The introduction is your grader’s first meeting with your proposal. It’s important to make a good impression. But how do you write a great proposal introduction that clearly and quickly explains your understanding of the customer environment?
By focusing on 3 areas the customer is always thinking about: threats, obligations, and opportunities. These 3 areas are a framework for you to use to develop the key elements for your proposal introduction.
To help you put these concepts to use, in this article I:
- Define threats, obligations, and opportunities and explain how each improves your proposal
- Give an example of how they can be written into an introduction section
- Give you a free PPT download to guide a meeting where you extract this information from your client team
Critical Information to Include in Your Proposal Introduction
Threats = External factors that could be potential sources of failure or difficulty for the organization.
Threats include Challenges, External Stakeholders, Budget Constraints, Problems, and Pressures from Current Events. Show the grader you know what keeps them up at night. Ideally, you’ll be able to meet with the customer long before the RFP is released to find out what threats they are most concerned about.
- Current customer and you are working on a recompete. Your contract team should know exactly what threats they face because they are living with these concerns, too. Set up a meeting with your team to extract the customer’s specific concerns.
- New contract for you. Maybe you won’t know all the specific threats, but you should be able to articulate general types of threats that affect this customer’s type of work. Set up a meeting with members of your team that do similar work to extract general concerns.
Obligations = Things they have already committed to producing, usually with a specified time horizon.
Obligations include Upcoming Milestones, Current Work Commitments, Ongoing Contracts, Reports, Regulations, Guidance from Higher Echelons, and Current Tasking. Your customer is required to produce specific conditions of fulfillment for different aspects of their work requirements by a specific time. Your technical response needs to take them into consideration and ensure it supports their fulfillment. For example, if a technician must have a specific certification to do the work per regulations and you propose a non-certified person to save money, you are not helping the customer meet their obligations. As a result, your proposal will score poorly or it will be deemed that you do not understand the work requirements.
Opportunities = Things this contract will allow them to accomplish, such as meeting deadlines, developing new innovations, increasing output, finding more efficient ways of doing, new products and services, and better work/life balance.
Your customers have aspirations, goals, visions, and missions. Your proposal is your chance to tell them about how the next 1-5 years could go if they hire your company. In the introduction, introduce the grader to your marginal utility. Marginal utility is those things that you do better than your competition that make it worth picking you. For some companies, their marginal utility is that they have the best experts in the business. For others, it is people that can do the job at minimal cost. Figuring out what your real value is from the customer’s perspective is difficult and takes strategic thinking. But if you do it well, it results in a proposal that scores well.
STRATEGIC TIP: Once you consider each of these from the customer’s perspective, take some time to think through how you can turn our customers’ threats into opportunities for your company. This thinking may lead you to the marginal utility your company provides over others.
Example of an Introduction that Includes Threats, Obligations, and Opportunities
To stay on a topic that you probably know about if you are reading this article, I’m going to give you a sample of an introductory paragraph I would write if someone put out an RFP for proposal writing. I’ll highlight threats in Red, Obligations in Blue, and Opportunities in Green.
Developing a strong proposal for a Government RFP requires knowledge of the customer, the work, and the proposal process. Difficult to understand RFPs, extremely busy schedules, inexperienced writers, and a weak proposal process make collecting and incorporating the information difficult. Ongoing contracts and work reduce the time people have to commit to the time-constrained proposal. Training the proposal team in advance of the proposal and working with a proposal expert can alleviate much of the guesswork, rewrites, and pain that typically accompany proposals, ultimately saving time and money. Additionally, if your client-facing team can dedicate less time while producing a better proposal, they could actually be making the company money through billable work.
Now, the paragraph above is an example of a general introduction. If I could have a conversation with my customer before I wrote my proposal, I would find out exactly where the team was strong and where they need help. Some teams need really good tech editors, others just need a good structure to follow and training. If I knew exactly what the needs were, I would include them in my intro.
Some things I’m not doing in my intro:
- Kissing your butt
- Making broad general claims
- Stating that I’m amazing
A well thought out intro is easy to read and shows the grader that you understand the situation they are in. If you can connect with the grader and get them to believe in your solution, they will come to their own conclusion that you are amazing. Nobody likes a bragger.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP: If you find a sentence in your proposal that starts with, “We understand,” ask yourself if you need that part of the sentence. It is more powerful to make a declarative statement with specific details. For example, I could write:
- We understand the proposal process can be complicated and stressful for the writers and their leadership.
- Developing a winning proposal is complicated due to tight deadlines, competing resource needs, and inexperienced writers.
Which sentence evokes an emotional response from you? The first one you may nod your head in agreement with, but the second one makes a direct statement and reminds you of the specific things that cause you stress. The second sentence brings to the forefront of your mind the things you need someone to solve for you. If a good proposal process is presented after the second sentence, it is easier for someone to positively grade that proposal.
How Long Should my Introduction Be?
Long enough to show the customer that you know them and you aren’t just submitting the last proposal you wrote for a different contract. This could be one paragraph or it could be 2 pages. It depends on how much page count you have for your proposal and where you need to maximize impact. Ultimately, the introduction is usually not gradable so you should be very cautious about giving it a lot of room. Instead, focus on honing it and being very precise in what you include. If you can find a way to make it gradable, you can afford to give it a little more room.