Four Steps to Building A Winning Proposal Outline

Proposals are scored not read – have you heard this before, perhaps from a co-worker or consultant hired to support your proposal effort? We have all encountered the individual who feels passionately about organizing the proposal to tell a story. But since we’re writing a proposal win, we need to remember that proposals are scored, not read. That means you should organize the proposal to score the highest when the customer evaluates it.

In the solicitation, the customer will tell us exactly what they want in the proposal via the “proposal instructions” section of the solicitation, often “Section L”, then they tell us how they’re going to evaluate the proposal in “Section M.” We should organize the proposal based on the order and organization of the proposal instructions, to make it easy for the customer to find what they’ve asked for.

Often following the order of the instructions may result in a proposal that feels disjointed. You may think, “if I just reorganize the proposal to real like a coherent story, the customer will like it, and I’ll just give them a map to tell them where we addressed the requirements.” One word of advice: DON’T. This is a good time to remember that proposals are scored, not read. How the Government chooses to organize the sections may not make sense – but that isn’t for us to decide. Let the burden of storytelling fall off your shoulders, so you can focus on what matters, which is creating a proposal that meets the requirements and developing a solution that helps the customer.

If you want to win the proposal (which we assume you do!), build a proposal outline that follows the instructions precisely. Here are four key tips for creating the proposal outline:

  1. Create the master proposal outline to follow the proposal instructions exactly
  2. Use key words and phrases from the proposal instructions in your outline section titles
  3. If there is a requirement in the evaluation factors that does not map directly to the proposal instructions, add a section for that requirement in the outline
  4. Where the proposal instructions make reference to the technical requirements in the Statement of Work, Performance Work Statement, or similar, have a master proposal section for addressing the technical requirements, then build sub-sections to cover the relevant pieces of the technical requirements

Don’t worry about building an outline that allows the proposal to “tell a story” because, once again, proposals are scored, not read. The customer evaluators will look for a response to a specific proposal instruction, evaluate that response, then go look for the next instruction response. Bowing to the pressure and building a proposal outline that “tells a story” but makes it hard for the customer to find what they asked for will make it harder for you to win.

Want to learn more about proposal development? Don’t miss our upcoming training on March 12.
Proposal Development Training