Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Managing structure (ATOC)

 August 15, 2017
by Paul Heron

Once you understand the RFP completely and have captured its requirements in a compliance matrix, decide how you will structure your proposal. Depending on the RFP, the structure may be self-evident, or you may have to infer it.

If the RFP:

  • Specifies a structure, follow it exactly, using the same numbering system as in the RFP
  • Implies a structure—for example by posing a set of questions—follow that structure, using the question numbers to number your sections
  • Includes a scoring breakdown, use that breakdown to structure your proposal

We’ve seen all of the above, plus examples of no guidance and RFPs containing separate overlapping versions of the required information. If unclear, consider using the process specified in the RFP to ask the issuer for guidance. Many bidders are reluctant to ask questions, but issuers tell us it shows engagement and interest in winning their business.

In the absence of any guidance, organize your proposal as follows:

  • Cover letter
  • Executive summary
  • Understanding of the situation
  • Proposed solution
  • Benefits of proposed solution and advantages over alternatives
  • Experience and qualifications
  • Past performance
  • Proposed team
  • Implementation plan and schedule (if applicable)
  • References

Where the RFP is vague or contains conflicting content information, make it easy for evaluators by including a compliance table cross-referencing RFP paragraph numbers to locations of the corresponding responses in the proposal.

Using an ATOC

Document your proposal structure using an Excel worksheet formatted into an annotated table of contents (ATOC). Assign columns for:

  • Section no.
  • Subsection no.
  • Title
  • RFP page and paragraph nos.
  • Requirements
  • Points allocated by section or subsection (if in the RFP)
  • Pages allocated (8.5 x 11)
  • No. of foldouts (11 x 17)
  • Section lead (person responsible for writers and SMEs)
  • Writer(s) assigned
  • Subject matter expert(s) (SMEs)
  • Graphics support person
  • Content delivery date(s)

On a separate worksheet, list all team members’ contact information (including mobile numbers).

Populating the ATOC

Use the information captured in the compliance matrix (see last week’s post) to populate the ATOC. Reserve the first couple rows of the ATOC for general information about the proposal, including maximum pages allowed, any formatting restrictions and packaging and delivery requirements.

Use the remaining rows for proposal content requirements.

We assign separate rows to covers, tabs, sections and subsections and appendices. This lets us assign and manage responsibility for all design elements (covers, tabs, etc.) and for individual required forms (insurance certificates, bid bonds, etc.) as well as content. It also makes it easy to compile a detailed contents list as part of our printing instructions.

Make it yours

The ATOC is a powerful proposal management tool. Make it yours by adding columns for additional items you need to track and make decisions about how to populate it. Customize your ATOC so it works best for your business and team.


Need help getting your proposal process organized?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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