Developing content prompts

Nearly every proposal team has had to rewrite major sections just before a deadline. These marathons typically stem from a last-minute realization that the content doesn’t answer the questions. They take a toll on everyone and produce final submissions well below early expectations.

This month’s posts explain how to avoid major rewrites.

NOTE: This approach assumes the proposal leads have taken time to analyses the RFP and develop a strategy and win themes. See this post for more on proposal strategy making.

Narrative guides and prompts

To improve first drafts, do not simply distribute the RFP to your content developers. Instead, plan and execute a proposal kickoff and give writers their sections, together with a set of prompts for answering each question.

Prompts need to be written by someone who understands the project, the prospect, likely competitors, and the team’s solution and win strategy. Develop prompts to:

  • Ensure compliance
  • Show responsiveness and to position the offer against competitors
  • Promote consistent structure

Prompt for compliance

For complex, multi-part questions, identify all elements of a fully compliant response in a bullet point list.

Prompt for responsiveness and positioning

To ensure the draft considers responsiveness and positioning, develop prompts such as:

  • How does our solution address the prospect’s key strategic requirements and hot button issues? Using the win themes provided, tie the solution to 2-4 prospect needs.
  • What trade-offs (if any) did we make in deciding to recommend this solution?
  • In what specific ways is our solution superior to those of likely competitors? See competitive solutions matrix for guidance.

Prompt for structure

Consistent structure signals a cohesive team and leadership, and is especially important in RFQ responses, which typically contain high-value approach sections. See this post on consistent proposal structure for more on this topic.

The following prompts recommend a logical structure adaptable to all sections that require approaches and plans:

  • Cite 4-6 concepts or principles that underpin our approach to this deliverable. These are items that, when followed, produce successful outcomes
  • Explain exactly what we will do and how major decisions align with the concepts cited above. Use 70-80 percent of the total page limit for this part of your response
  • Show how our team has used this approach successfully in past relevant projects, citing reference projects and key individuals wherever possible
  • Link the key features of our approach to the prospect’s goals and hot button issues

Worth the effort

You may be thinking: This sounds like a lot of work. Developing clear guidance does take effort by the proposal manager or other senior team member. But this early work pays off handsomely in better first drafts and—crucially—avoidance of those last-minute rewrite marathons we can all do without.

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