Of the thousands of proposals I read each year, the majority do not recommend anything. Most of them merely describe a product or service in neutral, informative
In most proposals, you need to explain your solution in enough detail that the customer sees it as a plausible approach to solving his or her problem. You also need to include enough evidence to substantiate the notion that your recommendations will work and that they will produce the results the customer is looking for. Here are some guidelines to help you do that well:
Stay focused on the controlling strategy you established in the executive summary. Remember that your value proposition is established incrementally. Repetition is the key to making certain the client sees it, understands it, and remembers it.
Be objective. Don't allow your
Use specific, concrete language. Use details. Avoid vague words and phrases that sound like marketing fluff, such as
Simply saying that a system is "efficient" or "ideal for these purposes" is not enough. Go into detail: "This system achieves 99.96 percent up time, the best in the industry, as documented by the independent journal Manufacturing Monthly ." Statistics, third-party validation, test results, awards, and other forms of evidence are more convincing than generic claims.
Support your claims with substantive evidence. Provide enclosures, if you have them, such as copies of review articles or
Describing a Product or Mechanism. In the solution section of your proposal, you may need to describe how equipment or mechanisms work. Here's a simple outline that will keep your discussion organized and make it easy for your reader to understand:
Introduction: Be sure to mention your controlling strategy or one of your win themes in the introduction
Define/identify the mechanism or equipment
Describe its general physical characteristics (including a comparison or analogy to a more familiar object)
Divide it into its principal
Indicate why the mechanism is important to the reader: this is another good spot to introduce or
Provide a part-by-part description
Part number one
What the part is (definition)
Function or purpose of the part
Physical characteristics (including comparison)
Division into subparts
Subpart number one
What the subpart is
Its function or purpose
Relationship to other parts
Same as "a" above for subpart number two
Same as "A" above for part number two
Closing: Return here to the win theme
To bring the description to a close with an emphasis on function:
Briefly describe the mechanism in a complete cycle of operation
Mention variations and options of the mechanism
Indicate the importance of the mechanism to the customer's operating environment
To bring the description to a close with a more persuasive slant:
Compare the mechanism to other makes and models, in terms of features and advantages—this is a chance to "ghost" the competition by pointing out important differentiators or design features without disparaging your competitor
Recommend the use of the mechanism in the client's environment, or reference successful uses in similar environments
Describing Processes . Your proposals may also need to describe processes and operations, particularly when the solution is primarily a service:
Introduction: Announce your value proposition or a supporting win theme here
Define or identify the process
Formal definition: what is the process
Statement of significance: why is it done, why does it happen
Underlying principle which governs this process
Indicate the time, setting, operators, equipment, and
Time and setting: when and where it is done or how it happens in a natural setting
Personnel: who (or what for automated processes)
Equipment: what is needed
Necessary conditions: the requisite circumstances
Indicate the point of view from which the process will be
List the main steps
The main steps
Step number one
each step is itself a process. Organize it by following the format outlined in the Introduction above .
Step number two, etc.
the simplest and most logical way to organize a process description is chronologically. For a cyclical process, simply choose a reasonable starting point and follow the complete cycle .
Closing: Return here to your strategy or to one of your win themes
Techniques for closing the description:
Simply stop after the final step—this is effective for a short description
Summarize the key steps again—this is effective for a lengthy, multipage description.
However, if you use this approach,
Comment on the process's significance, particularly in the context of achieving the customer's objectives
Indicate the process's place in a larger scheme of operation
Mention other methods by which the process can be performed and why you are recommending this method (an opportunity to ghost the competition.)
Discuss the consequences of modifying time, setting, operators, equipment, or other conditions (another ghosting opportunity)
Predict or forecast improvements in productivity, cost efficiency, etc.
Recommend implementing or using the process
Customers do not automatically recognize that the solution you are
Many presentations of the solution are descriptive, often consisting of long lists of bullet points that enumerate so-called "features" ad nauseam . Unfortunately, readers tend to skip over long lists of bullet points, because they assume that a list of ten or twenty bullet points probably contains a lot of irrelevant detail. By breaking up your description into thematic units, you can limit the number of features you bullet point to a manageable amount—somewhere between five and ten per category at the most.
When presenting your recommendations, don't mention a feature without linking it to the customer's issues and to the benefits that feature will provide. (Those benefits should be the goals or outcomes the customer seeks, of course.) Remember: a feature is a component of the solution, but a benefit is an impact on the client's operations that the client will find desirable.
To create solution presentations that are more persuasive and client focused, use the structure in Figure 12-12 as a basic guideline for organizing descriptions of products and services. Figure 12-13 provides an example of an effective solution description.
Figure 12-12: Guide for Organizing Solutions.
The DataMaster System from ComStar
We at ComStar recommend using the DataMaster System as a platform for developing American Cellular's EtherSwitch system. The DataMaster system is a new generation of data management tools, designed
specificallyfor the cellular marketplace. Its design incorporates all of the elements of traditional call management and billing systems, but is based on a new, modular platform that allows for easy customization to meet unique needs.
You indicated to us that you are looking for a vendor who can address four specific needs in your business:
Capacity to handle current and
projectedvolume of transactions without requiring system add-ons or expansion
Enhanced customer support and service
A customizable solution
A complete solution, including service
The DataMaster system, in conjunction with our services, provides you with exactly what you want. We are confident that meeting your business needs, as listed above, is your most important objective.
Capacity to handle the volume of billing transactions your business needs
ComStar is the only provider of cellular billing systems with existing capacity to handle the volume you specify in your RFP. With our combination of software designed specifically for the cellular market and our
extensiveservice bureau capabilities, we can provide American Cellular with the right mix of products and services regardless of the volume your business demands today or in the future.
Enhanced customer support and service
Your billing systems are a fundamental part of your total customer support and service system. By outsourcing the management of billing to a third party, you must feel confident that your customers will receive the highest-quality service and that the relationship will be transparent. ComStar has received awards from industry groups for the quality of our customer support. In addition, because the DataMaster system is customizable, it can provide your customers with exactly the kind of billing information they want. Finally, as your first line of customer support, we handle all customer inquiries in a
timelyfashion with a documented 97.9 percent closure rate on the first call.
A customizable solution
Everyone wants choices. Unless your business partner can offer you a wide range of options, you may feel that you are forced to take less than or something other than what you really need. ComStar offers a broader range of product and service offerings than any other provider in the wireless market. The DataMaster system was specifically designed as a modular, N-tiered application with a mathematically infinite number of potential configurations.
A complete solution
ComStar is a pioneer in creating and providing cellular billing systems, and we continue to be the industry leader. But we are also the largest provider of service bureau operations with the ability to handle the complete range of customer billing, service and support functions, including problem resolution, collections, marketing, and more. As a result, we can tailor a solution specifically to your needs.
As you can see, the use of the DataMaster platform addresses your four primary objectives. In addition, it delivers all of the technical functionality you have specified in your RFP. In some cases, we provide the functionality that you specify, but because that functionality will be delivered from an innovative platform, the system architecture may not conform exactly to the design specifications you have included in the proposal. These differences will be invisible to the
user. However, we do want to be clear that in some instances we deliver the functional requirement but do it in a different part of the system or with a different logical flow of processing steps.
We believe it makes good business and technical sense for American Cellular to use DataMaster as the platform for your EtherSwitch. It will provide you with a comprehensive, flexible,
high-qualityproduct at a much lower cost than would be possible if the entire system were created as a custom product.
Case studies can be effective tools for building credibility, minimizing risk, and helping the decision maker develop a "vision" of the results you can produce.
Keep your case studies short, one or two pages at most. Focus them on the success your previous client achieved, not on the details of the project you managed or the product you delivered. (See Figure 12-14 for a sample case study.)
What our client needed: In the highly competitive executive recruiting business, success is based on who you know and what you know about them. REX Recruiting found that they were not able to keep track of their contacts and leads in a systematic way. As a result, opportunities to place executives were sometimes lost.
What we created: After investigating costly, high-end products designed for sales forces or customer service organizations, REX Recruiting contracted with Mustang Software to create a data storage and tracking tool that was right for them. REX Recruiting defined exactly what kind of information they wanted to store, how they wanted to use it, and how they needed to access it.
Mustang took it from there. Creating simple data screens that required no knowledge of databases, we created a user-friendly system that was compatible with REX Recruiting's Microsoft-centric environment. Each executive, each job opening, and each company for which REX has previously provided an executive is available in the system. For each of these categories the company defined significant attributes and details that needed to be tracked. The user can search on any of those categories or attributes or can combine any number of them to create a custom report format simply by clicking on the screen. When one of REX's recruiters receives an inquiry from a client, he or she can generate a report that lists all available candidates with the right qualifications. Recruiters can also generate candidate profiles and status
reportsto keep clientsinformed about the status of the search and document effort.
How it worked: REX Recruiting has seen 17 percent growth since the system was implemented, which is all the more
remarkablesince it coincided with a general downturn in the economy. With seven new offices on the west coast, REX has grown to be the largest firm specializingexclusively in executive placements.
Try to use case studies about customers that are similar to the company or agency to which you are proposing. Match a municipality with a municipal or county government client. Use a bank with another bank or financial institution. And so on. Although using a case study about a company from the same industry is ideal, it's also helpful to at least use a client that is similar in size and that had a similar problem as your prospect.
To get the right emphasis in your case studies, structure them using the P-A-R format. P-A-R stands for Problem/Action/Results.
Briefly describe the previous customer's situation, the problems they were
It's most effective to
What did you do to help them solve their problem? Be specific about the solution you provided, highlighting your differentiators.
Obviously, the actions you took should be very similar to the actions you are recommending. Otherwise, your case study will
Outline the results the customer obtained. Whenever possible, quantify the impact: 15 percent reduction in total project length, 20 percent lower operating costs in the outbound telemarketing function, 17 percent higher productivity among hourly
If quantifiable results are not available, use a quote from a key executive within the customer organization.
Recent, relevant experience
Education, particularly in specific skills or technologies
Professional licensing or accreditations
Experience is more important to most people than any other factor. When you write a resume for use in a proposal, emphasize the skills of the team
Keep the resumes short. Two or three paragraphs will usually be enough. But edit them or rewrite them so that they really match up to the opportunity being proposed. Using the same resume every time you include someone in a project is a bad idea.
RFPs almost never identify the business issues that underlie the proposal as a whole, nor do they indicate why a particular question is being asked. But those factors matter. You'll improve your
Product and service descriptions written in-house or by
Writing an effective answer in your RFP response is more than a matter of "answering the mail." Use the following format to respond to questions or requirements that seem to be particularly significant. Obviously, it's not an appropriate format for answers that are extremely short or that require a simple, factual answer. If the customer asks, "When was your company founded?" you can feel confident in just writing "1976." For the few questions that are particularly significant, however, use this approach:
Acknowledge: Restate the customer's question or requirement in general terms, empathizing with the concern that probably lies behind this question. In the case of a requirement, position your response in terms of a broader principle, such as efficiency, customer satisfaction, and so on.
Provide the factual answer
Here are two samples, showing different approaches to answering the same question. The sample in Figure 12-15 shows how a provider of medical insurance
What information appears on the Explanation of Benefits? Can EOB information be customized by the client? Please provide a sample EOB.
Generally all EOB messages are predefined for all clients to meet readability, accuracy, and legal requirements. Limited customization is available, including the addition of logos and personalized remarks in the remarks area.
It's important for plan members to understand how their benefits were determined. The Explanation of Benefits is a
vitaltool in our overall effort to provide good communications and to avoid confusion or misunderstanding when plan members file a claim.
At American Health we have spent considerable effort to design and write our EOB forms for maximum readability and accuracy. In addition, our forms' layout and content has been developed to address certain legal requirements. Within that framework, we can provide some customization to the EOB form, such as adding your logo or providing personalized information in the remarks area of the form.
The enclosed EOB is a sample of what we will provide to your members.
The first answer sounds perfunctory, doesn't it? And do you detect a tone of negativity? The provider doesn't seem interested in customizing the EOB if it doesn't have to. The second answer says the same thing exactly, yet it
The sample in Figure 12-16 comes from a proposal written by an I.T. services provider. You couldn't even call the original answer factual.
We need an integrator that can be
responsiveand available 24x7. Please provide the pricing and options for this type of coverage in Appendix G.
Please see pricing in Appendix G.
With a business critical system, such as the one being proposed here, you need to know that you have support available around the clock. That's why SysTemPro has created a support program that gives you 24x7 coverage at an extremely affordable price.
In Appendix G, we detail the levels of support available to you within the framework of 24x7 and the pricing for each.
What's a compliance matrix? It's a chart that makes it easy for the evaluator to determine which proposals are worth looking at and which can be discarded. Remember that the evaluator's first job is to reduce the number of proposals down to a manageable few. An easy way for a gatekeeper to do that is to glance through your proposal to see if it complies with the basic requirements. A compliance matrix shows the evaluator that your response is worth keeping and looking at in detail. The absence of one may suggest that it's not.
As in Figure 12-17, a compliance matrix should show the evaluator how well you meet the requirements of the RFP and should make it easy to locate more detailed information. In this case, the page
HOW OUR PROPOSAL COMPLIES WITH YOUR REQUIREMENTS
The compliance matrix below illustrates graphically the extent to which our solutions match up with Urban Bank's key requirements. Detailed answers and
explanationsfor each question or requirement can be found in the following pages, as indicated by the page numbers.
Exceeds the requirement
EXTENT OF COMPLIANCE
Urban Bank Corporation needs to streamline the proposal generation process.
Our recommendations will eliminate eleven steps from the current proposal process at Urban Bank.
Internet accessible and mobile proposal and presentation generation capability integrated with a product and price configuration system.
We offer a Web-based (not merely Web-enabled) system that includes presentation capabilities. We provide built-in integration with the pricing tools Urban is considering.
Produce consistently high-quality customized proposals, request for proposal responses, and customer presentations.
Our system produces the full range of documents in an easy-to-use format.
Automated interface to configuration systems.
Our system accepts output from configuration systems if formatted as an Excel or Word file.
Guidance leading to a prospect/customer needs analysis and solution.
Our system coaches the user to define the opportunity, including needs and solution.
Supplemental product support.
We provide exceptional technical and customer support.
Catalog product and service proposal language, promotional text, graphics, and promote the Urban Bank brand ID.
Our system serves as a library for all types of content and automatically formats documents to match Urban's identity requirements.
There are lots of reasons to incorporate graphics in your proposal. Graphics—diagrams, flow charts, photos, organizational charts, bar
Here are some ideas for using graphics to enhance your document:
Think about graphics while you're outlining or organizing your document, before you have written any text. Graphics that are thrown in as an afterthought typically look like afterthoughts.
Avoid using clip art. Clip art is the frozen burrito of graphic design: a choice of last resort and one you usually end up regretting. It usually doesn't enhance your document.
Incorporate your customer's logo into your design. For example, use the customer's logo on the title page or in the header or footer of your proposal. Ask the client's permission first, and then ask them to provide you with a clean, digital image of the logo. Copying the logo from the Web site or scanning it from the letterhead can produce a jagged, poor-quality version.
If the customer has a "company
Avoid highly technical graphics, complex diagrams, and charts
. Simple graphics are better. They will
Graphics should be oriented horizontally
on the page, just like the text. The reader should never have to
Write an active caption that not only explains what the graphic is showing but also emphasizes a customer benefit. For example, rather than calling a product illustration "Figure 3: The Turboencabulator Model 2000," you could caption it "Figure 3: The Low-Maintenance Design of the Turboencabulator Model 2000."
In long proposals, it's a good idea to number the graphics sequentially . In formal proposals, you should also list them in a Table of Illustrations, right after the Table of Contents.
Discuss an idea in the text and then
Never put all the graphics at the end of the document. If people have to flip back and forth between the text and the graphics, they won't get the full value of either.
To gain the maximum benefit from your graphics, use the kind of graphic that best
The Point You Are Making
A Type of Graphic You Could Use
Our system or approach offers better performance
Our system will meet your performance expectations
We will assign the right people to this project
We can meet the deadline
We have the right experience to do this job
We have a history of successful projects
We are committed to quality
We offer unique features, strengths, and/ or benefits
You need to talk convincingly about price. If your pricing seems too low, your proposal may be rejected for lack of "cost
Use the following techniques to handle cost and price issues effectively:
Introduce price only after presenting the solution and its potential for positive impact in detail.
Don't talk about price in the first or last paragraphs of the cover letter.
Whenever possible, introduce pricing in a
As in the
Also as shown in (3), state the price in the smallest logical unit—$3,000 per month instead of $36,000 per year.
If you have the facts, quantify the impact of your solution. Tell the customer how much time or money they will save, exactly how much lower the total cost of ownership will be for your system compared to the competition, or how
Avoid providing detailed pricing on an item-by-item basis. Line item pricing encourages the detail-oriented to nitpick and makes it easier for unscrupulous customers to shop your proposal to your