A good technique is to envision having the contract and the actions you will be following in executing the contract. Ask yourself how these actions are meeting the customer's objectives, as stated in the RFP. This will allow you to identify what you need to do to perform the service successfully. It will also allow you to know what to say in your bid to win the contract.
VALIDATE YOUR MESSAGE
This process involves "deciphering" your own messages. For example, if you say you offer healthy products, what exactly does this mean? You must validate this message. You accomplish this by stating the nutritional contents of the products you provide, along with an explanation of why those nutritional contents constitute "healthy" offerings.
We call this validating your strategy. In doing this, you validate that what you are saying in writing is going to meet the customer's objectives. It involves a higher level of detail than what you provide in a typical sales proposal.
Practice, preparation, research and execution are key components to winning.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
There are a few things you should absolutely never do, unless you want to guarantee failure. They are as follows:
- Never violate acquisition protocol - understand the customer's rules of engagement from the start.
- Never assume that you know what the customer "really" wants if you think something should be provided that they haven't asked for.
- Never be arrogant or condescending to the customer (yes, this happens more than you might think).
It is absolutely critical that you study the customer's goals and objectives. The best way to position your company for success is to show the customer how you can help effectively meet their objectives or, even better, demonstrate how you have helped others do the same. If possible, provide references for similar customers.
Customize your approach and marketing efforts to the customer. A big mistake many make is simply repurposing materials targeted at other customers or supplying marketing materials used for all customers that often contain general (and mostly unsubstantiated) claims. Make sure any and all documentation is customized to the agency's specific needs.
A successful bid is usually a team effort. Once your strategy is defined, make sure everyone on your bid team reviews it. The team review is important for two reasons: 1) It improves the chance that the strategy meets the customer's objectives, and 2) It ensures that everyone who will be involved in providing the service will know what is expected of them once the contract is approved.
PROPOSAL DEVELOPMENT AND SUBMISSION
After completing all of the work above, you're ready to move on to the proposal phase. The ultimate goal in drafting the proposal should be making it easy to evaluate. Some guidelines that help with this process are as follows:
- Respond to the RFP on time - late proposals never win
- Follow the RFP outline - ensure all questions are answered and easy to find
- Satisfy all readers and scorers - write for all levels
For some reason, many proposals are full of verbose, unnecessary and extraneous language. Don't make it hard on the readers; they shouldn't have to spend time figuring out what you mean. Furthermore, longer doesn't always mean better. Use simple and direct language, but remember - the evaluators are as smart as you are. Never talk down to the reader; simple writing and talking down are not the same.
Respect the evaluator's time. A one-page answer to a question is much better than 20 pages that don't provide a clear answer. If possible, use pictures and graphs to illustrate your point. This helps draw people in and is an extremely powerful and effective way to provide clarification without words.
- Substantiate all claims - if you can't prove it, don't include it
- Be consistent within the document
- Project a professional image
- Offer the customer what he wants, not what you think he needs. Proposals that tell customers they asked for the wrong things and that you know more than they do never win.
- Make the facts the foundation of your response. Remember, a proposal is not a report. It is easy for companies new to the process to get confused between the two. Understanding the difference will help avoid that mistake. The Report versus proposals table illustrates the key differences.