Dr. Emmett Brown: Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. – “Back to the Future”, 1985
Dr. Brown was wrong, we still need roads. The cars may have changed, and some of them don’t need human drivers, but roads are still heavily traveled.
Similarly, some may predict that our future procurement world will eliminate the need for written proposals. After all, if Presidents can tweet policy directions, why bother writing a full-length proposal? Maybe the future will simply involve videos or video-conferencing, technical challenges, and/or orals.
Here we are in 2020, and things have certainly changed quite a bit in the last 20 years or so, but not to the extent we might have predicted. The written proposal is still, for the most part, the road to a win or loss. However, the written proposal will change in the future. How?
One of the biggest complaints I hear from bidders is that the solicitation has hundreds of requirements, but the page limit is far too short.
Whether your proposal is short or long, the written content must grab and hold the reader’s attention. Attention grabbers include a variety of techniques. They illustrate your understanding of the customer in an unusual way—a unique deﬁnition, a little-known fact, a surprising quote, a statement intended to challenge, a relatable anecdote, a penetrating question. Look for ways to highlight important content in an atypical format.
Attention grabbers lure the evaluator in, but how does the proposal keep their attention? The best proposals have scannable content organized in a clear and easy-to-read format to keep your evaluators engaged, regardless of its length. Some techniques to make content more scannable include:
- Attractive page layout with high-quality visuals that make a good first impression
- Easy to navigate with proper headings, sub-headings, and cross references as well as short paragraphs and sentences
- Less intimidating by avoiding lengthy, uninterrupted text that is difficult to scan
- Important points highlighted for the scanner.
Another important component of scannable content is readability at the 7th to 9th grade level. Use a free tool to check; I like WebFX because it provides a report using different readability indicators including Flesch Kinkaid.
Companion to Oral Content
Recently, we have seen greater use of orals. Sometimes the orals (in-person, video, or video-conference) replace written content. In other cases, the orals represent a supplemental or down-select phase after evaluators have read already submitted written narrative. The future will include more orals because, in the digital age, knowledge workers do not have time or interest in reading dense text.
However, even if orals supplant a written proposal, most procurements still require bidders to submit slides or other narrative. Therefore, the same cautions apply with regard to making the content easily scannable. For slide decks, attractive page layouts that communicate all the required information as well as the value proposition will continue to be the biggest challenge, now and in the future.
More Page Constrained
One of the biggest complaints I hear from bidders is that the solicitation has hundreds of requirements, but the page limit is far too short. This trend will continue in the future because, again, evaluators do not have the time or interest in reading long proposals. Instead of complaining, accept that shorter proposals are here to stay. Therefore, it is vitally important that everyone on the team understands and can succinctly communicate discriminating strengths of the offer.
As proposal page limits continue to challenge proposal professionals, solutioning becomes even more important. Analyze the requirements, determine how they can be grouped and written to, decide which ones are less important and can be simply acknowledged or even ignored. For each requirement or group of requirements, build a solution that meets or exceeds musts and shalls in a manner the customer values. The solutioning exercise requires strong capture, but it is the only way to develop a short proposal that speaks directly to what the customer values.
The Future Road to a Win
Concise articulation of your discriminating value proposition is the road to a win, now and in the future. Focus you attention on ways to grab and keep the evaluators attention by modernizing your writing.