The 3 Key Elements of Your Best Proposals

The 3 Key Elements of Your Best Proposals

If Your Proposal Isn’t Compliant, Easy to Grade, and Compelling, Don’t Bother Submitting

How much did your company spend on its last proposal? And what did your writers focus on? If you’re like many companies new to Government contracting, you spent a lot of the allowed page count telling the Government what a wonderful company you are. You focused on yourself first and answering the Government’s specific questions second. This is exactly what NOT to do.

Instead, as you coach your writers and your color team reviewers, have them focus on the following 3 things and you’ll deliver a better proposal, with a better chance of winning, every time.


In a Government Request for Proposal (RFP), the exact questions the Government customer needs answered are given to you. In fact, they tell you what questions to answer, what format they demand, and how many pages you can take to answer those questions. Once all the proposals are in by the strict due date, the Government Technical Evaluation Board (TEB) grades each proposal with a grade sheet created directly from the RFP. There are no lines for extra credit, only areas for you to get marked badly if you skip them.

As a result, the first step to proposal writing is being compliant with the rules laid out in the specific RFP you are responding to. Parse out all the questions the Government is asking and provide a response that clearly, concisely, and simply answers every question. Every RFP is different, so cutting and pasting from an old proposal is never a good plan. Always tailor your response to each new RFP.

Easy to Grade

Oftentimes, a writer will look at the order the Government laid out their RFP and think they can respond to it in a more logical, flowing fashion. Ignore this urge. Push it down no matter how much it wars with the good writer deep inside you. The Government’s grade sheet generally goes line-by-line, in order with the RFP. You should not make them have to look for your information, or god forbid, infer something. The people actually grading your proposal are grading a lot of proposals with very similar content. If you make it difficult for them to grade your proposal, they may save themselves a lot of effort and decide you didn’t answer that part of the RFP.


The Government gets a lot of responses to each of their RFPs. And on top of that, they usually ask pretty boring questions that dictate dry responses. There are a couple of ways to avoid dullness:

  • Solutions that address the customer’s needs

  • Stories

  • Specific facts

Solutions. Nothing is more interesting than telling someone about how you can solve their problems, especially if you’ve made it clear you understand their problems and that your solution is realistic. Rambling on about how great you are – not very interesting. Concisely highlighting the major issues they face, explaining how you would solve them, and then giving them an example of where you have solved this problem in the past – very interesting to people with problems.

The customer has problems and they released an RFP to get those problems solved. Commiserate with them and then show them how you can solve their problems.

Stories. When you describe relevant work experiences, include who, what, how, and the overall benefit your work provided the client. The who and what are especially important if the company knows the organization you did the work for and see it as similar to their own. If this is not immediately clear, add in a couple more facts that will help the grader see the connection. For the how portion, highlight part of what you did that is unique, innovative, or difficult. The overall benefit your work gave your customer is by far the most overlooked and the most important! By telling them the benefits, it will help them more clearly see what they would get from your company.

Specific Facts. Detailed numbers and information appears “more true” and genuine to a reader. Avoid when possible phrases like over 20, more than 10, approximately 5 – they make it appear you are trying to seem bigger than you are. Don’t fudge to inflate your value. If the grader is getting the impression that you are being pompous or bragging, it will change the way they grade you for he remainder of the proposal. All that hard work down the drain just because someone thinks you have a big head!

Change your mindset to change your grade

If you are guiding your team to write a proposal that the Government wants to read you are moving in a good direction. They have a lot of hours of grading ahead of them and the easier to read, grade, and understand your proposal is, the higher their opinion of your company will be. Good luck!!

Jeff Everage