Reviewing is one of the most important activities in preparing proposals. The Association of Proposal Management Professionals recommends that you allow 25–50% of your proposal preparation time for reviewing it. Companies with mature proposal preparation efforts allocate over 50% of preparation time to reviews.
But how much should you review? The simple answer is, as much as you can. You should be comfortable saying the proposal is good enough to send to the customer. “Good enough” is relative, of course, and changes from one person to the other. For some, good enough means “perfect” and for others correcting spelling and grammar mistakes is good enough. But proposals are unique documents that need a special type of attention when it comes to reviewing.
A proposal is your sales argument in writing. Similar to any sales argument, the main two goals for a proposal are to
- Persuade the reader – the executive reviewing your proposal or the evaluator scoring it – that you are the best company to go with because the chances of their project succeeding and their goals being met are very high if they choose you.
- Motivate the reader to make a decision by showing them that by hiring your company they will be able to improve the status quo and make gains. You need to demonstrate that sticking to the status quo or selecting another company will not yield the results they will achieve if they select your company.
You should include only enough information for the executives to understand your offering and know what and how much they are going to gain from hiring you.
Levels of review
You can go through multiple levels of review when editing your proposal. Some are easy and quick to do and others need in-depth reading and updates. Below we explain these levels in order of the ease with which you can accomplish them:
Level 1: Fix spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors and check cross-referencing. Do this at the end, after all other changes have been made.
Level 2: Review all the facts, the content, and the arguments to ensure they are accurate and do not include any errors.
Level 3: Organize your proposal in a clear, logical, and evaluator-friendly way. For example, have the headers, sections, and subsections numbered; make sure they appear in the table of contents; and ensure the table of contents shows the correct page numbers. Ask yourself whether the reader will find what they are looking for when skimming your document.
Level 4: Ensure your writing is client-focused. The proposal is about helping the client and not about your company. Check that you have provided evidence for any claims that you can do the job or provide the services the customer needs.
Level 5: Check that the sections are concise and easy to read and that they clearly state what you want to say. Remove any content that is not related to the proposed services or the product you are selling. There should be no jargon, ambiguities, or possible misrepresentations.
Level 6: Tailor the content to the audience reading it. Consider their background, level of experience, level of involvement, knowledge of the industry, and values, and ensure you have fully met their needs.
Level 7: Make your writing style crisp, interesting, and compelling. Your writing should encourage people to read more and learn more, like reading a novel they can’t put down.
So how good is good enough?
For your proposal to be persuasive and motivate the buyers to make a decision, you should aim at reaching level 6. Level 7 is difficult to achieve without experienced writers, but someone preparing numerous proposals and reviewing them consistently can reach level 6 over time. That will put your proposals in the top 1–2% of the proposals the customer receives.
Remember that the evaluators are human and they have different goals. Your proposal may pass through the hands of executives, who are very busy and want to know the bottom line; the evaluators, who want to ensure you complied with the request for proposal (RFP) requirements; and the technical evaluators, who want to know the details of your product or service and how your offering will affect their daily operations.
Everyone looking at your proposal reads your cover letter and executive summary, so you should really pay attention to those and make sure they are well written to resonate with these three audiences. You should include only enough information for the executives to understand your offering and know what and how much they are going to gain from hiring you (e.g., increased revenue, lower cost, reduced risk, increased efficiency), while giving the evaluators what they need to be sure you’ve followed the RFP instructions and providing an overview of what you offer that directs the technical evaluators to the sections where they can find the details they need.
Customers are not looking for proposals. They are looking for products and services that solve their problems and satisfy their needs. Evaluating your proposal is the means to that end. To win, aim to help the evaluators award you as many points as possible.
What better to help you do that than advice from evaluators themselves?
Download our discussion paper 7 Tips to Ensure Your Proposal Makes the Short List. These tips came from government departments and from businesses in different industries, from procurement of equipment, to IT services, to consulting services.
Don’t edit immediately after writing
Always leave your writing to “cool” before you start editing. You need to develop enough detachment from your writing to be able to edit it. You know what you want to say, so when you read your words right after writing them you don’t read what is actually written on the paper.
48 hours is a good cooling off period. If time is short, leave it for at least 24 hours. And if you do not have enough time or can’t completely detach from your writing, have someone else review your proposal. It is very common for sales staff to review proposals written by service delivery staff and vice versa. Some companies have teams just for review.
To prepare a proposal that motivates a buying decision, tailor the submission to the audience reading it. The majority of the tailoring happens after you’ve compiled your proposal and finalized your sections. Make sure you allocate enough time for thorough reviews. Scheduling these reviews in advance helps ensure they are part of your standard proposal activities so they are not missed or ignored.
First published in the September 2020 edition of The Business Advisor.