Singing in harmony – 3 top tips for a unified proposal

Unless you are a one man band, chances are that your tender responses will be written by more than one person, with each one contributing different sections according to their expertise. Trouble is, a document written by committee reads like…well, a document written by committee.

So how do you ensure that your tender responses are unified, coherent and consistent ? Here are my top 3 tips for ‘Singing in Harmony’.

1. Win themes

This is probably the most important step, and yet one which so many companies fail to consider. Before you even start to respond to the questions, ask yourself ‘What are the top 3 to 5 reasons that the client should pick us?’ You need to be able to articulate these clearly, substantiate them, and communicate them to every person in the team who will be making a contribution to the response.

Win themes must be specific to the particular tender, rather than generic statements. I had a client who told me that his company’s biggest selling point was their track record of responding to service calls within the contracted timeframe. In the tender however, the single biggest requirement was reliability – to not have to even be placing service calls in the first place.

It can help to have a catch phrase, or an image or metaphor for the win themes. This not only helps to cement them in the minds of your own team, but can be very powerful when you come to making a presentation. One client, who had a highly specialised niche offering, differentiated themselves with an analogy of a sniper, compared to the ‘tanks’ that were their broad brush competitors.

The point about Win Themes is that they have to be meaningful and memorable, and every contributor must have them at top of mind.  This is the single most effective way to build a response with a unified message.

2. Glossary and style guide

As well as a unified message about your value, it is important that the document has a consistent look and feel, and this is best achieved with a glossary and style guide. You would be amazed at how many variations companies have for writing even their own name, let alone names of clients, products and technologies.  A glossary is the place where you agree the form of all the commonly used names, terms and acronyms and about US/UK/Australian conventions on spelling – neither is right or wrong, but jumping between them will confuse and/or irritate your reader.

The style guide brings the same conformity to fonts, dates, headers and bullet points. It is incredibly distracting to read a document in multiple fonts. Bullet points and indents add meaning through structure. Headers and sub-headers are the signposts that help the reader to find their way through the document and to know exactly where they are.

3. Read the rest

Repetition and contradiction are two of the most common pitfalls of writing by committee. Both can only be avoided by reading the input of other contributors as well as your own.

I managed a proposal recently where we had a key statistic of 80%.  In another section it was shown as a graph, provided by a different contributor, as 78.6%. Ok, with rounding, they are pretty close, but even a small inconsistency like that can undermine your credibility.

Repetition is arguably less dangerous, but if you make exactly the same point multiple times it can at best look unprofessional and at worst, imply that you don’t have much to say so you just repeat the same thing over and over.

A well thought out, well written, well presented response will significantly increase your win chance. Follow the tips above and your many singers will produce glorious harmony.

Carol Benton is a business writer who specialises in end to end proposal management, helping clients to win more through effective written communication.

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