3 keys to creating winning proposals

A defined and efficient process are essential to success

Bob Lohfeld is chief executive officer at Lohfeld Consulting Group.

Creating winning proposals is not the same as writing a proposal. Anyone can write a proposal for government work, given enough time and resources. However, only one bidder writes the winning proposal. The best proposals have three things in common:

  • 1. They are directed and written by talented people experienced at writing proposals.
  • 2. They follow a similar, defined process.
  • 3. They are designed in an environment that creates proposals efficiently.

Your capture and proposal managers bring necessary skills to plan, staff, lead and control your capture campaign and develop your competitive proposal. They work as a team and understand each member's role. The capture manager leads the campaign, and the proposal manager comes in before a request for proposals is released to focus on developing the proposal.

This team knows that the first step is developing a winning solution. During the capture phase and preproposal phases they work together to:

  • Create a clear win strategy. Win strategies derive from a competitive assessment that focuses on your competitors' strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these enable you to create a win strategy that highlights your strengths and mitigates your weaknesses while neutralizing your competitors' strengths and accentuating their weaknesses.
  • Develop and document the solution. Solution development begins during the pursuit phase as a separate exercise from writing the proposal. Create and document your solution, complete design trade-offs, conduct reviews and approve the solution before writing the technical and management response.
  • Build in significant strengths. Every winning proposal is rich in features that evaluators will assess as proposal strengths. These features are engineered into your proposed solution to show that your approach increases your likelihood of successful performance or that your solution exceeds a requirement in a way that is beneficial to the government customer. Those strengths are explained to the selecting official along with your price and used as the basis to differentiate competitors and justify selection of the winner.

Although each proposal is different, the process used to create winning proposals generally has these characteristics:

  • Early proposal planning and development. Great proposals begin during the pursuit stage well in advance of the final RFP. Preproposal activities are funded, a proposal manager and support staff are assigned, and proposal development begins. Draft text and graphics are created in anticipation of the RFP. That includes the technical description of your solution, management organization structure and management plans, past-performance summaries, key employees’ résumés, management and technical processes, and data calls to team members. Portions of significant proposals and any proposal designated as must-win should be substantially written before RFP release.
  • A compliant, easy-to-evaluate proposal structure. Winning proposals always comply with the RFP. The proposal structure follows RFP instructions and evaluated information is easily found. Good proposal structures are developed early, validated independently and approved before authors begin writing. The structure must be well crafted because it serves as the foundation for the proposal.
  • Proposal sections designed before writing. Each section is designed using either an annotated outline technique or a storyboard.
  • Responsive and compelling proposal text. Text responds completely to the RFP, assertions are substantiated by evidence — not rhetoric — and benefits are clear to the customer. The proposal is written compellingly and is easy to read and score.

Winning proposals are developed in an environment with a well-established proposal development process, using appropriate tools to facilitate the process. A collaborative workspace for archiving capture data and managing proposal development, workflows and version control is essential. Virtual meeting tools are vital for reviewing documents and hosting discussions. Publishing tools bring efficiency to the process. Up-to-date company databases of past-performance summaries, personnel résumés, prewritten proposal material, proposal graphics and past proposals are equally helpful.

How do your proposals stack up against these characteristics? Use the comment field below to share your experiences with us.

About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail is

Reader Comments

Wed, Jun 16, 2010

But many times what is proposed is NOT what is delivered. They state they can do it but then cannot. Writing and doing are different!

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 Marie Ashburn, VA

A winning proposal, if I were to add, is not just about writing a compelling story how cheap, reliable, and superior the products or services your company can offer. Does the company has the right customer support and does it clearly show it is also easy to order and easy to bill??

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 Tru Le Vienna, Virginia

Beside the preparation with a knowledge of what coming from the pipe in advance, past performance/experience, credential/capability, technical solution, price,qualified resources, capital, and those mentioned on this article with the above comments, the customers' relationship, knowing of who you're competing against, teaming up, and luck are the keys two win a contract. Out of four above, which one is the most decisive factor? That is the question.

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 NOVA

"Winning proposals are developed in an environment with a well-established proposal development process"..This one sentence by the author sums it all up. Start out with all your ducks lined up and the rest will fall into order.

Tue, Jun 15, 2010 David Nemzoff Chantilly, VA

I have to respectfully disagree with the reader's comments. I've worked in many proposal environments and, yes, you have to do what it takes to meet the delivery schedule. BUT, clearly defined processes, a plan, and people dedicated to doing the "RIGHT" work does mean you can create a great, winning proposal without "2) harder work, and 3) increcibly and unblievable hard work." Notice I left the first "hard work" in. But it must be the "RIGHT" hard work. Too much time is spent on "preparing" rather than "doing" in my opinion. I think Bob is right in his keys, but I don't think that it's necessary to drive everyone into the ground on every single proposal as a matter of course. That only results in tired people who will have trouble thinking creatively. Work hard, work smart, but don't assume that time = winning proposal.

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