Planning and Writing a Proposal

Okay, those are the components of a successful sales proposal. But how do you go about planning and writing one? The answer depends on what you are selling, to whom, and in what format the proposal is required to be delivered. Proposals to governmental bodies, such as the U.S. General Services Administration (www.gsa.gov), can be challenging documents. Contractors must first register with the GSA. The proposals can often be completed online through the Federal Acquisition Process (eoffer.gsa.gov). Once the contracts are awarded, you can make changes to it as needed through their eMod service. Other federal, state, and local governments have their own systems for requesting quotes and proposals. The three most important elements to successful proposals are following the format, verifying information, and meeting deadlines. Proposal software, described above, can offer additional help in writing effective proposals.

Format

It may not seem so, but the design and format of most requests for proposals has been thoroughly considered before publication. There is a reason for every component, though it may not seem obvious. The reason, typically, is to make the buyer's decision process easier. In fact, most proposal formats are about “process.” A process is a series of actions or operations toward a specific end. In the case of standardized proposals, the specific end is a decision based on comparative elements: the delivered price of 2,807 standard widgets from Vendor A versus Vendor B. The proposal can help make that decision easier for the buyer if the format is standardized.

The point is that to submit successful sales proposals, you must first consider, understand, and follow the required format. Most of them, especially when developed by governmental bodies, are intended to discourage creativity. They want objective and comparative facts, not opinions. It's about accountability. The decision maker at some point may be asked by a superior: “Why did you purchase these widgets from Vendor B instead of Vendor A?” Help your decision maker by staying with the format and requirements.

If your buyers prefer proposals made online, copy them to your computer so you can analyze them at leisure. Also, download documentation and other tips that will guide you in developing the proposal as required. Then spend the time to go over all documents to ensure that you understand requirements and can meet filing deadlines. Many government proposal sites also offer telephone numbers to ask relevant questions.

Reviews

In most sales operations, more than one person develops a sales proposal. It may be begun by support staff, continued by the salesperson, and then reviewed by a sales manager or other superior. Reviews are vital to accuracy. Make sure that your proposal is reviewed for technical accuracy or at least grammar before submission. In fact, your first few proposals may require a signoff by your superior.

Deadline

Proposal deadlines have a function: they close the door. Without a deadline for submissions, decisions cannot be made. All RFQs and RFPs include a deadline; most are unchangeable and cannot be extended by the buyer without notifying all participants. In a few cases, RFPs are rescinded or declared incomplete. However, the vast majority of RFPs have a set, unchangeable deadline that you are required to meet if you want your proposal to be considered.

It is vital, therefore, that as soon as you decide to bid, you begin to develop an action plan toward completing the proposal in advance of the established deadline. If the deadline for delivery is in ninety days, establish a deadline for defining all requirements, a research period to develop details, and another deadline for gathering components into a first draft with executive summary. Then allow sufficient time for fact-checking, internal review, and editing to make sure that the proposal is ready in advance of the deadline. Like all projects, other events occur that can delay progress for a week or two. If time for contingencies isn't figured into the schedule, the deadline may be missed and the time and efforts lost. Meet your proposal deadlines!

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