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How to Fake Your Proposal Writing

When you haven’t done your homework and don’t have the knowledge you need to write a good proposal, sometimes you just have to fake it. Obviously it would be better to do your homework and have the information you need to write a great proposal, and if you want to win that's what you should do. But sometimes it's just about surviving your proposal ordeal and making your deadline. Here are some strategies to help.

How to fake competitive analysis

What do you do when the RFP is released and you don’t know who the competition is? Sometimes you can find out if they release a “Bidders List” of people who received the RFP. If they don’t offer one, ask for it (sometimes they wait for someone to ask before issuing one). If that fails and you have no idea who might be bidding against you, one thing you can do is bid against the usual suspects. You know the companies that you normally compete with, so just assume they’re bidding. You don’t have to name names in your proposal. But you can ghost against types of companies or approaches. You can structure your themes based on whether you assume that you’ll be above, below, or in the middle of the average for pricing and capabilities. You can stress the advantages of your approach over the approaches taken by “others.” If you are really in the dark about the competition, you can create categorizations that all companies fit into and then explain why your approach is superior to each of those categories.

How to fake themes

A theme in a proposal is a statement of how you will benefit the customer or the reason why the customer should select you. They typically run throughout the various sections of the proposal and combine to provide a persuasive message or story. They should be carefully selected to correspond to any evaluation criteria provided in the RFP. You often have to rely on people who understand the client or the solution to identify themes for the proposal. Unfortunately, most people aren’t very good at writing theme statements. And if you are resorting to doing the proposal The Wrong Way™, you probably don’t have much time to perfect theme statements. Here are a couple things you can do to quickly and easily enhance your proposal:

Features and Benefits Tables – A two-column table that lists the features of your approach and corresponding benefits to the customer. Provide your subject matter experts with a blank table to fill in.

FeaturesBenefits to the Customer
Redundant hardwareImproved reliability, less downtime, immediate problem response
Off-the-shelf componentsLower development and integration costs, faster implementation, demonstrated reliability, vendor support

Requirements Response Table — If you provide authors with a blank Features and Benefits table, you’ll probably get features filled in and Benefits left blank. People who have trouble writing theme statements tend to have trouble articulating how the customer will benefit from a feature. Here is another format you can try:

RFP RequirementFeatures and Benefits of Our Approach
Redundant hardwareOur approach provides for a fully redundant standby server that can be activated simply by turning it on. This will ensure reliability, less downtime, and immediate problem response.
Off-the-shelf componentsAll of the hardware in our approach consists of off-the-shelf components. This ensures lower development and integration costs, faster implementation, and demonstrated reliability.

With this format, if they don’t fully complete the benefits response, you’ll still be in good shape. If you have to, you can even delete the word “Benefits” from the heading.

Themes vs. Differentiators

A differentiator is a type of theme that shows how your offering is different from your competitors. It is a reason to select you instead of them, and is sometimes called a unique selling point.

Understanding the difference between them is important to winning. However, when doing a proposal The Wrong Way™, you may be lucky if you have any themes, let alone any differentiators.

If you don’t know who the competition is and can’t differentiate yourself from them, talk about the benefits of having what the customer is requesting instead of the benefits of what you will provide over the others. If you can’t sound unique, at least you can sound beneficial.

How to fake client awareness

To consistently win proposals, you must have more client awareness than is found in the RFP. To win a proposal, you should:

  • Solve the customer’s problems, especially the ones that aren’t in the RFP and your competition doesn’t know about.
  • Provide features they want but aren’t in the RFP.
  • Align with their long-term, big picture goals.
  • Fulfill the evaluator’s individual and personal agendas.

To accomplish these things, you need to know your customer. If you are doing a proposal The Wrong Way™, the odds are that you don’t have this kind of insight, but are bidding anyway.

If you have the time, look up any kind of strategic goals, mission statements, or other documents related to the customer on the web. Find out if any problems about them have been reported or if they have been criticized in the press. Then talk about them in your proposal as if you understand. Don’t repeat the criticism or be too specific – your customer may not agree with the statements. But do show that your proposal will solve issues like the ones you found out about and let the customer draw their own conclusions.

If you don’t have any insight or time for research, then talk about building a flexible, robust foundation. Talk about establishing a capability that will not tie their hands and will enable them to rapidly respond as the future unfolds. Emphasize your willingness to work with them as a partner. Talk about how you have experience working with similar customers, in similar environments, on similar projects (even if you don’t name any) and that, therefore, you understand. Likewise, talk about how you will be able to anticipate problems and mitigate risks (even if you don’t provide any examples). If none of that helps, then talk about bringing fresh insights and new ideas.

How to fake risk mitigation

Many RFPs ask you to describe how you will mitigate risks during performance. A proper risk mitigation strategy would involve an analysis of the work being done. It might include a table like the following:

How we will mitigate the risks of:Summary of Our ApproachBenefits of Our Approach
Schedule slippage  
Not meeting the specifications  
Not performing within budget  
Insufficient staffing  
Safety issues  

But since you are doing a proposal The Wrong Way, you don’t have time for that. Instead, create an exhibit similar to this one:

Our risk mitigation efforts will specifically address:

  • Schedule slippage
  • Not meeting the specifications
  • Not performing within budget
  • Insufficient staffing
  • Safety issues

You can also summarize your approach as addressing risk planning, assessment, handling, and monitoring.

By citing the use of items like metrics and performance measurements, without actually identifying them, you can sound like you understand risk mitigation without knowing anything about how to apply it to the project.

Turning problems into assets

Are you at a complete loss as to how to differentiate yourself from the competition? Is there nothing unique or special about your solution? When in doubt, take your biggest problem in the proposal and make it your biggest strength. Are you having trouble meeting a requirement? Make that requirement the reason why the customer should select you. Does this approach sound counter-intuitive? It does several things for you. If you are having trouble with the requirement, the odds are good that others are too. You project confidence instead of weakness in a difficult area. Also, it forces you to overcome the difficulty. If you can’t be strong, at least it can prevent you from being weak.


By Carl Dickson, Founder of CapturePlanning.com



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