If you want to write better proposals, one of the most important skills to develop is asking the right questions. When you go into your next meeting with the customer, you should anticipate what you’ll need to know to write a winning proposal, and ask questions that will get the information you need. When you start your next proposal, try asking yourself what questions the customer needs answered to make their selection.
To develop your skills, try looking at the entire process and every aspect of what you need to do to win in terms of the questions you should ask. The process of identifying customers, understanding their requirements, and responding with a proposal is basically a flow of information, all of which can be articulated as questions.
To help get you started, here are a number of questions, grouped into topics. It's not intended to be an all-encompassing list, but rather a different way of looking at things that can inspire you to formulate the questions you will need to be successful:
- Understanding the customer. What do you need to know about the customer to prepare a better proposal? Their priorities? Preferences? How they will make trade-off decisions? How they will perform the evaluation and make their selection? Relevant experiences they’ve had in the past, both good and bad? What they think is necessary for success? What kind of results they are looking for?
- Making estimates and pricing your offering. Pricing is often the last thing to be completed on a proposal. And yet that’s when people realize a lot of questions about what should be included/excluded, assumed, limited, etc. Knowing what questions to ask in order to make better estimates can result in better pricing, as well as a better narrative response.
- Understanding the competitive environment. Can you identify your competitors? Are they few or many? If you can’t identify your competitors by name, can you profile them or categorize them? What are their strengths, weaknesses, and other attributes? Are any of them potential teaming partners?
- Developing win strategies. What is it going to take to win? What does the customer need to know or do to select you? Why should they pick you instead of someone else? What motivates the customer?
- Writing a proposal section. What questions will the customer have about this topic? About you? About your offering? What process will the customer go through in performing their evaluation? How can you help them make a selection? How does the topic you are writing about relate to the win strategies and themes needed to win the proposal? How can you maximize your evaluation score? How will the customer benefit from what you are proposing? If you were the customer, what would you want to see in the proposal?
- Exceeding RFP compliance. Who, what, where, how, when, and why. Answer all of them, especially the ones they forgot to ask.
- Winning before the RFP is released. What will it take to achieve a competitive advantage? What questions do you need to ask to achieve an information advantage?
- Understanding the proposal process. Who are the stakeholders? What functional roles need to be covered? What are the information needs of each stakeholder? What information should you seek? What format should you store it in so it can build and retain usefulness for the next stakeholder? What guidance do participants need? What do you need to do to win?
- Reviewing the proposal. Does the narrative draft reflect what was in the content plan? Is it written from the customer’s point of view? Is there anything that should be added or deleted? Is it optimized against the evaluation criteria?
The next time you are working on a proposal and you don’t know what to do, try thinking of questions — your questions, the customer’s questions, and the questions of any other stakeholders. Your likelihood of winning will be in direct proportion to your ability to anticipate and answer those questions.