By Rick Harris, Executive Director of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals
Bid proposals are the lifeblood of the construction industry, and whether you are going after multi-phase, multi-million dollar projects or contracts smaller in scope, being aware of the nuances and golden rules that guide the process will help you outshine the competition.
What does it take to win? The right strategy, the right budget and right team members — those who bring great writing, intelligent design and strong relationships to the table. Like life, proposal development is both an art and a science, combining a blend of left-brain/right-brain thinking. Consider the value in appealing to the emotions of your audience, through persuasive writing. Alternatively, analytical thinking can help identify what’s important to the decision-makers reviewing the bid or comes into play when quantifying your claims with facts.
Taking a look at the anatomy of what makes a good proposal great will reveal what you should consider before, during and after you bid on a project.
1. The Brain: Think and act strategically
Determining “to bid, or not to bid” is of utmost importance. Your decision will determine if spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in time and effort is likely to result in a win. Read the proposal carefully and determine if it’s a good fit for you and your company. If you can, ask others to weigh in. Remember that you are in this to win business, so don’t scatter shot bid.
There are hazards in scatter shot bidding. Number one, you’ll develop a reputation as someone who goes after everything and are not focused on any one thing. Number two, you won’t get into a process of standardizing your proposals. Number three, your proposal will read like you don’t want to win.
The bottom line — don’t be afraid to just walk away. If you make the decision to bid, you’ll need to continue to work and think strategically as you map out your development process and team.
2. The Bones: Connect with what the proposal is asking for
I highly recommend developing a compliance matrix — and checking it several times to make sure you have complied with all tasks. This can be a simple Excel document where you can identify the parts that need a response and better understand and track them through a grid. That way nothing falls through the cracks. A common mistake is only responding to the parts you are good at, which can put you at a real disadvantage.
3. The Brawn: Highlight strong past performance
What you have done in the past will show the client that you’ll be successful at providing them with the finished product that meets their specialized needs. However, be aware that a common mistake is talking about your company and yourself or team in a proposal much more than focusing on what the client is looking for. Focus 98% of your writing on the customer and how you’re going to benefit them. If your proposal has more than 2% about you, it’s probably too much. You can zoom to the top 10% of the finalist stack if you just focus on what the client needs and how you’re going to provide that.
4. The Beauty: Pay attention to style
Good writing is important in your scope of work, but it’s not only words that count. Make your graphics as strong as your writing. Don’t underestimate what your proposal looks like and the first impression that it gives. Make sure there’s something pleasing to look at on each page, and more than just white space. Be creative and use artwork to illustrate what you mean and graphs to demonstrate a point visually. If your client’s company colors are blue and gold, be sure to add those colors in your proposal. Let them see themselves in your proposal. The difference between winning and losing a client is often in the details, and it’s important to not overlook the impact of graphics and color.
5. The Bloodstream: Let the lessons learned flow
Even if you’re a one person proposal machine, figure out what worked for you on a recent bid and what didn’t. This will help you identify your sweet spot and settle into a standard bidding process that becomes your thumbprint as you move forward in business development and winning new business. This crucial step will help you determine how much time, money and effort you put in and weigh it against the outcome. I also recommend reaching out to the decision-makers and simply asking what resonated with them or what fell short. All valuable intel before moving on to the next proposal.
Rick Harris is the Executive Director of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, the worldwide authority for those dedicated to the process of winning business through proposals, bids, tenders and presentations. APMP is charged with promoting the professional growth of its members by advancing the arts, sciences and technologies of winning business. APMP is based in Washington, DC, has 8,200 members and serves 27 chapters globally. Check out APMP's book Writing Business Bids & Proposals for Dummies for more tips on how to win your next proposal.
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