Prepare a Winning Proposal for a Large Contract: 10 Questions to Ask

Christopher Witt —  February 3, 2014

How to Create a Winning ProposalA proposal or a bid for a large contract—for the government or in the commercial sector—is three things rolled into one.

First, it’s a technical proposal. You have to explain how your approach—your people, processes, tools and technology—will solve the customer’s problems.

Second, it’s a sales proposal, a chance to show how your solution offers more value than the competition.

Value involves totaling up the benefits, subtracting the costs (including time, effort, money, and risks), and factoring in your credibility, and comparing that calculation to what the competition offers.

And finally a proposal is a job interview, of sorts, because customers want to see and hear the people who will actually do the work.

There’s a lot riding on a proposal. So you have to get it right.

The problem is, the people—your people—who are best able to perform the proposed work aren’t always best able to prepare and present a clear and persuasive proposal. They don’t understand what’s involved in preparing a bid.

Your people may be, probably are, experts in their fields…in engineering, programming, project management, design, consulting, construction, finance and the like.

But people who are good at something, really good, don’t always know how to talk about what they do in a way that other people can understand, appreciate, and believe. They get bogged down in details. Or they assume that other people understand the benefits—the positive impact—of their ideas.

And to make matters worse, your people are pressed for time. They are already working full days—long days—on some other project. And they simply don’t have the time they need to do a good job.

To make the best use of your people’s time and to create a shared understanding of how to prepare a winning proposal for a large contract, assemble your team and address these questions.

10 Questions to Address while Preparing a Winning Proposal for a Large Contract

  1. Who is the prospect?
    What do they do? What is their mission?  Who are the decision makers? What threats and opportunities do they face in their business environment? Who are their competitors?
  2. What is their problem?
    They have a problem or they wouldn’t be asking you (and others) to submit a bid. Something isn’t working for them and they need help fixing it. Or something isn’t working as well as they want it to and they need help improving it. Or something is working so well that they need help expanding their capacity. What is that something—their problem—and why does it matter to them?
  3. What is their pain?
    Pain is the negative consequences caused by a problem. It (the pain) is what causes people to act. The problem may be a glitch in distribution; the pain may be dissatisfied customers, a loss of sales, and a loss of revenue. If the problem doesn’t cause your prospect pain—if it doesn’t, for example, lose them money, threaten their livelihood, or expose them to unacceptable risk—they won’t act.
  4. What is your solution?
    How will your approach—your people and the way they work together, your processes and procedures, your services or products, your tools and technologies—solve their problem? Can you summarize your solution in a single, relatively short paragraph?
  5. What are the benefits?
    If pain is the negative consequences caused by the problem: benefits are positive outcomes produced by your solution. How will your solution save your prospect time, money, or effort? Reduce their risk? Assure their compliance? Get them more of what they want or less of what they don’t want?
  6. Who or what is your competition?
    The status quo—the temptation to do nothing—is always a competitor. And, unless you’re the sole provider in a very narrowly defined niche, there are always people and companies that do what you do. Or, at least, they say they do what you do. Who are they? What is their reputation? How do they stack up against you?
  7. What make you different?
    How are your people, processes, tools, and technologies different from the competition? Asserting that you are better or making sweeping and unsubstantiated claims doesn’t differentiate you. Your competition will undoubtedly make similar claims. Show how you are different—prove it—and show how those differences give your prospect more value.
  8. What are the risks?
    No project of any complexity or duration is without risk. (Risk is anything that could keep the project from being completed to the desired standards, on time, and on budget.) Identify those risks (because your customer will) and create a plan for mitigating them.
  9. What does your solution cost?
    Cost includes expenditures of time, money, and effort. (You also have to factor in risk and how much it may cost.) How does your cost compare to the benefits your solution provides? How much does your cost compare to the solution your competitors will propose?
  10. How credible are you?
    Everything you write or say during the proposal process will be filtered through your prospect’s perception of your credibility. Why should they trust you—your integrity and your competence? What is your reputation? How do you substantiate your credibility? What have you accomplished? Who have you worked with (your client list) and what do they say about you? How do you and your people present yourselves when you interact with the prospect?

Can you think of any other questions to ask as you create a strategy for preparing and presenting a winning proposal?

If you’d like help preparing a winning proposal, an effective strategy,and a clear and persuasive message, I can help. I’ve worked on over 250 proposals, both in the government and the commercial sector. My clients include IBM, Northrop Grumman, GE, Johnson Controls, SAIC, Serco, TASC, and many, many more. If you want to increase your chances of winning the contract, please get in touch with me. Let’s see if there’s a fit between what you need and what I do.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.