writer and scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell. Today it is a popular template for all types of stories, from ripping adventure movies to compelling business proposals.

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