The proposal environment is a competitive arena where, on any given RFP, all of the bidders are probably qualified to win--if they didn't have the capabilities, they wouldn't go to the trouble and expense of submitting a proposal. In today's tough and competitive business climate, simply checking off all of the boxes of a compliance matrix will not give your company a competitive advantage. Today companies need to draw on all available corporate resources, including in-house creative services organizations, to produce a winning proposal offer. Infusing your proposal with "smart" and targeted messaging and visuals will separate your company from the equally qualified competition and increase your win rate.
How In House Creative Services Organizations Can Add Value to the Bid Process
Leaders of in-house creative services teams need to lobby for their team to become an integral partner of the company's bid team. Typically the bid team is made up of subject matter experts (SMEs) and technical gurus, not creative or marketing professionals. The SMEs, although qualified to put together a well thought-out and compliant proposal solution, do not have the expertise required to develop a memorable and convincing differentiator for your company and infuse it throughout the (often dry) proposal text.
Adding the in-house creative resources to your bid team is a win-win for your company. The creative team can free up SMEs to focus on a winning solution by taking the burden of writing "win themes" and graphic development off their shoulders. And, your proposal response will benefit from strong and compelling messaging and visuals. An integrated theme and visual look will take your proposal to a higher level.
The company's creative resources are already involved in producing external-facing marketing products to clients, prospects and shareholders on a day-to-day basis. They are also the stewards of the company's brand and understand its core business. They bring to the table the talent, skill and marketing expertise to quickly:
- Understand the potential client
- Create convincing and distinguishing win themes
- Build a compelling story, especially in the Executive Summary
- Make sure that all of those elements are tied together and appropriately represented visually
The experience and fresh perspective your in-house writers and designers bring to the bid process can propel bid teams to a position of strength. Companies leveraging their existing in-house creative services resources add value to their proposals. And their involvement and providing of catchy verbal and visual themes can even motivate the SMEs and proposal writers to put more into the overall proposal effort.
Win Themes that Convey Your Company's Value and Brand Promise
The creative writers of your in-house creative services team can help establish the proper hierarchy for win themes and supporting messaging. They come at the RFP from a different perspective and with different talents than your proposal writers. The over-arching win theme they create should reflect your company's brand promise and/or value proposition. All supporting messaging should tie back and connect with your over-arching win theme.
- The most compelling over-arching win theme, the reason why you should win, should be positioned prominently on the first page of your Executive Summary or your proposal Introduction.
- You should create other proposal-level win themes (usually relating to specific service/product offerings or proposal sections), which can be placed in a focus box or a graphic on the front page as well.
- There should be no more than three to five proposal-level win themes - otherwise you will confuse an evaluator and they will not remember the most important points of your offer.
- The same win themes, stated in different ways, with different facts, proving they are credible, can appear in multiple ways throughout the proposal:
- In your Executive Summary
- Under section headings
- In a focus box, a vignette, or a pull-quote
- Woven into the text
- Featured in a graphic or an action caption under a graphic
- Unfortunately, win themes are often developed and approached incorrectly, because companies and proposal teams fail to realize the full potential of a well-crafted win theme. Here are some of the common mistakes:
- Treating win themes as slogans, failing to show what's unique about your company, and how it benefits the potential customer
- Simply stating some general attribute of your company (from your standard marketing language) instead of strategically crafting the win theme to the specific needs and sensibilities of the proposal recipient
- Doing it too late in the game to affect the overall proposal win strategy and to produce action items that are helpful for positioning to win
- Taking too long to develop win themes, trapping your team for hours in unproductive marathon-like sessions--with only ho-hum results to show for it
- Delegating this critical task to non-creative writers who are focused on technical proposal details and working to a high-pressure deadline
If you avoid these mistakes, and the benefits and discriminators are woven into compelling copy/visual win themes, you will dramatically increase your likelihood of success.
The Art of Creating Smart, Memorable Proposal Graphics
Graphics make it much easier for your audience to understand and remember your solution. Professional, visually appealing graphics increases your likelihood of success/a sale by 43% according to a 3M-sponsored study at the University of Minnesota's School of Management.
When graphics are consistent, clear and compelling, they leave a lasting, positive impression on your audience and evaluators that can quickly affect them cognitively and emotionally. Some general rules of thumb:
- All graphics should play a specific role and have a reason for being incorporated.
- Show or say it clearly, cleanly, simply and consistently -- don't be gimmicky or clever so that your intent is lost in unnecessary "bells and whistles."
- Use recognizable imagery that will resonate with your target audience - the evaluation team and the potential client
Creating visually powerful business and information graphics requires understanding:
- The target audience--For example, if you are selling an innovative solution, how will it save them money, time, or streamline their processes? In essence, how does it benefit them specifically?
- The business or government agency you are responding to--Developing customer-focused graphics for proposals, forces you to think about your solution from the potential client's point of view and pare everything down into what matters to them.
- The competition and your company's win themes and strategy--If the benefits and discriminators are woven into compelling visuals, your likelihood of success increases dramatically because you separate your company from the competition
Infusing Your Company's Brand into Proposals
The old saying is that no one gets fired when buying IBM. Why? Because IBM has a strong brand and is considered to be a reliable, stable company. Essentially, IBM is synonymous with low risk.
Part of the proposal process is introducing the reader to your company and what your "IBM" differentiator is. Infuse your company's brand into the proposal, including language and style, and you can achieve this advantage.
If your company has equity and a strong reputable brand in the marketplace, use its attributes in crafting your messaging and visuals. You want to communicate how your company's solutions have helped others to succeed (assuming the benefits are applicable to your future client's goals).
A Final Note
Well thought-out messaging and content coupled with compelling and straight forward proposal graphics result in a clear, communicative, compelling and convincing proposal--a winning solution to which your in-house creative team talents can make a significant contribution.