Where’s the beef? Content is the no. 1 priority for your key account proposals!

Nobody likes a huge bun with a tiny patty or not getting the ordered ingredients. And no company likes an impressive looking 100 pages proposal including 1 page brief ballpark estimates or standard rates that do not reflect what was asked for.
Everybody knows that. So why are there still so many „must win“ key account proposals with a lack of compelling content and what can you do to make sure the most important part of your proposal is spot on and exactly what was requested?

Here is a list of things to look at when you are wondering what you can do to make content your no. 1 key account proposal priority and win „must win“ opportunities:

1) Plan before you run
No matter how tight the deadline is, how straight forward the request looks and how enthusiastic your sales and marketing people are: Don’t say let’s just get started, have daily alignment calls, put it together two days before the deadline and get management approval. You might end up shortly before the deadline with a collage and big gaps instead of a story.
Appoint a dedicated project manager first who completes a detailed project charter with stakeholders, time and action plans. This will ensure that the content is addressed and developed at an early stage and you are in good shape well in time for final management sign off.

2) Make smart choices when you appoint the proposal team
When it comes to very important proposals with a lot at stake, make sure you bring in the best team for the task at hand and not necessarily the politically indicated choices. High priority projects get a lot of management attention and that is essential. It does however not help to appoint a C-Level Executive or the Global Key Account Manager as team lead, when they are so absorbed in daily business, that they become a bottleneck. Their capacity is very needed for the content and negotiation part while someone else can take care of the coordination and communication part of the proposal. Select a senior personality with sufficient capacities to set up and lead the project and keep the core team small and crisp.

3) Find out what exactly is requested. Are you really up to it? And do you have a realistic chance to win?
RFP’s for large projects are often complex documents the size of a small book. Even when you made the initial decision to participate, take the time and effort to thoroughly analyze what is requested and needed. Usually you have a chance to talk to the prospect, ask questions and to find out more about the background. Use it as good as you can. You might learn that the prospect needs an additional proposal but chances to win are low because they tend to a certain solution already. Or, your analysis shows you that you are good in one area that is requested but not in another. Or maybe you realize that you would need to provide a pricing that will have a big impact on the pricing structure of your core business.
Start with presenting the core requirements to the decision makers right away to establish if you are moving forward and if you have their buy in, agree on the essential content framework. It will safe you a lot of time and give you a kick-start on the content part.

4) Bring Finance in early
Large proposals usually require detailed pricing and sales calculations. Bring finance in from the beginning, ideally as a member of your core proposal team. They are usually most efficient and thorough in getting you the figures you need from different units or countries and providing you with scenarios. This way you will realize in time if things don’t sum up and where your focus is needed. You have probably already experienced how upset your CFO can get if you ask him for his sign-off the day before you submit and he has to put up with inconsistencies and super optimistic sales estimates. Get the help of finance as early as possible if you want your content to be top-notch.

5) Avoid the meeting overkill
Too many cooks spoil the broth. Even if it is the most important global proposal of the year, keep the core team lean and communicate efficiently. If you set up too many calls and meetings you will just go in circles and reduce the time that important stakeholders can dedicate to the substance of the proposal. It takes a lot of discipline to stick close to the project plan, to limit status calls and meetings to the necessary minimum when everybody is excited about the opportunity and wants to be updated or discuss. It pays off though to having the core project team work on the „body“ of the document and align with the stakeholders of defined pieces 1o1. It will help safe valuable time that goes right into tailored content.

6) Build a compelling story and make it shine
Your proposal center or marketing team cannot develop the commercial offering for you. But they can prepare the ground and turn piles of facts and figures into a blockbuster with a convincing story. Your creative team wants to win the project as much as anyone on the team. Encourage them to keep their eye on the prize and instead of piling standard charts and documents about your business and all the great things you can do, focus their capabilities on developing a compelling message how you can and will fulfill your prospects requirements and accomplish the task. They can provide a rough draft with the storyline at an early stage and this will in reverse help the subject matter contributors to drive and shape the content so that you gain time when it comes to make it shine before you submit.

7) Consider the balance between optimistic vision and realistic facts
Your key account proposal will include estimates for timelines, resources and related pricing. On the one hand you want to be optimistic about it because you want to close the deal, on the other hand you are well aware that reality will look differently and you plan to solve those issues once you closed the deal.
Plan enough time to discuss what you have with your decision makers so that you can align on your content strategy. Look into the consequences of critical volume and pricing decisions as early as possible and develop some ideas how you can solve resource topics. Maybe you even want to go back to the prospect and discuss if it is an option to propose for a certain part only because that is where you are strongest.
Although it is important to stay optimistic it is also important to keep to what you can realistically do well. Maybe you will not win this proposal but you gain credibility with your prospect and might just be invited to participate in another RFP that is more in your core field of competency.

8) Check and rehearse with a neutral audience before you submit your proposal
Even with tight time lines and if you finish your document just before the deadline, take the time for a final check with someone who is not part of the core team. It could be someone from your procurement team who plays the devil’s advocate, an internal auditor, legal advisor or an external proposal expert. They might see a critical inconsistency or gap that the core team missed. If you will present your proposal personally, rehearse it with your „test group“. You might find there is still something you can improve. Ideally you will hear that your proposal looks great and gain the confidence that makes you win and close the deal at the end.

Good luck!

High Priority is a new and innovative consulting firm specialized in helping companies to be successful with key accounts, strategic alliances and big deals. We provide a whole range of services for lead generation, proposal management and account expansion to help you grow. For more information check

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