Q. When is a Proposal NOT a Proposal?

A. When it’s a blueprint for implementation.

A senior vice president of a top Fortune-ranked telecommunications company I’ve worked with was fond of the phrase “Don’t confuse selling with implementation.” Whenever he’d say this, people would nod their heads in violent agreement (hey, this was a senior vice president speaking!), but in the back of my mind I was thinking what I think a lot of people were thinking but were afraid to say, to wit: “Why can’t you do both?” It seems to me that the opposite is true: implementation and selling not only can work together hand-in-hand, they actually should work together.

Here’s why.


If you’re like a lot of companies, you put together a proposal, you’re awarded the bid, you pull together your team, and then you try to figure out “what’s next” — without consulting the bid that got the award. But here’s the thing about proposals: they’re legally binding contracts; whatever you’ve promised in them is a contractual obligation to the government (that could be why FAR Subpart 15.2 governing proposal submissions mentions the word “contract” 103 times and why the lead government procurement official is called the Contracting Officer). As such, it makes intuitive sense that your proposal is actually your plan, or blueprint for implementationJust as building a house requires a blueprint, so too does a solution for a set of government requirements–both are complex, demanding projects that involve extensive planning detail and explanation. The steps for getting the job done should all be in your blueprint to answer questions that most procurements need to include (e.g., Who’s in charge? How will the solution be put together? What can be expected? How will success be measured?) Answers to these questions provide the explanation for how you will meet the requirements in the real world–and how you’ve done so in the past.

But what about selling? Many in the federal marketplace think that talking about their capabilities is the main point of the proposal, but this is true only in part: if you don’t explain how your capabilities align with the customer’s mission, you’re leaving it up to the customer to figure out how your capabilities meet their needs–not a good idea. The best sales pitch is one that puts the customer’s needs at the forefront. To really sell your company–and whyyour company deserves to win–you need to demonstrate that your blueprint for implementation draws on your capabilities to meet/exceed customer requirements; in this way, selling and implementation are not mutually exclusive, but complementary and mutually inclusive

The critical role of the the template. The template can make or break a proposal’s
chances for success. Often (wrongly) considered to be an afterthought, the proposal template is essential, because it provides the structure for determining compliance with contract requirements. While RFP requirements sometimes provide very little latitude when it comes to structure, your template is an evolving document that can (and should) include storyboards, callout boxes, and branded information in headers and footers. Although the “look and feel” of your blueprint for implementation will not officially be evaluated, your proposal is your official connection with the customer before contract award. As such, your blueprint should be a professional-grade, high-quality first deliverable. (For more on the importance of templates, check out this link.)

Your blueprint should anticipate (and answer) customer questions. When you’re trying to win a bid, you need to answer all potential questions that your customer may have well in advance of the award. Not the incumbent? Then you’ll want your proposal blueprint to include a rock-solid plan to mitigate risk during the transition. What if you are the incumbent? No problem; you have a strong incentive to include the real-world risks that the customer would incur with untested competitors. The flip side of that coin is to tell the customer what you’ve learned during your time as an incumbent to improve your blueprint for implementation. (And hey, look at that–here you have a proposal “ghost” and a discriminator all in one nice, tidy package.) This also true for new contracts, as well.

Does creating a blueprint for implementation guarantee a win? Nope. But if it’s put together well, it can provide transparency and clarity for the customer about why they should hire you. After all, if you clearly explain what the customer can expect from you post-award, you’ll decrease confusion and increase understanding of what will you’ll deliver–and that’s always a smart proposition.