I’m sure many of you have had to rely on others for the content you need to write a proposal, whether it’s internal staff, subject matter experts, subcontractors or partners.

Getting content from others can be challenging. I think there are a few reasons for this. Often, these individuals don’t know how to write well and are reluctant as a result. Or, they may not fully understand what’s expected of them. They may even be busy and don’t think they have the time, believing it will be a huge burden. Even more likely, suppliers or subcontractors may also be busy with their own current business, and not be as focused on the RFP as you. If you make it easy and give them a better idea of their involvement, you may get your material on-time without needing to apply too much pressure.

Also, if they’re technical experts, their focus and interests may not match what you need unless you help them. They are probably passionate about what they do, but don’t know how to sell that.

I have many examples, but two come to mind.

In one case, A subject matter expert wrote a 13-page description of the company’s processes in response to an RFP question. It demonstrated their passion with lots of technical details, but it didn’t address the value or benefits to the client. The text was edited down to three pages in the final proposal – key benefits included.

In another example, a subject matter expert wrote in detail about the reports they provide to clients, but failed to say why the reports were useful or what benefits the client would receive. The subject matter expert simply didn’t understand how to sell what they did.

If your bid requires input from others, try to have them at the table during the kick-off meeting and then at follow-up meetings whenever you discuss strategy and approach in areas that relate to them. If they don’t have the full context of the RFP or the overall service, meet with them specifically to give them an overview and ensure they understand how their part fits into the overall proposal response.

For greater success, provide guidelines and guidance that these individuals can use when writing their material. One way to do this is to provide them with a writing template, with the questions, headings and even notes to guide them in their response. Not only will this make it easier for you to incorporate their material into your full proposal, it gives them the topics they need to address so that they are consistent with the rest of the proposal.

You should also provide a style sheet, which tells the writer about the hot buttons, issues, themes, key messages and terminology you are using in the proposal. By taking this extra effort up-front, it’s more likely they will give you material you can use.

The style sheet will also ensure a cohesive and consistent writing style throughout the proposal. While the consistency won’t be obvious to the client, inconsistencies will stick out and detract from your proposal.

If your supplier performs a particular portion of the work and the response in your RFP on that service is completely different from the rest of the proposal, the client will wonder how you can work together and provide a consistent and seamless service delivery when you can’t even get it right on your proposal. In addition, large changes in style or structure will make the proposal harder to read.

After the material from the subject matter experts is edited, have the experts review the final text, particularly if the work has involved professional writers or other individuals who don’t fully understand the material and may mistakenly change the intent.

Finally, it’s important to realize that you can’t just ask for them to answer an RFP question for you – you must tell them what exactly you need and make it easy for them.

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