Excerpts for Writing Winning Business Proposals

Writing Winning Business Proposals


The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-174232-0


PART 1 Proposal Logics
CHAPTER 1 Understanding Generic Structure Logic
CHAPTER 2 Understanding the Baseline Logic
CHAPTER 3 Aligning the Baseline Logic
CHAPTER 4 Using a Measurable-Results Orientation
CHAPTER 5 Using Logic Trees to Construct Your Methodology
PART 2 Proposal Psychologics
CHAPTER 6 Analyzing the Buyers
CHAPTER 7 Identifying, Selecting, and Developing Themes: Determining What
to Weave in Your Web of Persuasion
CHAPTER 8 Green Team Reviews: Collaborating to Improve Your Odds of
PART 3 Proposal Preparation
CHAPTER 9 Writing the Situation and Objectives Slots
CHAPTER 10 Writing the Methods Slot
CHAPTER 11 Writing the Qualifications Slot
CHAPTER 12 Writing the Benefits Section
CHAPTER 13 Writing the Fees Slot
CHAPTER 14 Summary: The Proposal Development Process
APPENDIX A Paramount Consulting's Proposal Opportunity at the ABC Company:
A Case Study
APPENDIX B Worksheets
APPENDIX C Paramount's Proposal Letter to the ABC Company
APPENDIX D Internal Proposals (Make Certain They're Not Reports)
APPENDIX E A Few Comments About Writing Effective Sentences (and
APPENDIX F Using the Right Voice: Determining How Your Proposal Should
APPENDIX H A Worksheet for Qualifying Your Lead
Notes and Citations



Understanding Generic Structure Logic

Like most people, I like stories, so let me begin by telling you a very short story—after which I'll ask you several questions.

Paula was hungry. After she entered and ordered a pastrami sandwich, it was served to her quickly. She left the waitress a big tip.

* Where was Paula?

* What did she eat?

* Who made the sandwich?

* Who took the order?

* Who served the sandwich?

* Why did Paula leave a big tip?

How is it that you could answer those questions rather easily even though nothing in the story explicitly provides the information necessary for your answers? Because you have a schema for the concept of "restaurant."

Schemas are knowledge structures that you have built and stored in your memory as patterns, as analytical frameworks. Schemas represent generic concepts such as restaurant or airplane or house. Each schema has "slots" that exist in a network of relations. Your schema for restaurant may have slots for "ordering," "eating," "tipping," and "paying." Your schema for house may contain slots for "family room," "kitchen," "living room," and "bathroom." A slot for "home office" is also possible, but probably not for "boardroom" or "conference room," since such spaces typically are not found in residences. Therefore, you don't expect to find a boardroom or a conference room in someone's house.

You also have schemas for different kinds of texts, and these schemas create expectations. In a novel, for example, you expect character and plot and setting. In a particular type of novel, such as a spy novel, you may expect that the hero will be betrayed and captured, only to escape and triumph. In a eulogy, you expect some account of the deceased person's character and accomplishments; in a personal letter, some account of your friend's life and feelings; in a sermon, some moral based on a religious belief. If the sermon consisted solely of an analysis of price-earnings ratios or bills of materials or various strategies for penetrating new markets, your expectations would be denied, and you'd be suspicious of the speaker's competence and reliability, maybe even his or her sanity.

Proposals and other business documents also carry with them schemas and sets of expectations. If I asked you to submit a proposal to me, I'd be surprised if the document contained findings, conclusions, and recommendations. These are slots I'd expect in a report, not a proposal. Potential clients like me, then, have certain expectations, and as a writer, you're at some risk if you don't meet those expectations. If your reader is in a proposal-reading situation, you'd better deliver a document that fits your reader's proposal schema, not the schema for a report or a eulogy or a novel.

Your schema for a proposal also has slots, and those slots make up what I call a proposal's generic structure. No matter how different one proposal may be from another, something generic makes them both proposals, and that something is their generic structure.

The Slots in a Proposal's Generic Structure

Most of your proposal opportunities exist because I, your potential client, have an unsolved problem or an unrealized opportunity. Therefore, your primary task is to convince me, both logically and psychologically, that you can help me address my problem or opportunity and, in competitive situations, that you'll do so better than anyone else.

Your entire proposal needs to communicate that message in one seamless argument (which may happen to be divided into sections or even volumes for my convenience). Your argument is suggested by the following propositions, each of which is preceded by the proposal slot that contains it. (See Figure 1.1.)

Slots Speaking to Slots

Although the preceding statements might suggest that your proposal's argument flows only one way—from top to bottom—the argument should be so tight that the logic also can flow from bottom to top:

    These are the benefits or value you will receive
    considering the costs you will incur
    given our qualifications
    for performing these methods
    that will achieve your objectives
    and therefore improve your situation.

Now, I've never seen a proposal organized that way, but however the proposal is organized, every generic structure slot needs to "speak" to all the others. No slot exists in isolation: Each contributes to your communicating the proposal's primary message. In later chapters, I'll show you specific techniques for assuring that each slot in your proposal speaks to every other one.

Slots Are Not Necessarily Sections

You've probably noticed that I've been referring to OBJECTIVES, METHODS, BENEFITS, and so on, as "slots," even though many proposals might designate those parts of the proposal by using section headings of the same name. I've been calling these elements slots rather than sections because in any given proposal it is possible that:

* No slot could be used as a section heading. That's the case if you don't use headings in your document or if your headings are different from the slot names. The situation slot could be called "Background" or "Business Issues" or "Our Understanding of Your Situation." The methods slot could be named "Approach" or "Methodology" or "Study Strategy."

* Two or more slots could be combined into one section. You could combine SITUATION and OBJECTIVES into one section. Or OBJECTIVES and METHODS.

* One slot could be split into two or more sections. METHODS could be divided among "Approach," "Workplan," and "Deliverables." QUALIFICATIONS could be split among "Project Organization," "Qualifications," "References," and "Résumés."

All Slots Should Be Filled or Accounted For

Every proposal you write or present contains six slots, but these slots are not necessarily organized into corresponding sections or presented in predetermined or fixed order. Nevertheless, whether they are combined, split, or not named at all, each slot should be filled or accounted for. On some occasions, you don't have to fill slots in the proposal document or presentation because they've already been "filled" in prior discussions with me, your potential client, and therefore accounted for during the proposal process. We all know that proposal development itself is often only one part of the selling process, and actions, good or bad, that occur before the actual document is submitted affect the proposal's content, organization, tone, and the like.

If before you submit the proposal you have already convinced me that you thoroughly understand my problem or opportunity, you've already filled much of the situation slot and may not need to fill it (or fill it very much) in the proposal. If you and your team previously have done a good deal of commendable work for me, you've filled much of the qualifications slot, and loading the document with résumés and references may be not only unnecessary but strategically unwise and perhaps even annoying. Remember, there are no rules, only strategies. And effective strategies are driven by the specifics of the situation, by the context of the selling process.

* * *

By understanding the schema for house, you know what kind of rooms can exist in a house; therefore, you expect rooms such as a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom. You also have some sense of the relationship among those rooms and, to some degree, their placement. For example, in a two-story house, you would expect a first-floor kitchen; in a two-story house with only one bath, you might expect a second-floor bathroom; in a house with more than one bath, you would not be surprised to find the second one adjoined to a master bedroom. Similarly, by understanding generic structure—the schema for proposals—you understand an important logical element of proposals. You know that proposals, to be proposals, also have certain kinds of rooms or slots, and you know the relationship among those rooms. You know, for example, that one slot explains the problem or opportunity, another explains a method for addressing the problem or capitalizing on the opportunity, and yet another argues the benefits of doing so. Throughout much of this book, I will build upon the concept of generic structure. In fact, the next two chapters focus on the three proposal slots—SITUATION, OBJECTIVES, and BENEFITS—that make up what I call "the baseline logic."


Understanding Generic Structure Logic

1. All proposals have the same generic structure, which contains the following six slots:

* Situation: What is the problem or opportunity?

* Objectives: Given that problem or opportunity, what are your objectives for solving or realizing it?

* Methods: Given those objectives, how will you achieve them?

* Qualifications: Given those methods, how are you qualified to perform them?

* Costs: Given the methods and qualifications, how much will it cost?

* Benefits: Given those costs, what benefits and/or value will accrue?

2. Generic structure is not a matter of organization. That is, a proposal is not necessarily sequenced according to the slots as they are ordered above.

3. The slots do not necessarily correspond to sections. One section could contain two or more slots. A single slot could be distributed among two or more sections.

4. The extent to which the slots should be filled in the proposal presentation or document depends upon how much they were filled in preproposal meetings or prior working relationships.

WORK SESSION 1: Proposal Opportunity at the ABC Company, a Division of Consolidated Industries

See Figure 1.2 for the instructions for this chapter's work session.

To: You, The Reader

From: Your Potential Client

Subject: Work Session 1

Before I take you to the next chapter, I need to introduce you to this first of 10 work sessions that will help you think about and apply the concepts discussed throughout this book.

Fortunately, you won't have to do the work; the work sessions take you through the paces. You only have to pretend to watch yourself work and think about what you're doing. It won't be this simple in the real world, but understanding these work sessions will make it far easier.

Each of the work sessions is based on the ABC Case in Appendix A, which you should read for this session. Please do not be concerned if the case relates to a business situation unfamiliar to you. Understanding the technical aspects of the case's situation is not a prerequisite to understanding the strategies used in subsequent work sessions to prepare a winning proposal. In subsequent chapters, I will refer to the work sessions and the proposal that gets written piece by piece throughout them. So don't skip these sessions! To internalize this book's concepts, you need to read the work sessions in order.

You might not always agree with the analyses in the work sessions or with what "you" decide to include or not include in the proposal. In fact, I encourage you to disagree, to consider other alternatives, perhaps even better strategies. But please, let's not debate the technical aspects of the case. I've simplified it somewhat for the purpose of this book, which is to discuss proposal strategy and development rather than the technical aspects of the ABC situation.

Remember, there is no Right Answer, no rules, only some possible guidelines and a set of possible alternatives at every juncture. Some alternatives may be better than others, depending on your analysis of the specific selling situation, its history, its magnitude and importance, your relationship with the buying committee and your competition, and other situational factors discussed throughout this book.


Understanding the Baseline Logic

A lot of people (and I'm one of them) think that too many proposals try to make the simple complex, when in fact what I and many other buyers want them to do is to make the complex simple. So let me simplify what proposals do, or at least what I'd like them to do from my potential client's perspective. Let's concentrate on just three things (which, we'll see in Chapter 3, are related to three of the generic structure slots—SITUATION, OBJECTIVES, and BENEFITS). Figure 2.1 depicts your proposed project (with examples from the ABC case) in a nutshell.

In the beginning is my organization, which is in a condition, a current "state of health," a current situation—call it S1. This current situation is what is happening today. Perhaps we don't like this situation because we have a problem that needs addressing or solving. Or perhaps we would like another situation better because we have an opportunity on which we might capitalize. In either case, we desire to change. Or we might be uncertain about whether we like or should like our current situation, and we'd like to know whether we ought to like it or dislike it.

In each of these cases, an actual or possible discrepancy exists between where we are and where we want to be. Therefore, we are willing to consider engaging a consultant to help us, to propose a project at the end of which we will have closed the gap and be in a different, improved state—call it S2—which is what I call my desired result. At that point, our problem will be solved (or on its way to a solution), or our opportunity will be realized (or at least closer to its realization), or we will know whether we even have a problem or an opportunity. In each case, we will have or know something more than we had or knew before. And we will be better off because of it; we will benefit and gain value from reaching our desired result, S2, by the end of your proposed project.

We are here, we want to be over there, and we'll benefit when we get there. That simple idea needs to function as the baseline of your proposal—and of your thinking about your proposal to me. That idea has a logic to it, a fundamental logic, a baseline logic. And that idea, that baseline logic, needs to drive the argument of your proposal: "You are here, and we understand that 'here' is or might not be desirable. You want to be somewhere else instead, which is more desirable. Once we help you to be that somewhere else, you will enjoy the benefits of being there."

Although all this certainly isn't rocket science, only a minority of proposal writers understand this logic, and far fewer know how to test for and apply it. Most proposals are illogical at their core because the writers don't understand the baseline logic, and even when they do, they don't know how to convey that understanding clearly to me. They don't know how to take advantage of that logic to increase the persuasiveness of their presentations and documents. Illogical thinking reduces your probability of winning, and, if you should win, it dramatically reduces your likelihood of conducting a successful engagement. This baseline logic—or, if you prefer, this problem definition or analytical framework—is the basis for a meaningful and persuasive exchange of ideas.

Here I should express two cautionary notes. First, there are times when I, your potential client, am not clear about this baseline logic. I'm not clear about my current situation or about where I want to be at the end of your proposed project. When this occurs, and you do not help me achieve clarity, you and I are in a potential lose-lose situation. In this situation, you probably will write a proposal without clear objectives, without clearly defining my desired result, S2, at the end of your project. I might even accept that proposal, but we might both pay a price, often a significant price, during the project. You may not satisfy me, possibly incur a cost overrun, and not develop the long-lasting relationship we both desire.

To avoid this situation and to ensure that your proposal is fundamentally sound, the rest of this chapter, as well as the next, will build on the concept of the baseline logic, show you how to test for it, and demonstrate how you can use it to your advantage.

The second cautionary note: Although I remarked at the beginning of this chapter that I want you to make the complex simple, I have to admit that the relatively simple concept of the baseline logic often is not easy to understand. Accordingly, this chapter on understanding the baseline logic and the next chapter on aligning the baseline logic are not easy going. At times, the reading will be laborious. Sometimes it will even appear redundant because I want constantly to reinforce important points that will help you use the baseline logic, in this chapter and those that follow, to:

* Challenge the depth of my thinking

* Clarify my overriding question(s)

* Clarify your project's objective(s)

* Articulate and generate benefits

* Communicate a measurable-results orientation

* Construct your methodology

* Define the magnitude of your proposed effort

* Identify your necessary qualifications

* Make better go/no-go decisions about deciding to bid

* Demonstrate your ability to address thoughtfully what—to me, anyway—is a complex issue



Excerpted from Writing Winning Business Proposals by RICHARD C. FREED, JOSEPH D. ROMANO, SHERVIN FREED. Copyright © 2011 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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