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What is a Winning Federal Proposal?

FEDERAL ACQUISITION follows a 3 step process that leads to repeatable and predictable results.

  • Business Development – the process of identifying opportunities and building relationships; 
  • Capture Management – the pursuit of a single opportunity at a single agency; 
  • Proposal Management – writing compelling proposals that win federal contracts 

When the entire team aligns their efforts, they are more likely to deliver winning proposals.


How do BD, Capture Managers and Proposal Writers Work Together?

  1. Opportunities: BD professionals identify potential opportunities that are a good fit for the company's capabilities and expertise and help proposal writers understand the customer's needs and requirements.

  2. 'Win Strategies': Capture Managers develop strategies for winning specific opportunities. They analyze the competition, identify key customer requirements, and develop strategies for differentiating the company's solution from that of the competition.

  3. Proposal Themes and Messages: Proposal writers work with BD and Capture Management professionals to develop proposal themes and messages that resonate with the customer. They ensure that the proposal reflects the customer's needs and requirements, and that it clearly articulates the company's value proposition.

  4. Proposal Outlines and Content: Proposal writers ensure that the proposal addresses all the customer's requirements, and that it is structured in a logical and compelling way.

  5. Dynamic Reviews: BD and Capture Management professionals reviews of the proposal with writers offering feedback on content, messaging, and structure, and ensuring it meets all the customer's requirements. 

Sales and the Art of Persuasion

Winning proposals are essentially SALES documents, so they must be compelling and persuasive to the buyers. Can a sales mindset influence your proposal?

What does the federal buyer want to achieve with their RFP? Can you identify any goals that an agency is trying to achieve, beyond the stated objectives? 

A persuasive proposal shows how your solution and your approach can help transform the quality of their service and their ability to deliver.  

For example, imagine bringing your SharePoint solutions to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

  • We “provide IT solutions to the Department of Veterans Affairs”. BORING!
  • We "bring solutions that improve the quality of healthcare to all veterans across America”.   INTERESTING! 


In order to hold a program officer's attention, your proposal must be a real ‘page turner’ . You want them to think “OMG, what happens next?  

A page turner proposal puts the sales energy back into your proposal – the ‘WOW!’ factor – a little bit of excitement. Every page should be engaging the reader further into your story.  


#1 TIP  | "Begin with the end in mind"  (inspired by Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Before starting your business development process, you must first have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and what success will look like. This involves envisioning and defining the desired outcome, setting specific goals, and developing a plan to achieve them.

This approach allows your team to focus their efforts and resources towards achieving their desired outcomes. By starting with the end in mind, you can prioritize your actions and make sure everyone stays aligned with long-term goals and strategies. It also helps to ensure that actions are purposeful and not just reactive or impulsive.

To begin with the end in mind, your proposal team and your sales team have to start talking and sharing from the very beginning of the process. This mean that the business development team needs to share their process with proposal writers

In order to address customer challenges, we must clarify and understand those challenges – especially any related challenges that aren't included in the RFP .

#2 TIP : Write incrementally throughout the Sales Life-Cycle

 Don't wait until the last minute to start your proposal. It is more effective to write incrementally and do many drafts as you gather more information. For example, you may learn about an opportunity and think the RFP will drop in six months allowing a small window for doing capture.  

Don’t delay. Start immediately to understand the customer’s objectives and their challenges. If you can have early discussions with them and review their documents, you can create a simple one-page draft of their objectives and your understanding of your challenges. Then you can pass your one-pager to the proposal team for early review and feedback. 

#3 TIP : BD, Capture and Proposal teams should meet early and often   

Ideally, proposal and capture folks meet early and often, even just 15 minute meetings are productive.  

Set a goal to write one hour a week throughout the entire life cycle. By the time the RFP drops, you may have prepared up to 60 or 80% of your response 

#4 TIP : Read everything in detail 

Review every single word of a draft, PWS or statement of work to identify the ‘shall’ statements. These statements can help you uncover a hidden ‘problem’ and an ‘implied solution’ statement.  

Take your time and really dig into the technical meat of a RFP or a draft PWS. Read everything until you understand it in detail, then write to this in your proposal.  You can often discover nuggets buried in the technical requirements. There is always a reason. 

If you discover some ‘unwritten’ challenges, seize the opportunity to follow up with program offices directly to get more information.

#5 TIP : Write less than they say  

If an RFP says you ‘can’ write a 25-page response (or 50 or 100) – DON'T. 

“Less is more” Only write what is necessary to be compliant, compelling and persuasive. Federal buyers have a short attention span and numerous proposals to review.  

When you write less pages, you need to be concise. Follow the principle of BLUF for each page, or section (bottom line, up front). A tight summary followed by information that provides details.  

What is the point of this slide? What is the point of this deck? What is the point the briefing?  

Each slide should be clear and concise. Can you make your point with more pictures and fewer words? If your priority is to use all the pages allowed in an RFP, you are pursuing a page compliance and not a compelling ‘transformative to the point’ exercise. 

With fewer pages, you are forced to make your message crystal clear, and you become more compelling. It takes time to be precise. This is why I encourage you to write incrementally over a six-month window. 

When BD, Capture and Proposal teams start working together, you will discover your proposals are more compelling, focused and effective. You will be on your way to winning more federal revenue. 


99% of the way there.

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