Writing Business Bids and Proposals For Dummies
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Writing Business Bids and Proposals For Dummies

Neil Cobb, Charlie Divine

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eBook - ePub

Writing Business Bids and Proposals For Dummies

Neil Cobb, Charlie Divine

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About This Book

Acquire the necessary skills to win business through proposals, bids, tenders, and presentations—this hands-on guide is your partner for success

You have in your hands the collected knowledge and skills of the professional proposal writer. Proposal writing is a profession — a growing and increasingly important one and an essential part of a broader group of business development professionals who plan and execute strategies for businesses who want to obtain new customers. Proposal writers have a professional organization — the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) — and their best practices are the foundation for this book.

Proposal writing is a skill you can learn, practice, and master; you can even go through a professional certification process to prove your mastery. Writing Business Bids & Proposals For Dummies is your no-nonsense guide to finding out what professional proposal writers know and for applying it to your own business.

If you're a small- to medium-size business owner, a first-time proposal writer in a medium-size company, or a sales representative, you know that a written proposal (printed or electronic) is still a common, personal, and effective way to win business. Written in plain English, Writing Business Bids & Proposals For Dummies will help you to:

  • Know the difference between reactive proposals (the RFP or request for proposal) and proactive proposals
  • Focus on the customer by going beyond their requirements to address their true needs
  • Know your competition through research and analysis
  • Write persuasively to develop a winning business proposal
  • Plan and use a repeatable proposal process
  • Incorporate a lessons learned aspect to your proposal process
  • Use tools and templates to accelerate your proposals
  • Motivate and lead your proposal team to ensure they're on the same page
  • Use graphics to enhance your proposals
  • Learn ways to automate your proposal development process
  • And a whole lot more

Additionally, you'll gain access to ten templates for building a proposal, find out ten common misconceptions about bids and proposals, and add a compiled list of online resources to your toolset. Grab a copy of Writing Business Bids & Proposals For Dummies to start sharpening your proposal writing skillset.

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For Dummies
Part 1

Understanding Proposal Development

Find out what proposals are and why everyone in business needs to know how to write them. Take a peek into the world of professional proposal writers and how they do their jobs. Look at the bigger picture and how proposals fit into a business’s sales process and a customer’s buying process.
Discover the similarities and differences between proactive proposals and reactive proposals (or responses to a Request for Proposal [RFPs]). See how to avoid the traps lurking in RFPs and how to make sure the customer finds what it’s looking for. Understand how creating a consistent structure and format for your proactive proposals can help customers choose you over your competitors.
Chapter 1

Introducing Bids and Proposals

Getting the intel on bids and proposals
Gearing up for your proposal
Developing a professional approach
This book is about writing business bids and proposals. Why bids and proposals, you ask? Aren’t they the same thing?
Many proposal professionals would say so. Others favor one term over the other, especially when used to modify another term. For example, in the United Kingdom, they may say bid manager and tender; in the United States, we say proposal manager and Request for Proposal (RFP) response — and we mean pretty much the same thing.
Some people think of bids as something we’d call a quote — a line or two about the offer and a price — something you can write on the back of a napkin. Some may even call that a proposal. The more people you talk to, the more confused you can get.
As we use the terms, bids and proposals are more formal, more thorough, more informative, more persuasive, more descriptive, and more professional than quotes. They’re more about communication than selling, more about value than price, and more about relationships than a single deal. Throughout this book, we use them interchangeably because it’s how proposal professionals talk: A bid is a proposal; a bidder is someone who submits a proposal or bid (and we’d never use the word proposer).
In this chapter, we introduce you to the world of bid and proposal management — what proposals do, how they work, and how you write one — drawing from the best practices that bid and proposal professionals use worldwide.

Defining Bids and Proposals

In the broadest sense, business proposals are formal, written offers by businesses or individuals to perform work on the behalf of other businesses, government entities, or other individuals. Proposals set out in clear, concise language what you’ll do for a customer, how you’ll do it, how much it will cost, and the business benefits the customer will realize after the work is done. Proposals aim to both inform and persuade. And that makes them pretty unique.
In some industries, business proposals are precursors to contracts. That’s why many proposals stipulate how long certain offers or prices are valid. Some government entities require the proposals they receive to be authorized by a bidder’s officer to underscore their legal status. Some proposals even become an integral part of the final contract.
Business proposals come in two main flavors:
  • Proposals submitted further to a formal request from the customer: These are sometimes referred to as solicited proposals. You may also hear them called reactive proposals, because you can’t really anticipate all their requirements. More often, these proposals are called RFP responses, because the customer issues a Request for Proposal. We opt for that term throughout this book.
  • Proposals that you give the customer independently of any request: These usually follow deep discussions about the customer’s business needs and are called either proactive or unsolicited proposals. Instead of the customer requesting a proposal, you ask the customer to accept your proposal. We prefer the term proactive because it indicates that you write these on your own initiative (plus, it’s easier to say).
Both types consist of a series of textual and visual components that form an argument in support of your approach to solving a customer’s problem.
In the following sections, we discuss the differences between RFP responses and proactive proposals — their structures and some of the rules around writing them — and then discuss the reasons why organizations issue RFPs.

Looking at the differences between RFP responses and proactive proposals

Before we go any further, we cover how you construct RFP responses and proactive proposals and why they’re different.
For all their differences, when you look closely at RFP responses and proactive proposals, you see that their deep structures are more alike than different. That makes sense, because they both argue for one solution over others. Therefore, what makes one type of proposal successful applies to the other.
Turn to Chapter 2 to find out more about the similarities and differences between RFP responses and proactive proposals.

Understanding the structure of RFP responses

RFPs are the procurement method of choice for most governments and large organizations. Most RFPs, regardless of the source, have similar structures. Government RFPs have elaborate number schemes and consistent, required sections. Commercial RFPs may have these as well, but the formats and sequences can vary widely from industry to industry and from RFP to RFP.
RFPs always have one thing in common: Whoever releases them expects your response to follow the prescribed structure to the letter. RFPs are designed so evaluators can easily compare bidders’ various responses. They also tend to reflect whatever structure has worked before, which is why you can anticipate repeated elements when you respond to RFPs from certain customers.
Though RFPs can have many surface differences, most contain individual sections that do the following:
  • Describe the background of the customer and its business problem.
  • Lay out the rules that the customer expects all bidders to follow, including any terms and conditions of a potential contract.
  • List the specific requirements that the customer needs you to address as you solve the problem. These requirements often take the form of questions. They may cover not only how your solution will work but also how your company will implement and manage the solution.
  • Specify pricing components (usually in separate spreadsheets, depending on the complexity of the project).
Many RFPs instruct you to include in your response an executive summary, which you need to do whether instructed to or not (unless the RFP explicitly forbids you to). As you see in Chapter 9, an executive summary is your best chance to explain your solution and its value to the customer’s highest ranking decision maker (who won’t normally read the entire proposal). You never want to miss out on the opportunity to communicate directly to a customer’s leaders.

Understanding the structure of proactive proposals

Proactive proposals, more or less, also follow a standard structure. The difference is that with proactive proposals, you control the structure, although you should always use a structure that customers find comfortable, satisfying, and compelling. The standard sections include
  • An executive summary that recaps needs and benefits, win themes, and value propositions in language that speaks to decision makers
  • A description and illustration of the current environment or problem
  • Your recommendation for creating a new, improved environment or for solving the problem, comparably illustrated to show the changes in the customer’s world
  • A statement of work that describes how you’ll set up the solution and maintain it
  • A pricing summary that focuses on benefits, value, and return on investment
  • A final recap of benefits and an action close to outline next steps

Adjusting your process for RFP responses and proactive proposals

High-level differences exist between RFP responses and proactive proposals that involve how you adhere to the rules, work with time frames, and handle the competitive landscape.


RFP responses have to mimic the structure of the RFP they respond to. They echo the numbered sections and subsections (sometimes four or five levels deep) of the RFP. They populate structured forms that the customer includes for pricing information. They adhere to customer-mandated page and forma...

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