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Powerful Proposals: How to Give Your Business the Winning Edge / Edition 1

Powerful Proposals: How to Give Your Business the Winning Edge / Edition 1

by Terry Bacon, David PughTerry Bacon
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How does a company constantly win more business than its rivals? A key factor is the ability to create proposals that outshine those from even the strongest competitors. Powerful Proposals helps businesses maximize the selling power of their proposals, with proven strategies for going beyond "this is what we do" documents in favor of customer-centered offers that highlight the tangible benefits your company offers. This powerful process offers tools and techniques that will let any firm: * assess their "winner or loser" proposal status and take proactive steps to become a winner * address the ""Big Four"" questions that a proposal must answer to be successful * create "A+" proposals in less time with less wasted effort via a simple, repeatable process * neutralize the issue of price when the firm is not the low-price provider Powerful Proposals takes readers step by step through designing executive summaries, writing themes, and generating the text. There is also valuable information on strategy, graphics, callouts, and other visual elements.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814472323
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 01/03/2005
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

TERRY R. BACON (Durango, CO) is the founder of Lore International Institute, a widely respected executive-development firm recently acquired by Korn/Ferry International. He is now the scholar in residence in that firm and is the author of many books including Powerful Proposals (978-0-8144-7232-3), What People Want, and The Elements of Power (978-0-8144-1511-5).

David G. Pugh is a coauthor of "Winning Behavior" (0-8144-7163-3) and "The Behavioral Advantage" (0-8144-7225-7), and cofounder of the Lore Institute, a professional development and corporate education company.

Read an Excerpt

Powerful Proposals

By David G. Pugh


Copyright © 2005 David G. Pugh and Terry R. Bacon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-7232-X

Chapter One

The Power of the A+ Proposal

Art: The faculty of executing well what one has devised. -MERRIAM-WEBSTER'S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY


In most cases, proposals do not win contracts, but they can lose them in a heartbeat.

Every year thousands of companies compete for trillions of dollars in contract awards from other businesses or from local, state, or federal agencies. Except for such tangible and easily specifiable commodities as pencils, coffee mugs, and motor oil, most of these contracts are awarded based on competitive proposals.

In fact, the U.S. government has more than 60,000 federal and military specifications to buy goods and services through the IFB (invitation for bid) process. The specs are issued, any bidder that meets the specs is qualified, the bids are opened publicly, and the lowest-price bidder is declared the winner. The vast majority of contracts awarded by our national government are awarded through this IFB process. However, 85 percent of the money spent annually for goods and services is disbursed through the RFP (request for proposal) process precisely because whatever is being purchased cannot be specified down to a gnat's eyebrow. And often, what's being bought doesn't even exist yet. So, although most contracts go to low bidders who meet the specs, nothing more and nothing less, most of the dollars go to those companies that not only innovate in what they offer but communicate that offer in proposals that differentiate them from the competition. Indeed, the proposal has become so ubiquitous in business life as to warrant a special place in the way most companies organize and staff their business development operations.

The large, sophisticated aerospace and defense contractors have special proposal centers staffed by dedicated proposal managers, writers, editors, coordinators, graphic artists, and production specialists. Even smaller companies often have proposal specialists in departments that support the salespeople who write proposals. Companies also spend millions of dollars annually to educate their salespeople on how to write proposals and millions more hiring consultants to help them craft their "must-win" bids.

To say that much rides on the success of proposals would be a gross understatement. Companies and careers have literally been saved or lost due to the success or failure of a single proposal. Fortunes have been made and dreams dashed based on how favorably a customer viewed a proposal that may have taken its creators months to produce. In the twenty-five years we have been consulting on proposals and educating companies on proposal writing and management, we have seen scores of cases where big wins saved business units and jobs-or losses led to downsizing and outplacement. Proposals are among the most critical documents companies produce, yet they are often ill conceived; ill prepared; and, consequently, ill fated.

In Powerful Proposals, we introduce you to the high end of proposal accomplishment: what powerful proposals look like and how to create them. Before moving on, however, it's important to put proposals into perspective. They are critical, yes, but they are one of the final stages in a long business development process that begins well before customers request proposals and companies create them.

The Proposal: The Make or Break Move

Proposals are the critical endgame in a long process of business development. When they are executed with skill and finesse, they can bias customers toward you and act as the "icing on the cake" if you have successfully conducted your opening and middle games-that is, if you have positioned yourself well with the customer, built trust-based relationships, and presold your company and your solution. When proposals are not executed well, they can sour the customer's view of you, cause them to question their decision to award you the contract if they had been inclined to do so, and cost you the opportunity if the competition was close and one of your rivals submitted a superior proposal.

In today's highly competitive environment, proposals are too important to be left to chance. The opportunity costs are too great to risk creating and submitting the kind of uninspiring, lackluster, and nonresponsive proposals that often flood the marketplace. The old chestnut still holds: If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. If you really want the business, then you should devote the requisite time and attention to mastering the creation of powerful proposals.

How to Put the "Power" into Your Proposals

Proposals are powerful (and ultimately successful) if they are fully responsive to the customer's needs; if they resonate with readers; if they are compelling, engaging, and enlightening; and if they demonstrate care, thoughtfulness, and artistry in their design and execution. Powerful proposals feel right to readers because they both demonstrate and stimulate insight, they make the right connections, they illuminate by exploring the implications of the customer's choices, and they educate. An artful proposal says, in effect, "I understand what you need. Moreover, I understand what you want to do, and of all the possible solutions that might work for you, I have the one that is most capable in its solution, most elegant in its simplicity, and most appropriate for your needs."

This was brought home to us several years ago when, after first working with a client on their proposal and then hearing that they had won the award, we joined them for a debrief with their customer's vice president for procurement. After a lengthy discussion on a variety of topics, we asked one last question: "Can you tell us in a sentence why you preferred our proposal over all the others?" The answer has stayed with us ever since. He said, "When I read your proposal, it was as though I was reading my own thoughts."

* A powerful proposal doesn't just answer questions or list specifications; it tells a story. Moreover, it tells its story in a compelling way-one that helps readers see the solution in a more insightful and interesting way than they had previously imagined. A powerful proposal builds trust and confidence. It reconfirms the positive perceptions created during the bidder's business development efforts prior to the RFP and proposal. It gives customers a formal basis for selecting the bidder even though, informally and intuitively, that decision might already have been made. A powerful proposal is one that allows the heads of evaluation teams to say to their decision makers, "We unanimously recommend this bidder, and this is why."

* A powerful proposal gives the evaluators what they need to sell you when they go down the hall to make their recommendation. The minute they do that, they become virtual members of your business development team. Therefore, your proposal must give them what they need to sell you and your solution to the people responsible for making the buying decision. If, in turn, the decision makers need to present their choice to the president or board of directors to get the funding approved, then a powerful proposal gives the decision makers what they need to sell you to the people with the money.

* A powerful proposal requires no translation, no reformatting or repackaging. It stands alone not only as the instrument of your own sales effort but also as the instrument for your customers to sell their decision internally. Finally, a powerful proposal "speaks" with one voice even though it was written and compiled by many people. You have taken the time and effort to refine the document so that in matters of style, tone, and voice it appears to have been composed by a single mind moving a single hand in a single sitting. It's the collective voice of your company speaking to your customer, and it's the voice that tells your story. How to tell that story in a powerful proposal is ultimately what this book addresses in a variety of ways.

Be Compliant: Powerful Proposals Give Customers What They Request


In the early stages of evaluation, they aren't looking for the winner. They're looking for the losers.

To appreciate the difference between proposals that are successful and those that are not, we begin with the most fundamental requirement: compliance. This means that the proposal "answers the mail": It complies with the customer's request for information, meets the requirements, answers the questions, and addresses the specifications to the letter. Nothing more, nothing less. Compliance is especially important in evaluated proposals because the evaluators frequently base their scores on the degree to which you have addressed their specifications, responded to their requirements, and provided the information they requested. If you fail to comply fully, you have failed the customer's first test:

Did you listen?

Can you read?

Do you understand what we need?

Will you give us what we need?

Can we trust that your solution will meet our needs?

Compliance is so basic that we should be able to assume it's done all the time. Who could fail to be compliant and still expect to win? Why would they even bother to submit a proposal if it weren't fully compliant?

However, in our years of experience we have seen thousands of proposals that failed this basic requirement. They were declared losers quickly and without reservation. And should a loser go to the effort to ask why they lost, the customer's terse answer is often "Price. Gee, need to get back to work." That is the quickest way ever devised to get a loser out the door or off the phone, and the fact that noncompliance was the real issue may never surface. Discussing the loss in those terms would take time and effort the customer rarely wishes to provide a loser.

The finest proposals not only answer the mail; they do it transparently. They are meticulous in following the customer's lead. They are scrupulous in addressing every requirement and in the order the customer listed them. They play back the customer's language, and they provide aids to help the evaluators see their compliance more easily. The best proposals make it easy for the evaluators to give them a perfect score, at least in terms of answering the mail.

However, if proposals are merely compliant, they may still be mediocre when the standard of compliance is easily met (by competent proposal writers) and therefore does not differentiate one proposal from others that are equally compliant. As we will discuss more fully later in this chapter, we've come to believe that if the customer were to grade proposals on a scale of A to F, a fully compliant one-again, providing nothing more, nothing less than what's required-would receive a C. You can't win deals and build your business getting Cs. You need As, and you need them consistently rather than once in a great while. Ultimately, that's your goal for investing in powerful proposals.

Be Responsive: Powerful Proposals Address Customers' Needs, Key Issues, Values, and Goals

To be truly successful, proposals must also be responsive to the customer's needs. Responsiveness goes well beyond mere compliance. Bear in mind that no RFP can ever fully capture the customer's intent. The RFP writers are human. They often work in a procurement function and may be restricted from describing everything that would be helpful for bidders to know. Even when no restrictions exist, few RFP writers are skillful enough to convey fully not only the customer's requirements but their goals, underlying concerns, key issues or hot buttons, and values.

In short, what most RFPs lack is insight. They present the superficial (although usually detailed) picture of what the customer wants, but not why the customer wants it. As a result, they generally fail to enlighten bidders about the more subtle and intangible factors that led to the customer's decision to purchase this product or service and the hopes, fears, and political concerns that will drive the customer's decision. Compliant proposals focus on the bidder's capability to deliver what the customer has specified in the RFP. Consequently, they focus on the supplier and the features of the supplier's solution rather than the customer and the benefits those features provide.

Responsive proposals do more. They demonstrate how the provider will help customers achieve their business goals, not just their project or procurement goals. The latter goals are not the end. They are the means to the business end, and a responsive proposal shows astute awareness of this distinction. What most proposals fail to recognize is that the customer is not in the problem-solving business. The millions they are about to invest are just that-an investment-and their ultimate goals define the ROI they must get as a business. The proposal that maps a clear path to that business goal is a proposal that truly understands what's driving the investment and what's at stake.

What Proposals Reveal About You

We spoke earlier about proposals as the endgame in a longer business development process. Briefly, the opening game in business development includes the marketing and positioning that companies do to condition the market and build bias toward themselves and their products or services. Middle game begins when you make contact with a prospect or current customer followed by the development of a specific opportunity. The call for proposals signals the end of middle game and the beginning of endgame.

Companies that have a solid opening game give themselves a decided advantage in their markets for the same reasons manufacturers spend billions of dollars on advertising: It pays to build your customer's awareness of and comfort with your product and your company. Middle game (which includes all intelligence-gathering, positioning, selling, and relationship-building activities prior to release of the RFP) is where the major battlefield lies. Middle-game prowess (or lack thereof) separates the winners from the losers. Middle-game intelligence on what's really driving the deal becomes the key informational differentiator for companies that have successfully deployed facilitative selling and relationship management up and down the customer organization. These middle-game insights are the difference between responsive proposals and those that are merely compliant.

In middle game, you undergo a chemistry test with customers.


Excerpted from Powerful Proposals by David G. Pugh Copyright © 2005 by David G. Pugh and Terry R. Bacon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




Chapter 1The Power of the A+ Proposal

The Proposal: The Make or Break Move

How to Put the "Power" into Your Proposals

Be Compliant: Powerful Proposals Give Customers What They Request

Be Responsive: Powerful Proposals Address Customers' Needs, Key Issues,

Values, and Goals

What Proposals Reveal About You

Six Key Elements of High-Quality Proposals

Evaluating Proposals: The Best and the Worst

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 2A Simple Notion: A Proposal Is a Sales Tool

The DNA of Proposals: How Organizations Buy Products and Services




Reader Intent

How Buying Decisions Are Made

They Won't Buy, Unless You Sell

Powerful Proposals: Simple, Clear, and Precise

Four Compelling Questions Every Proposal Must Answer

Question 1: Why Us?

Question 2: Why Not Them?

Question 3: So What?

Question 4: How So?

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 3Getting Your Message Across: Technical Proposals for Every Reader

The Competitive Advantage: Reader-Friendly Proposals That Sell

Compete by Communicating

Know Your Audience

Overcome Differences

Designing the Proposal

Two Messages, One Proposal

Double Exposure Techniques

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 4Sell the Benefits: Customer-Oriented Proposals

Why Steak Without Sizzle Is Not Enough

Customer-Oriented Proposals

Who Are the Buyers?

What Buyers Look For

The "Me" Proposal

Reading the Customer's Mind: The "You" Proposal

Five Essential Components of a Customer-Focused Proposal

Uncover and Respond to the Customer's Underlying Need

Address All of the Requirements and Requests

Mirror the RFP

Emphasize Benefits, Especially Intangible Ones

Develop an Effective Proposal Strategy

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 5What It Takes to Win: Credibility, Acceptability and Preference

Establishing Credibility

The Right Experience

The Right Solution

The Right Technology

The Right Team

Establishing Acceptability

Negotiable Terms

Competitive Price

Conducive Political Environment

Creating Preference

The Right Relationships

A Compelling Story

Winning Behaviors

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 6Winning Executive Summaries: Your Most Powerful Selling Tool

The State of the Art: High-Tech Summaries

A Powerful Executive Summary: Focus on the Benefits

Preparing to Create an Executive Summary

Develop Your Win Strategy

Build a Compelling Story Line

The GIFBP Matrix

How to Design an Executive Summary with Impact

Brochure Format: Your Best Sales Tool

Issues-Driven Executive Summary

Ad-Style Executive Summary

Four-Page Executive Summary

Product-Emulation Executive Summary

Customer-Empathy Executive Summary

Living Executive Summary: An Evolving Sales Tool

The Five Steps

Executive Summary Quality Check

Chapter 7: Timing Is Everything: Positioning to Win

How to Position Your Company to Be a Key Player

Begin Early: Build Relationships, Develop Influence, and Win the Customer

Creating a Company-Wide "Can-Do" Attitude

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 8: Proposal Management: The Art of Containing Chaos

Frontloading the Effort: Plan and Design

Freezing the Offer

Planning for and Conducting a Superior Kickoff Meeting

Solidify the Team

Lay the Foundation: Proposal Planning

Establish Credibility: The Process

A Failed Kick-Off: Danger Ahead

Revising for Quality: The Final Touches

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 9Getting It Written, Getting It Right: Guide to Creating Compelling Proposals

The Seven-Step Section Development Process

Step 1: Determine the Content

Step 2: Organize the Content

Step 3: Develop the Themes

Step 4. Develop the Visuals

Step 5: Develop the Proofs

Step 6: Create a Mock-Up

Step 7: Draft the Section

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 10The Red Team Review Process: Making Sure the Power Is in the Proposal

The Role of Reviews in the Proposal Process

Themes and Visuals: The Contributions of the Pink Team

Pink Team Objectives

Pink Team Process

Applying the Pink Team Review to the Final Draft

Does It Have What It Takes: The Red Team Review

Who Is Needed: Selecting Team Members

Red Team Objectives

Red Team Process

Long-Term Benefits

Challenges for Readers

Chapter 11Learning Forward: Win or Lose Protocols for Continuous Improvement

Administering the Protocols

Customer Interview

Internal Review

Lessons Learned

Improvement/Implementation Plan

Challenges for Readers

Appendix AThe Ultimate Weapon: Maximize Proposal Effectiveness with Techies Who Can Sell

Appendix BModels of Issue-Driven and Ad-Style Executive Summaries


About the Authors"

Customer Reviews