Creating A Great New-Business Proposal: An Outline

Written by Greg Brooks. Posted in Blog

Greg Brooks - Creating A Winning New-Business ProposalI’m sometimes asked how to put together winning proposals, either as part of counsel given to clients or water-cooler conversations with colleagues launching their own consulting careers. While best practices are going to vary a bit from industry to industry, the following outline wins work if executed strongly.

Executive Summary

  • Write it first — let it guide the tone of the other proposal elements
  • Umbrella statement of your case and summary of the entire proposal
  • One page; two on a larger proposal

What you say: Lead with value — the impact and benefits of what you’ll do, not the laundry list of tasks. Focus on the fit between your team and the project at hand.
What you demonstrate: Banners flapping in the breeze — create the vision of what success looks like.

Statement of Need

  • Why the project is necessary
  • Ideal place to show strategic knowledge of how the project fits into a bigger picture
  • One to two pages

What you say: Lead with knowledge — start strong with information that shows you know the lay of the land, but finish even stronger by pivoting to experience that exceeds what the client has in-house or leverages your expertise from other projects. Remember: Showing that you know the industry, issue or product as well as the client isn’t enough; to sell premium services, the client has to feel like your domain knowledge far exceeds their own.
What you demonstrate: You’ve done your homework, this is not your first rodeo, and you get it — ideally, with insight beyond what’s been demonstrated by the client.

Project Description / Statement of Work

  • Nuts and bolts of how the project will be implemented and evaluated
  • Resist the urge to go into deep technical detail
  • Scoring (in a competitive bid) matters a great deal in this section – be sure all RFP elements regarding scope are answered
  • Three to five pages, generally

What you say: What you’ll do, how you’ll do it — including schedule issues and nods to any external or client-induced constraints.
What you demonstrate: You’ve got a plan, it’s cohesive and it has contingencies.

The scope of work isn’t just about laying out how you’ll do the job — at the proposal stage, it’s about providing a level of emotional comfort (“These guys know what they’re doing!”). Remember: People buy for emotional reasons, then back it up with data to rationalize the decision.

Budget

  • Financial description of the project plus explanatory notes
  • One page (two if a particularly detailed or large budget is involved)

What you say: The minimum required to clearly explain your pricing and the value delivered. This is not the place for fine print and three pages of footnotes.
What you demonstrate: Value (which is not the same as price), low risk (through warranty, fixed pricing or other measures) and transparency (through streamlined pricing and billing practices).

Organization Information

  • Organizational bio (one page, edited every single time to make it relevant to the project at hand)
  • Senior team member bios, as needed and edited every single time for relevance, to demonstrate appropriate expertise

What you say: Here are the people you can expect to interact with, and they all have relevant expertise.
What you demonstrate: Your team isn’t just good — it’s the only rational solution to their challenge.

Conclusions

  • Summary of the proposal’s main points
  • Focus on value delivered, not specific tasks
  • Generally just 1-4 paragraphs, certainly no more than a page

What you say: Focus on unique value propositions; ask for the work (it’s surprising how seldom proposals fail to explicitly ask for the work)
What you demonstrate: The yin to the executive summary’s yang — a chance to bring the process full-circle back to an emotional (albeit not too emotional) appeal.


Do I follow it myself? Sometimes, but there are a couple of clear exceptions:

  • With public-sector work, potential clients tell you (usually in mind-numbing detail) how you have to structure your proposal.
  • For most private-sector work, I’ve developed an unusual format that works and has a high close rate — something I’m happy to share one-on-one but less eager to post on the wide-open web.

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