January SMPS Monthly Program – Making Your Entire Proposal Scream “Pick Me!”

This month’s luncheon took a deep dive into the best practices of creating a winning proposal. Presenter Jen McGovern, CPSM started off with the question “Why do we put forth all the effort we do on proposals?”. The answer is we want to win that project and that requires a little bit of psychology. Here is a quick summary of what we learned:

There are many factors that affect whether we will win a project or not, many of which we can’t control (like someone on the selection committee disliking the brand colors). What we can control however, is how persuasive the proposal is. There are two ultimate questions Jen suggests need to be answered before you start putting a proposal together, “Who is your audience?” and “Why should they choose you?”

Every client is different so your approach should follow suit. What are their drivers? What are their pain points? Finding this information may seem like an impossible task, but there are countless resources available to help. First, don’t just skip to the proposal criteria in the RFP. There are several giveaways of what’s important to the client in the background/scope of services and funding. A simple online search is another great way to find more information. Check out their website, Wikipedia, maps, and the news. The last but certainly not least tool is a proposal kick-off meeting. Not only is this a great space to pull information from your technical staff, but you can also gather other pertinent information like who the project team will be, who will be responsible for what tasks, and get buy-in to the proposed schedule.

Now that you know your audience, you need to determine why they should pick your firm. Summarize your features (what you offer), separators (what makes you different), and your benefits (why it matters).  An easy way to differentiate between a feature and a benefit is to continually ask the question “so what?”. If you can’t tie it back to something that will matter to the client, it doesn’t matter. Make the connection for them. For example:

Feature: Our office is located across the street from the job site.

Benefit: …so we can respond to any issues or urgent requests within minutes.

The last thing you need to determine before you jump into the actual proposal is define your theme. The theme summarizes the story and brings it all together. It should be unique to you and be apparent throughout your entire proposal. In order to have an effective theme it should show clear value, be provable by data or testimonies, and be believable to the client.

Now we’re ready to start putting it all together. Using the analogy of making a cake, Jen breaks down the difference between the cake (required information) and the frosting (extra information or emphasis). You need the perfect ratio of cake and frosting to create a good cake. According to a poll of the attendees, the majority of proposals are made up of about 60% tailored content while the other 30% is boilerplate content. Unless you have all the time in the world (which we know you don’t), you need to choose which areas to tailor and which ones to use that well written boiler text. Jen suggests picking 3-4 of the following to really focus on the “frosting” for.

  1. Cover
  2. Cover Letter
  3. Executive Summary (if using)
  4. Firm Overview
  5. Experience
  6. Resumes
  7. Highlight Your Understanding

Overall it was great presentation by Jen McGovern, CPSM. Now get out there and win that next project!

Blog Post by Dez Joslin, Director of Marketing – Lynch Mykins Structural Engineers, P.C.

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