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Once a request for proposal (RFP) is created, there are two different groups of people who have to choose the best proposal ideas. The first group is the people who are going to respond to the proposal. They want to choose the best proposal ideas to win the contract. The second group is the people who are going to judge the submitted proposals. They want to choose the proposal idea that best meets their needs.
If you’re in the first group, there are several things you can do to come up with the proposal ideas that are best suited to you and to the request. First, without crossing any lines, you will want to find out as much as possible about the company that sent out the RFP. What is their brand like? What kind of corporate feel are they seeking to create? Is their advertising informative, thoughtful, humorous, innovative, etc.?
Second, read the proposal several times. Talk it over with members of your team if you’re working in a group. Make photocopies and mark it up. Look for what is explicitly and implicitly focused on as the most important aspects of the proposal. Do you get a consistent picture of what is wanted? How can you or your company, given who you are, meet this need?
Third, identify areas in which you may be being asked to go beyond what is stated. Brainstorm what directions you could take in the areas with open parameters. Fourth, identify any areas in which you need more information or a deeper understanding in order to craft a really fine proposal. Fifth, given what you’ve learned so far, identify what needs to go into the proposal, make a timeline, and start assigning the work, or if it’s only you, doing the work. Be prepared to revisit elements based on new understandings that emerge as you formulate your response.
If you are in the second group and have written your proposal carefully, it should be easy as a first step to separate those that meet the criteria listed in the proposal and those that clearly do not. When you focus on the proposals that are most likely to win the contract, look first for those that are a good match for the company mission and culture. Second, look for proposal ideas that show a nuanced understanding of the broader field and the specific area of the proposal. And third, if appropriate to your field, look for proposals that, while meeting your criteria, take ownership of the proposal in such a way that even the writers of the proposal see it with new eyes and new insight.