If you are a clinical research service provider you understand the significance of business development to the long term financial health of your company.  Because the majority of new business opportunities are received through a Request for Proposal (RFP), developing a well-written, thoughtful proposal is essential in securing new business awards.

I view a proposal as an art.  The blending of a story – how you plan to execute the scope of work with an accurate budget. Your ultimate goal is to demonstrate to your Client audience why your company is the most appropriate and capable to partner with on their program. Below are some tips for writing a great proposal.

Proposal Planning

Carefully review the requirements

Read the client-provided materials including RFP, study specifications, and protocol, if available, very carefully. If the Client specifically states that s/he desires a company with certain experience, skill set, or location, or the Client has provided the scope of work/project specifications, be mindful of and adhere to their requests and any rules. In the long run, this will save you time and effort. If there are outstanding questions, clarify those with the Client to ensure a full understanding of the scope of work and Client’s wishes. I like to have a call with the Client prior to proposal strategy to ensure alignment with them and the RFP. It’s also important to address the RFP as requested by the Client including their itemized budget if provided one.  You could be tossed out of the running if you stray from their requirements.  With that said, if you have an alternative scenario that produces better quality and /or is a more cost effective approach, complete theirs and provide your alternative solution.  That shows you have thought about their study and haven’t just restated what was in the RFP.

Customize the proposal to the Client’s scope of work

Every proposal has a story – a beginning, middle and end.  Your goal is to provide a convincing story that your company, the business model, and strategy is the way to go. You do that with facts, metrics data, experience, lessons learned and testimonials to back it up. Every proposal should directly address the Client’s program/concerns (provided by the business development (BD) person) and in no way should be a copy-and-paste document. It should demonstrate that you have thoroughly read the Client’s RFP and corresponding documents, fully understand the scope of work and have all the necessary skills and personnel to perform the tasks called for. Address any questions or topics the Client included in the RFP and ask any questions you have to help finalize details and set the project up for success out the gate.

Working hand-in-hand as partners with the BD person is critical in ensuring you are addressing the Client’s concerns and challenges. I like to start with a proposal outline vs. copying the last proposal that went out the door. This encourages a unique tailored proposal and has a better chance for award.

Proposal Writing

Highlight your company’s experience and skills for that project

In the proposal highlight the relevant experience and skills your organization has to offer to successfully complete the Client’s project. If there are examples of work you or your staff have completed previously that are especially relevant to this RFP, write to that experience and lessons learned or attach appropriate documentation.

Be succinct but get your point across

Your proposal should be concise while including all information that’s relevant to the Client’s RFP. Proposals that are too long and contain a lot of irrelevant information, as well as those that are too brief and don’t fully address the Client’s RFP will probably not get you to the bid defense table.

Use correct grammar and a professional tone

A great proposal has to be well written and free of typos (there is no excuse for not using a spellchecker). Proposals written in poor English or that contain typos is a poor reflection on your company and the proposal is less likely to be accepted. That’s why it’s so critical to have another set of eyes to review the proposal from the Client’s perspective (discussed below).

Include a transparent and accurate budget estimate

The budget is a significant piece of the proposal and the page Clients usually flip to first upon receipt. The budget should be as logical, enticing and well organized as the proposal text.  Ensure the cost estimate follows the RFP or client provided budget (which should be in your outline), that the numbers make sense and are correct, and they correspond directly with the proposal text. The budget should be in the same font as the proposal text and ideally spell out the tasks associated with each line item to demonstrate transparency.

Proposal Review

Review your proposal like the Client will

Check for mistakes, inconsistencies, and relevance. Make sure the proposal is engaging, relevant, accurate and communicates a high level of capabilities and enthusiasm.  Always re-read your proposal as if you were the Client:  does it address their questions, major concerns, and your strategy? Does it demonstrate the advantages your Client will receive should your company be awarded the project?

As mentioned previously, always have a second or third pair of eyes read through the proposal. After working on a proposal for a number of days or weeks one simply doesn’t read it as objectively as one should and errors are often made, especially when there have been many proposal versions or revisions.  I often re-read the proposal from back to front to catch those errors often missed due to “proposal fatigue” after multiple reviews.

A well-written, thoughtful and accurate proposal and budget estimate will work wonders in securing new business awards and safeguarding the financial health of your company.