The conventional wisdom is that “when everything else is equal” effective proposal writing can make a difference between winning and losing. I’ve come to realize that proposal writing, at least for certain types of bids, can be much more important. Effective proposal writing can be a competitive advantage.
The type of bid where proposal writing is itself a differentiator is when the RFP makes everyone bid the same thing. When they tell you what labor categories to bid and how many hours, or specify things so narrowly as to turn them into commodities, that’s when proposal writing counts the most.
When the RFP makes everyone's propose the same thing there, are only a few things that can differentiate your proposal:
- Your qualifications and experience
- Your price
- How you will provide it
- How you position yourself against the competition and in the eyes of the customer
Your ability to describe how you will provide what the customer has asked for and to position yourself will be a big part of what discriminates you.
But there is one thing missing from the list above. It’s something that seems obvious and seems like it should be the same when everyone is bidding the same thing. That thing is the results you deliver. In any proposal, the thing that matters most to the customer is the results of selecting you.
It would seem like if everyone is bidding the same thing that the results should be the same. And maybe they are. But if you write your proposal to make it about the results instead of how you will do what you were told in the RFP and explain why those results matter, then your proposal will sound much more impressive.
If Proposal A says that “You should select us because we will provide a fully compliant whatever it is you asked for” and Proposal B says that “As a result of selecting us you will get a reduced backlog and faster response for your constituents” and then includes whatever it was they asked for, Proposal B sounds like a better pick and will likely score higher.
This is true even though:
- The customer issued the RFP to buy something to speed things up and expects that from everybody;
- Both companies are offering the same thing because the RFP tells them to; and
- The benefit described in Proposal B would also be delivered by the company submitting Proposal A.
The difference is the effectiveness of their proposal writing. Proposal B is written from the customer’s perspective, and Proposal A is not. That one difference is enough to change their score and depending on the evaluation criteria a higher score could even enable them to win with a higher price. Even though they are proposing the same thing.
Now, in addition to writing from the customer’s perspective and focusing on results, talk about how you are going to deliver what they asked for. Can you deliver it in an improved or value added way? For example, can you deliver it:
- With better quality
- Easier or more conveniently
If you can deliver it in a better way, you provide additional justification for a best value selection. If you can’t deliver it in a better way, then at least state that you will deliver it in a way that ensures the results. If instead of saying “We will deliver and install according the requirements of the Statement of Work,” you say “Our approach to delivery and installation will ensure the improvements in speed you are looking for and result in a reduced backlog.” Again, the second version sounds like they’re getting a better delivery, even though the reality is that it’s the exact same thing.
So what about an RFP where everyone is not bidding the same thing? What if each company is proposing a unique solution to a problem? What if Company A has the best solution and they describe it; but Company B has a solution that’s good, but not the best, only they make the proposal about the results their solution will bring? Company B’s proposal will appear to have a better offering because it delivers better results. Only the most technical and attentive evaluators will recognize the merits of Company A’s proposal. There is a really good chance that Company B will win.
The ability to write proposals from the customer’s perspective and tell a story that’s about results instead of being descriptive are not merely best practices that can improve your chances in some modest way “when all else is equal.” Instead, it’s a competitive advantage that can tip the balance in your favor, even if it was leaning in the other direction. Instead of treating the quality of your proposal writing as an afterthought to be addressed at the end of the process (which never happens because you always run out of time), you should invest in structuring your proposal writing around it from the beginning. If you don’t, then the company that does is the one that the customer will select instead of you.