How to develop proposal building blocks to win more

Written by
Kevin Switaj
Kevin Switaj
Updated on
  5 min read

All proposal professionals would love to be able to develop unique, individualized content for every RFx response. For most, this remains a pipe dream.

Given the ever-increasing workload and the decreasing time provided for responses, proposal professionals need to develop top-notch content quickly. They also need to make sure responses are tailored to the needs of the client and opportunity.

How can we accomplish such seemingly opposite goals? The solution lies in creating proposal building blocks.

What are the proposal building blocks?

Proposal building blocks provide customized, repeatable sections that allow teams to develop high-quality deliverables. These building blocks can be any length. Some pieces might be one or two paragraphs, while others might be complex, multiple page sections.

At their heart, proposal building blocks are standardized sections that include fallouts for key pieces of information required to tailor the response. These components provide the vast majority of basic input for a section, allowing teams to focus not on the basic core information but customized information for that specific prospect.

Did you know? 51% of organizations respond to more than 50 RFPs each year.

Building blocks vs. boilerplates

It’s important to remember that building blocks are not boilerplate responses. By its definition, a boilerplate is a “plug and play” piece of content that one inserts into a document and does not need to tailor or customize.

Boilerplate responses end up providing generic, basic, and bland information. They do not help the team win proposals. In fact, over-reliance on boilerplate responses can actually decrease pWin (Probability of Win).

Building blocks prompt RFP contributors to incorporate key client and opportunity-centric information. This ensures the baseline section is crafted to the needs of the individual client. And unlike boilerplate responses, tailored responses greatly increase your organization’s pWin.

How do you develop building blocks for proposals?

The first step to developing building blocks is determining exactly what is useful. Ask yourself, and your organization, some key questions:

  • What technical offerings do you have that are easily repeatable?
  • What are the main management and staffing sections that are required repeatedly where your company has a standardized approach or response?

For example, if your company provides agile software development, the basic core of your approach remains the same—you select items from the backlog, you hold daily stand-ups, you develop a deliverable in a short period of time (a sprint), and you conduct lessons learned after the sprint.

This is a prime example of an ideal candidate for a building block.

Create your own proposal building blocks in 5 steps

It’s smart to develop a handful of building blocks as a test before you commit the resources to putting together an entire library. This allows you to develop and refine your process, and ensure you’ve put together the right list of components.

After you have selected your components, you develop the content for the “standardized” portion of the building block.

Step 1: Identify core pieces

Go through historical RFP responses and other documentation your company has (white papers, boilerplate libraries, internal training, etc.). Identify the core pieces of the approach that are standard.

Ask your best positioned SMEs (subject matter experts) who live out these processes for their input. It will ensure you have the right content to build from.

Step 2: Gather resources and SMEs

Using those pre-existing materials as secondary sources, put together a generic write-up for that approach. Make it as specific as possible—in use, it is easier to trim back a building block than to go develop more content on the fly.

Include graphics that have been well-received on other RFPs, but make sure you include prompts asking the team to update them for the new proposal (and be specific on what needs to be updated). Then, ask others to review and provide feedback on building blocks.

Step 3: Gather key information

Develop the callouts for key information throughout the response. Start with the easy one—look for places to insert the client and/or program name throughout the response.

Then, come up with several leading statements and/or questions for the introductory, client-focused paragraph. These input prompts can include asking for hot buttons, win themes, key solution points, etc.

Step 4: Collaborate and customize

Identify other places where you want your team to add customization. For example, if the opportunity puts a lot of weight on personnel, add places to call out relevant individuals in the program.

You should also include callouts for team qualifications/experience examples, win themes, and key solution points throughout the section.

Step 5: Organize building blocks

Lastly, you need to find a place to keep the useful building blocks you’ve created. Here, there is no one great solution. You should use whatever works best for you and your organization.

Options include: a shared network drive, a collaboration tool, a local drive, or proposal management software.

How to use building blocks effectively

Now that you have these building blocks, how can you make sure you get the best value from them? The best time to provide building blocks to your team is when you develop your template.

As you put together your outline, identify which sections map to your pre-existing building blocks. Then, pull the appropriate sections into the template. Sometimes, you might have a section that doesn’t quite fit what is being asked for, but has a good amount of useful content. In those cases, include the relevant building block information, but be sure to tailor the responses.

When you have finished putting together the building block template, use your proposal kickoff meeting to describe its purpose to your team. Reinforce that they need to stay within RFP requirements, such as page count—sometimes your building block will be longer than the allocated space for the section. In these cases, winnow down the building block to only include the most relevant content.

Finally, you still need to have your regular color team review cycle. This ensures the building block is properly tailored to the specifics of the opportunity, and gets outside eyes on the section.

Building blocks can help the proposal manager focus on delivering tailored solutions that meet each client’s individual needs, even on quick turn opportunities. Proposal organizations can increase quality and improve win rates by giving their teams the right tools to win.

Kevin Switaj

Kevin Switaj is the Director of Proposal Management for Buchanan & Edwards, a mid-sized Government contractor in Arlington, VA. He is active with APMP and regularly blogs at his website. Connect with Kevin on Twitter.


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