Proposal Writing: Lessons Learned

July 24, 2015

proposal v2

I just completed a proposal writing engagement for a global gaming company in the Silicon Valley.  This wild and wooly six-week gig facilitating a team of 11 professionals including engineers, marketing and sales, and the C-suite, inspired me to reflect on the art of persuasive writing and the magic of collaboration.  Here are some lessons learned from my experience.

Assign one proposal manager and then empower that person

A full-length proposal in response to an RFP holds myriad moving parts including production schedule, pricing, formatting, tables and graphs, table of contents, and an executive summary.  As the coordinator, I was tasked with keeping all parts of the proposal moving toward completion.  By assigning one point of contact the team members were clear on whom to funnel all their content.  If the proposal manager is not empowered, ambiguous roles may create confusion in version control which could lead to lost work and inefficient timeline management.

Understand the link between the proposal and sales manager

A solid business relationship between the proposal and sales manager cannot be mitigated.  When both these roles are in step, a stronger proposal is a sure thing.  I learned that if both operating styles are compatible, there’s a greater chance of success.

Identify the client’s pain points

The most effective proposals are those that the sales lead has developed a relationship with the client.  Sales should understand the client’s pain points, and the proposal manager must articulate a customized solution to address these issues.  To ensure a smooth communication download from sales to the written word, I developed a series of interview questions posed to the sales lead of our proposal based on a problem/solution/results format.

  • What part of the client’s company is affected by this problem?
  • What is the single most important part of this proposal that will make the client choose us?
  • What does success look like for our client?

Ensure a clear review process is in place

Identify all the team members who will review the proposal and how much influence they have on the final product.  I recommend three levels:

  1. Editorial review: technical aspects such as grammar, formatting, spelling, consistency, punctuation
  2. Client POV: Is the proposal approach solving the pain point? Is the language clear? Is there enough technical detail?
  3. C-Suite Review: Allow plenty of time for this final review by the CEO, CFO, or COO. Chances are once the C-Suite reviews the proposal there will be changes that must be addressed, so also build time in the schedule to integrate changes for one final pass-through after this review.

Conduct a post-mortem on the entire proposal process

After all the hard work, hundreds of hours, and countless versions of the proposal, it’s finally complete.  I believe the most useful part of the process is to identify what did and didn’t work for this proposal.  Less than 25 percent of proposals actually get the project, sometimes less, and for us, it may take months before we find out if we’re the winners.  Why not gather the team together for a 30-minute forensic evaluation of the proposal writing process?  It benefits everyone, making the next go-around even better.  This internal process builds the team and, even though it might be painful, and certainly enough finger-pointing to go around, it does make everyone stronger.  In the end, it’s about learning and improving communication skills, and making your business competitive.

About Ingrid Hart                                                                                                   

I’m an award-winning business writer, project manager, and social media strategist specializing in communications.  Throughout my career I’ve written funded proposals in excess of $1 million dollars. I’ve been a content writer and manager of over 15 websites, multiple social media channels and accounts, print collateral, press releases, blogs, emails, newsletters, white papers, FAQs, speeches, news stories, talking points, and public opinion pieces.  I’m the author of an award-winning book on California.  In the evening you can find me biking around Shoreline Lake in Mountain View.

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