Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anatomy of a profile and information

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

When you write a business proposal, just as when you select a project team, you need to select relevant projects in relevant sectors and demonstrate the relevance and benefits of this project to your proposal. If your proposal states that you can do something, back it up with demonstrable experience of having done it before - show what you did for the client – the resulting benefits that your solution provided, not just what you did and when.

A good track record and relevant experience shows that you are a safe pair of hands that can deliver. If you have had a good relationship with a client – ask them for a citation to include. A recommendation from a previous client is more powerful than your case study on its own.
Have you worked with the client before? Don’t take it for granted that the evaluators will know and take it into consideration – spell it out, demonstrate your knowledge and experience of the client. If you don’t - you aren't maximising the opportunity

Company overview

Never put your canned company history at the front of your proposal. The buyer is not interested in firstly reading about what you used to be called fifteen years ago, or when you were founded! They want to know about what you are going to do for them. Company history is useful to demonstrate your credibility and stability, but leave it until you have presented the solution.

Use this section to include the things everyone should know about you. Don’t make the assumption that the client knows who you are, even if your product is owned by everyone in the world! Put that information in your proposal – if you don’t, it can’t be evaluated. 

The same applies to all the following ‘boilerplate’ proposal sections – project management and quality assurance – they’re important, but remember that the buyer is going to expect good project management and high quality – it isn’t something that is going to differentiate you from the competition – that must come in your solution.

If you can keep your company overview on no more than one page and keep it up to date – include recent company developments and innovations – the more recent the information the better.

Lastly, again try and tailor the information to make it as relevant to the client as possible – emphasise your history of working within their sector, industry and, if you have, with the client themselves.

Project management

You’ve explained what you can do for the client and how you will do it. Now it’s time to explain how you will monitor, manage and communicate the progress throughout the project.

Each potential supplier should have a strong project management methodology – and so must you. You may have project managers working for you with project management qualifications, such as PRINCE 2 – if so use this internal expertise to put together an easy to understand, comprehensive methodology on how you work.

As your competitors will have strong methodologies, you should concentrate on explaining your process and then following up to explain why your processes are the most efficient and suitable for this project – what are they going to add relating to cost, time and quality.

Use diagrams where you can – process information is usually dry and often boring. Graphics are a great way to present processes and liven up potentially uninteresting information. Make the effort to get quality graphics produced – you are trying to demonstrate your quality, so don’t put rubbish diagrams using Word’s drawing tools in your proposal. Prepare your graphics early and make use of professional graphic designers. We'll have more on graphics in our article on using graphics and images

Quality assurance

A certain level of quality is going to be expected in any supplier. Indeed, a commitment to a minimum level of quality assurance is a mandatory requirement in most RFPs.

You may have specific quality accreditations such as ISO:2001 which you should document here (scan your ISO certificate and insert it as a graphic). If you haven’t got a quality accreditation you need to explain the quality and testing processes that you employ to give assurances to the buyer:
  • What are your processes for finding and reducing defects?
  • How do you deal with customer complaints?
  • Do you have a continuous improvement process?
  • How do you comply with regulations?
  • How do you ensure reliability?
  • How do you document your processes?
  • Do you have a Quality Manager? What are their qualifications, credentials and role in this project?
One thing that must come across in your quality process description is that quality is embedded in what you do – don’t let quality be an afterthought. Give the client the confidence that throughout the project they are dealing with a safe pair of hands that will deliver a product or service that will not let them down.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Anatomy of a proposal...the project team

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

It's a good idea to really sell your people when writing your business proposal - it can often be a clincher when there are similar bids that the client goes for the project team they prefer, so check exactly what they want - experience, enthusiasm etc., and really sell this in your proposal.

Include an organisation chart showing the reporting structures and hierarchy in your project team. If you don’t have internal capabilities to get graphic’s created professionally then outsource using a local company or a website such as It won’t cost a lot and it will give you reusable assets that make your proposal look fantastic. We'll look at graphics in your proposal in another article

Your team structure should show that you have adequate and appropriate resources in place to deliver the project.

Here's an example proposal graphic - you may want to use something similar and even show the project teams or individuals lower in the hierarchy:

So how to write a proposal selling the experience and skills of the project team? We have a bog standard resume we can dump in haven't we?

Think about your proposal philosophy though and that you always want to demonstrate the client benefit.

Do this by explaining why you have chosen this team to work on this particular project. Describe what their role in this project will be and follow this up by explaining what benefits they will bring to the project by giving examples or even testimonials from other clients on how they have succeeding in similar roles in other projects. You may even want to highlight one or two individuals that offer unique skills to your project in the executive summary.

Your people don’t work anywhere else. They are a huge differentiator. Demonstrate how your people make you look uniquely capable of delivering the contract.

There’s no need to include details for everyone who will work on the project – but you should include everyone who has a decision making or client facing role- and always check to ensure that you are providing the relevant information that's been asked from in the tender or RFP.

Heres a sample proposal resume:

Additionally, I would recommend having around five different projects that you could choose from, but only pick the two or three most relevant to the team members role in this project.

Remember when writing business proposals to try and show the impact that each team member had on the project and the benefit this brought to the client. to present your company profile.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Anatomy of a proposal...Costs and budgets

It’s important to clearly display your project costings to allow the buyer to make a clear analysis of what is included, what it's going to cost and that the financial benefits are. This is a detailed breakdown of the costs - you should include high-level financials in the Executive Summary, including a mention of the return on investment or financial benefits.

Break down your pricing down where you can. This gives the appearance of value to the buyer – there are more items in your list (making it look like they are getting more) and because your items are broken down the cost of these items are smaller.

Additionally, breaking down pricing allows you to again demonstrate the value in your solution by including discrete value added components. These may be listed as options, allowing buyers a “pick and mix” approach to selecting the extras that you are able to provide.

Use the smallest sensible unit for your item costs e.g. 1 month’s support @ £500 rather than 1 year’s support @ £6,000. Dependant on what it is your are selling, the unit may vary. If you sell widgets, you will be putting in a price per unit, quantities and discounts etc. whereas a professional services organisation may charge per project element. Consultancy work may just require a daily, or even hourly rate listed.

Return on investment

If you know the client's business model well enough, then include financial modelling to show the specific financial value that your solution brings. Read more in our article Give the client a return on investment.

Invoicing schedule

Your buyer wants to be able to plan costs for the duration of the project and you want to plan when you need to have money coming in to finance the project.

Think about which parts of the project require most effort and make sure these have an appropriate value associated with them. Don’t be scared of front-loading the project values or requiring a project initiation payment – you may need money up front to finance some later project activities.

If the client isn’t happy with your breakdown this will usually be negotiated at the contract stage, especially if the client needs the project outlay to timed with income.

Budget assumptions

Budget assumptions are there to remove ambiguity. For example, do your costs include taxes? Travel and expenses? How long are you prepared to keep your offer open for? Basically anything that the client is going to pay for that isn't listed in your principal table of costs.

Estimated expenses

Even if your costs include expenses provide a breakdown of what those expenses are. This demonstrates your transparency in all your activities on behalf of the client and ensures no surprises to be argued about at a later date.


Always start calculating your project costs early...don't wait until the end of your proposal and you only have a day left to figure out what you are going to charge. Estimating and presenting your costs is an integral part of every partof the proposal development so make sure that any changes are reviewed and signed off by management and/or your financial department at every stage.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anatomy of a proposal...project plans and schedules

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

A schedule is an important part of your business proposal, giving the client organisation a visual guide to duration of not just the entire project, but specific tasks within the project.

When you write a proposal use a high-level schedule, unless a detailed schedule is specifically requested, ensuring you include the main project activities and all project milestones and deliverables.

What’s the difference in these items? The Learn to Write Proposals glossary defines each of them as:
  • Activity - Task or work required to complete part of a project
  • Milestone - In Project Management a point at which specific work packages or deliverables have been completed and accepted. Milestones are purely an administrative point of reference and should have no cost or time associated with them
  • Deliverable - A tangible and measurable output of a project activity

Often a table is all that is required to demonstrate a timeline of events and the relationship and relative importance of the project activities. However, on more complex projects (or where it's requested by the client where a tool such as MS Project is used to schedule projects I recommend
using a Gantt chart saved as a .gif file. We'll show how to do this in
another article.

If the schedule is too long for the page width then consider using a fold-out or use section breaks and page setup to change the schedule page to landscape orientation.

Key dates

It’s also useful for to extract key dates from your schedule and insert them in a separate table – it’s just another way of putting clarity in your document, making it easier for the buyer to evaluate it – it also helps you obtain the dates for your invoicing schedule. Indeed in smaller projects where there aren't large numbers of deliverables or project activities, a simple table of key dates may be all that is required.

You can show dates of deliverables or start date/end date of key activity - it may be that a product based proposal has key deliverable dates but a service based proposal has start date/end date. You may want to include these in your Executive Summary.

Some quick tips on creating a project schedule
  • Involve the person who will be responsible for creating the full project plan and delivering the project - they should be involved with your proposal production.
  • If there is a set deadline work backwards, but be wary of forcing an unrealistic amount or project work into too short a timeframe - it's better to be realistic with your client and set realistic goals that can be met without impacting on quality.
  • Make sure you know your projects dependencies - that is what activities need to be finished before another can start.
Next...We'll have a tip on creating images from Gantt charts...then onto costs

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book review - Timothy Koegel: The Exceptional Presenter

At Learn to Write Proposals we like books that not only present high-quality, in-depth content but which are easily digestible and I don't think that we're alone with this. After all, how many busy business people really read every word of a business-related book? Not many, most of the time, we look through the books to try and find that snippet of information that we need quickly and find practical enough to be able to use it immediately. 

We also like books that don't just say "this is the way it should be done" but actually give you the techniques and strategies to get there.

This is what I like about "Triggers " (Joe Sugarman) and it's what I like about "The Exceptional Presenter" by Timothy Koegel. Koegel is a presentation and media consultant from Washington and he states that his mission with The Exceptional Presenter is to "take the mystery and the misery out of presenting".

OK - this is not a book on how to write a business proposal, but presenting is such an important part of the proposal and business development process. It's more thatn just writing a sales document. You probably do presentations before you even write a proposal when you visit clients...good presentations at thisstage of the process lead to better informed, beneficial customer relationships and these relationships will make your account management and capture planning. So let's not lose the importance of a good presentation.

It's often said that people find public speaking the scariest thing in their life - and there are many people who actively avoid it. Koegel wants to not only de-mystify the process that some find magical...he challenges you early on in the book to think of two exceptional presenters and think of what characteristics they had that made them exceptional. It's the start of the process of breaking down what exceptional presenters do, analysing the skills used learning a systematic approach to the skills. 

The book is part guide, part workbook - Koegel states an aim to help you develop a presentation style that is organised, passionate,engaging and natural - and the book's approach certainly helps you do that. Interestingly the longest chapter of the book is the chapter on being passionate, perhaps because Koegel's research amongst business professionals has found that the no.1 characteristic of exceptional presenters is passion. 

This section is fascinating and really encourages some self-reflection as Koegel dissects posture and body language before even getting round to the voice. He challenges you with different questions and exercises as well as offers tips and advice, such as about presenting behind podiums and using microphones. Some are simple lists...I'll throw in one list for you that anyone can benefit from straight away - "Five tips to appear relaxed,confident and professional": 

1. Stand tall - don't sway, rock, shuffle or lean
2. Keep your head and eyes up. Connect with your audience
3. Smile. A sincere smile warms up the coldest situations
4. Never retreat
5. Move with purpose, energy and enthusiasm 

The advice given is good and takes you through every aspect of a presentation, but what makes this book stand out is the way that it gets you doing it. The last section of the book is full of presentation sheets, designed to get you planning, practicing and reviewing your presentations and goals. Some of these forms can be downloaded from Koegels webpage ( 

There's a great quote too from Tom Peters that sums this book up. He says: 

"...there was one enormous point Koegel makes that is ever-so-obvious ... except that I've never seen it made with such impact and clarity. Are you breathless with anticipation? Well, you should be. Here goes:"Those who practice improve. Those who don't, don't." 

It's a good point, professional sports people and musicians practice to reach a standard, yet how often to business people practice important, even core skills? 

As someone who has regularly given sales presentations, speeches and seminars as part of my daily job I can safely say that "The Exceptional Presenter" hits all the points it needs to and I'm sure that anyone, new to presenting or experienced will benefit from the knowledge and practical advice it contains. 

Buy The Exceptional Presenter now from Amazon

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An example story from a real proposal

This was one of four scenarios presented not to Global Corp., but a large UK public sector body in a real business proposal.

John is an affiliated agent with Global Corp., based in London. As part of the getting to know about new procedures and initiatives, he is required to undertake a variety of training, delivered by a variety of means – face-to-face, on the job and through the new Global Corp. e-community portal.

Today, John needs to study some e-learning units in preparation for a classroom training session with Global Corp. Health and Safety investigators. These units cover the process for handling accident site evidence.

John has never done e-learning before and is apprehensive – he would rather get his hands dirty, and learn in the field. However, he has been asked to review the units before his meeting, so he logs on to the Global Corp. community portal, selects the “learning library” link and the “Handling accident site evidence” unit.

John likes that it tells him how long it will take to cover the unit, as well as the fact that he knows that it has been written by experts at Global Corp. He goes through the unit and finds that he enjoys the clearly presented information and finds it very easy to understand. He also likes that he can go through it at his own pace and whenever he likes.

At one point, John finds one part of the unit slightly ambiguous – as he has no-one around to ask he posts a question to his online mentor. The next day, he has a reply that clears up his problem.

At the following weeks training session, John realises how beneficial the e-learning unit was – all the attendees were up to speed on the different procedures and the practical training was much better as he could practice and improve rather than just learn the basics

As you can see, the walkthroughs aren't complicated, but help present a layman's viewpoint in your proposal that may very well be read and evaluated by people unfamiliar with the overly technical aspects of your proposal solution.

For more on how to write a business proposal see the Learn to Write Proposals proposal guide.

Next....schedules and project plans.

Visit for more RFP, tender and proposal resources.

Anatomy of a proposal...telling a story in your solution

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

Telling the story of your solution

You may have the best ideas and products in the world…but how do you put them into words? How to write a business proposal about them?

Easy…tell a story. I suggest that this is done in a three parts solution section in your business proposal.

1) Win Theme

Let the client know straight away why you are the best and most appropriate supplier. What is it that sets you apart? See here for our article on win themes

2) Description, benefits and evidence

State what you can do and how you are going to do it. Explain what your products and services can deliver and what difference they will make. Go into the detail of how it works remembering with each function or output you describe explain what that means for the client – how does it help them? How is your bid going to solve their business issues? Then, as in all good business development provide supporting evidence to back up your case. Testimonial and experience go a long way to proving you can deliver (as you've done it before) and also giving you credibility to the client.

Most importantly – make it clear what you are proposing. Don’t be vague, be specific and relevant.

3) The user experience

This is the storytelling part. Explaining how a typical user will use, or has benefited from, your product or service is incredibly powerful. Stories aren’t that often used, but can convey a message to evaluators that has impact and real meaning to them – particularly not-technical evaluators who may gloss over technical sections.

It allows you to insert in the minds of evaluators an image of success, ease-of-use and quality that a description of pure functionality doesn’t allow. This is the soft approach describing the benefits through the stories of user interaction.

Don’t make your stories too long – 150 to 350 words should do, but if you wish include two or three from different viewpoints; the end user, the manager, the technician, etc. User experiences can be used if you don’t have supporting evidence of your solution’s capabilities. Instead, provide a story of a user and how they needed something (problem) what they did with your product (describe a favourable scenario) then finally how easy it was to get the desired outcome (benefits). Although this isn’t real evidence it describes to evaluators how it will work in the real world – a very powerful device.

Another way to use stories is to provide real evidential anecdotes. These could be used as mini case studies to back up your solution. Use a narrative style to explain what the client’s issues were, how you won their work, what you did and how it benefited them.

Remember, when using scenarios and stories, alter the style of your writing to be more narrative and friendly. Use the third person and imagine that you are preparing text to be read out aloud.

Next...We'll have an example story for you...then onto schedules and project plans.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Anatomy of a proposal...presenting your solution

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

In the business proposal Executive Summary guidance we suggest the following flow:
  • What’s the requirement?
  • What’s the ideal solution?
  • How does your solution solve the buyer’s problems?
Then in our article on understanding the requirement we have covered in more detail the first two to help you know how to write a proposal – the requirement and the ideal solution. This is the real "sales document" part of your proposal where you set out how you will meet the requirement and solve client problems.

The way you structure this section and write your tender or bid (and it's sub-sections) depends on the kind of product or service you are providing and also the way that the RFP requires you to respond. However, whatever the specific content, the key to writing winning proposals is to ensure your solution focuses on how you solve the client’s business need.

The aim is to present a solution so compelling that the client believes that you are uniquely capable of delivering the contract. It’s not enough to say ‘we can do it’ - this is the time to say ‘we can do it’; ‘this is how’; and ‘this is what makes our solution different, and better, than the competition. This is the time to present and expand on your win themes developed in your Bid Capture Plan.

This is what we said about win themes in the Bid Capture Plan:

In your win themes always:
  • Pick your competitive advantages that are important to the client
  • Emphasise the value to the client
  • Back them up with evidence
  • Use them in your business proposal
Use win themes to present your differentiators within the context of your solution and back them up with evidence.

Table of compliance

In a lot of cases a table of compliance can be included. This useful when there are detailed and specific requirements listed in the RFP and it provides a visual reference to the buyer that they can refer to.

It is important that if you submit a table of compliance that you are compliant! You can be sure that your competitors will be. There are two reasons not to be compliant and submitting:
  • You have a superior alternative that doesn’t impact on the remainder of the requirement
  • The requirement is not mandatory and the rest of your solution demonstrates your superiority
However remember that non-compliance can often lead to an early exit from the procurement process.

If you are thinking of submitting a non-compliant bid, then first talk with the client and ask them if they will be happy to accept it.

Next...more on presenting your solution - telling a story in your business proposal.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Anatomy of a proposal...our understanding of your requirement

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

Why do we need to explain back to the client what the requirement is? Surely the customer knows all there is to know about their problem? Why do we need to tell them?

Well, yes they do know their problem and there will always be some background to the opportunity in the tender documentation. However, if you want them to think that you have a unique capability to deliver this project then you need to demonstrate you understand the problem, the client and their industry.

Remember the tip when answering questions in a presentation? Well the idea is to repeat a question back to the client - not only does it give you a little more time to think, but it verifies that you are answering the right question. OK - in a proposal it doesn't give you any more time and you aren't in the same direct dialogue with the client, but it does give you a chance to show them you understand their needs and can help you solidify your approach to the response.

Hopefully, you will have been in dialogue with the client prior to the RFP or tender and have discussed their business and context of the opportunity. If you haven’t, try and get a meeting with the client as soon as the RFP is issued and engage them in dialogue straight away. Your goal is to understand the deeper business needs and context as well as build a relationship.

There is always an immediate need – that which is described in the tender documentation. But remember that there is always a deeper background cause that has resulted in the immediate opportunity. You may have come across various sales training approaches – such as SPIN Selling or Professional Selling Skills (PSS). SPIN describes this as ‘implication’ – in PSS, it’s described as the ‘need behind the need’.

Once the real business need is known, it is easy to extrapolate the solution and your win themes – that your solution can not only meet the specification, but solve your customer’s business problems.

Tom Sant in his excellent book “Persuasive Business Proposals” (at Learn to Write Proposals we recommend this book so much that we will give a copy to every new lifetime member) uses a quotation from the Roman statesman Cicero:

“If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts feel my feelings and speak my words.”

This really sums up understanding a client’s requirement – it’s reflecting back to the client how they feel about this problem and its context to them.

Importantly, this statement also says use their language. Know who your customer is and know who is reading this proposal. Use their language - don’t be overly technical if it will be read by the Sales Director. Use the language and terminology that they use in the RFP.

Use some of your thoughts and ideas on the client and their requirements from your Bid Capture Plan document.

Scope of required work

This could be a section on its own or it could be included in the solution section of your proposal – remember that you need to structure your document in order to make it as appropriate for your client as you can.

This section is the “singing off the same hymn sheet” part. Following from the understanding of the requirement, you need to reflect specific work outputs that will be delivered in order to get the problem solved. It's not how you are going to deliver those work outputs - that comes later in the specification response. What it does do is ring-fence the expectation of what the client will receive.

The vital part is to match their requirement. If you truly understand the buyer and the context of the opportunity you will be able to match the input of effort required to the desired output. For instance, if the buyer needs a cost-saving solution with a specific budget, then a luxury all bells and whistles solution doesn’t reflect what they want. Even if it solves their problem(s) is it best value?

Be clear on what the client needs, what they are going to get and it gives you room to build your value proposition and manage expectations. The bells and whistles can always follow. to present your solution.

How to write an executive summary in your proposal or bid document

Getting the structure of an Executive Summary right is vital. Just like the structure of your proposal, it needs to make sense. It also needs to demonstrate your understanding of the client’s needs, a viable solution and your ability to deliver it with value. It needs to be digestible enough for someone to understand it in only a couple of pages or so. So keep it short and to the point.

Here is our Executive Summary structure:
  • The client's name. Make the opening words of your Executive Summary your client’s name. Like the entire proposal the Executive Summary should be about the client, not about you so don’t go on right at the beginning about your suitability for the job. Make sure their name appears more often than yours throughout - some guidelines make a recommendation of a 3:1 ratio.

  • Summary of the customer's goal and business need. Don’t just re-hash the information from the RFP. Use the knowledge that you have garnered from the Account Managers relationship with the client and other information from your existing sales process. Demonstrate your understanding of their business drivers for the procurement and the implications to the client if they do nothing.

  • The ideal situation. What would be the client's ideal situation if they solved their problem? What benefits do they expect? Don't waste too much space on this - but demonstrate your knowledge of their desired outcomes and goals, focusing on the top three things that are their priorities and drivers.

  • How your solution solves their problem. What will you deliver to alleviate their business problem and help them achieve their goals? Make sure you use this section to present win themes - elements that make the client think you are uniquely capable of delivering this contract – that directly correlate to the client’s top priorities and drivers. You need to include all the key parts of your proposed solution here.

  • Why you? Provide information on your organisational strengths, your unique offering and how these benefit the client. Use just one example if possible (there can be more in the actual proposal) and remember to make a statement, emphasise the benefit to the client and then back it up with evidence.

  • Summary of timescales, costs and return on investment. This is where you can emphasise the value of your solution. Don't just list numbers - give top level numbers and show that you can offer exceptional value in a realistic timeframe.

  • Call to action. If your proposal is the last stage in the sales process, ask for the business. If it's not, then state your desire to move forward to the next stage (e.g. proof of concept or fact finding consultancy)
To develop really great, killer executive summaries, then get the Learn to Write Proposals Killer Executive Summaries Toolkit here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Scribefire 3.2 not posting/publishing

OK - just to help fellow bloggers out who use scribefire too.

I'm not alon in it not posting or publishing to my Learn to Write Proposals blog, but don't fear. Just go back a step to a world when everything was alright:

The anatomy of a proposal...what to include in your business proposal

If only there was a holy grail answer to this question...

Let's look firstly at the anatomy of the business proposal and following on from our articles on the business development activities that go on before you write the proposal, in our next postings we are going to break part down and look at what to include, and how to write, for each section when you write a proposal.

Let's start by agreeing that each proposal is different. It's important to follow the structure of the Request for Proposal (RFP) or Invitation to Tender (if one has been issued) and if not, then you have to make judgement calls on what to include based on your particular circumstances.

For instance, a proposal for an IT system for a large corporate is going to have a very different scope, specification and pricing model than a proposal for catering services to a school district. It is at least going to have different content - content that needs to be written by the team preparing the proposal with knowledge of the client's needs and problems and solutions to those problems. That's why 'generic' proposals and sample proposal content should be looked on with a little suspicion - whilst it is possible to provide outline templates and guidance any sample content can't possibly have true relevance to the situation that you are needing to provide a proposal for.

What we can do is provide a structure in which you can create your proposal. A good proposal has core elements and tells a story. Here is a basic anatomy of a proposal:

•Executive Summary    
•Our understanding of your requirement
   • Scope of required work    
• Our proposed solution    
   • Table of compliance    
• Schedule    
   • Project plan    
   • Key dates    
• Costs    
   • Table of costs
   • Budget assumptions
   • Invoicing schedule    
   • Estimated expenses    
• Project team     
   • Project team structure
   • Project team profiles
• Our profile    
   • Company overview    
   • Previous experience
   • Project management
   • Quality assurance

I'm sure that there are some sections that some of you would add in, and others would in equal measure take some sections out - what is important is that you format your proposal so that your response is appropriate for the message to the client

The proposal starts with the information that you need the client to read - what it is they need and continues into how you resolve that need - this is where you are selling to the client. Of course being able to deliver on time and costs have something to do with it, but this comes after the hook - solving the problem is the hook. In a much more condensed way this is exactly what you have to do with your executive summary - but we'll be revisiting that shortly.

Our next articles for our how to write a proposal guide are going to go through each of these sections - I recommend downloading our free proposal template from our downloads are or for even better understanding and to create really great winning proposal, I'd recommend getting our First Time Proposal Writer's Toolkit which includes not only a proposal template but also some of our bid management and quality tools.

Next...a closer look at the executive summary.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Business proposal planning...managing your bid

This is the fourth in a short series of articles from Learn to Write Proposals examining how to write a proposal.

I've sometimes used a comparison of sales people and project managers and said that you wouldn't want your project managers going out selling and writing bids and you wouldn't want your sales people running your biggest projects. I know that's a huge generalisation and probably not fair to the many exceptions to the rule (I know some project managers who've become great sales people and certainly know how to write a proposal). However, writing sales documents is a different type of writing that many internally focused staff aren't familiar with.

But the point is that quite often, sales people aren't the best at planning and managing detail, especially when it relates to project plans and the like. There's a good reason for this - they are often out on the road, visiting clients, managing relationships and don't have time to micro-manage a complex development project...even if that project is a written proposal. Plus, dealing with the detail isn't what drives sales people.

With the advent of proposal centres and bid team support in many organisations the onus has been taken off a lot of sales people when it comes to planning the detail of a bid, managing those who need to contribute to it and actually writing the business proposal. Where bid teams exist they often take over the project and the account manager becomes a contributor to the combined effort.

But what about in smaller organisations where there is no bid team? How do they manage the production of sales documents? Ideally you need someone to manage the project (of writing the proposal) and that person should have commercial awareness to do it. Look at the job advertisements for bid team managers and you'll see some of the skills required.

So if you don't have a bid team behind you, or you are managing a bid for the first time, what do you need to do?

Firstly, check all the requirements of the RFP or tender documentation - know exactly what you have to submit and when. Just like any project planning think about the goals and work backwards, considering all the project dependencies. If it's a large bid with a lot of people working on it, then get some help off a project manager in putting a project plan together.

Learn to Write Proposals
has a whole bid management toolkit to support the bid preparation. Our bid planner includes key things that you need to include in your bid planning including the Proposal Development Schedule. This requires some basic planning, such as:
  • Key Event
  • Start date / Finish date
  • Who is responsible?
  • Deliverable Status
The Bid Management Plan should pull in the relevant strategic overview from the capture planning document for this opportunity and look closer at each section of the proposal and allow you to allocate ownership of the different proposal sections. It should look at other areas too - it is there as a practical tool to help you be successful, so develop it, keep it updated and circulate it with updates to everyone involved. Other things that you should consider are:
  • Detail of each specific requirement – summarise or copy the requirement from the RFP
  • Your response to requirement – How do you meet the requirement and add value in your solution. (Use strategy and win themes from the bid capture plan)
  • Documents – are there any other documents to read or to refer to?
  • Graphics – would our response benefit from graphics (the answer is yes, so make a list of the graphics you need and schedule time for them to be prepared)
  • Who? – Which individuals are responsible for drafting the relevant ssections for the proposal?
  • When? What date is the response required – update this if a draft has been completed and the individual is now working on the next version - it can be checked off when verified as finished
A common mistake is not allowing enough time at the end of the proposal for proper review. Anyone who has been involved in writing proposals has had the experience of the late night trying to get a proposal finished because it has to be handed in the next day. That might not be such a problem if your are making last minute changes to perfect the fourth draft, but if you are just trying to finish the first draft, the chances are you're in trouble.

As England's law of proposal writing states: "The chances of winning a proposal are directly in proportion to the number of hours between finishing it and the time it has to be submitted."

There are some very good reasons why you should give yourself time for the proposal to be reviewed properly - and we will look them in a later article on quality reviewing a proposal. For now, just ensure that you give yourself plenty of time for this in your proposal schedule - I recommend at least four days and schedule the people you will need to review it for that time.

Lastly, when thinking about proposal planning, bear in mind those times when you have multiple proposals to prepare. It makes life harder and it means getting more people involved. Sometimes it may even require a decision that you can't bid for some of the smaller, lower-probability opportunities. That's when opportunity qualification and making bid/no-bid decisions really comes to the fore of your business development strategy.

Next...what information do I need to include when I write a business proposal.

Visit for more RFP, tender and proposal resources.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Capture development and writing business proposals that win!

This is the third in a short series of blog entries from Learn to Write Proposals examining how to write a proposal.

Capture planning is term from the US that encompasses the strategy required to win a piece of work. It's more than the strategy of creating or writing business proposals, it's the technique of managing an opportunity from the very beginning to the very end of the business development lifecycle...and then over again. Why over again? Because capture planning is often used in reference to mining accounts for work. In fact in Europe a lot of sales people are more likely to be familiar with the terminology account planning - though proposal writers will often use capture planning.

Why do you need it? After all, you built a better mousetrap, so won't people come running to your door asking for it?

We all know that it's not quite that easy. In fact you may have been in the situation where you know about an opportunity within an organisation; maybe an RFP or tender has been issued. Yet when the documentation arrives, you feel frustrated because the specification seems as if it was written for your competitor's product. And maybe it was. They could be the incumbent or the preferred bidder (even if the client organisation would never admit that!) so whatever bid or sales document you submit, you may feel not overly confident about its success.

Alternatively, they may have had a longer term strategy and plan to capture work from that account. They may have seen the organisation as a suitable target for their product and service and built up a relationship over time in order to position themselves. Statistics show that organisations with an existing relationship with a client are far more likely to win the work (don't give up hope though, it's not always the case).

So how do you go about capture planning or account management? Well, start by making a plan for each target organisation. Then find the right people in that organisation that you need to talk to - try and get a range of levels from board level down to the people that might end up using your products and services and that you are more likely to have an every day contact with.

In the Learn to Write Proposals capture plan tool we have a suggestion and question based approach to generating the account capture plan. These questions cover some basic items that you need to know about the client and the opportunities you are working on. They focus on:
  • Client assessment and background
  • External drivers for this opportunity
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the potential opposition
  • Your high level solution
  • Strategic value of your solution to the client
  • How does our solution differentiate itself from the competition?
  • What are our win themes?
Additionally we recommend a separate account contact plan - why separate? because most professional organisations these days will use some form of Customer Relationship Management system for managing and recording contact with client organisations. (If you want a low-cost, even free CRM for a small business check out

The account contact plan should have all your contacts for that organisation, plus show the communication strategy (dates/roles/people) with members of the client organisation as well as any important internal communication that will be required internally.

Next...a closer look at planning the proposal development and writing.