Proposals have adapted to a new way of reading, emphasizing concise, compelling headings to convey complex solutions and deliver winning messages.
A significant shift has occurred in proposal development, as we have embraced an increasingly visual approach: fewer words, more graphics, fewer pages. Most agree that this is a favorable trend. After all, who among us relishes the idea of sifting through a 50 page technical approach or reviewing more than 20 resumes? From the perspective of a proposal manager, who wants to write those?
The visual trend is fueled by an audience accustomed to consuming concise online content. Complex ideas are now condensed into 20-second videos or 140-character excerpts. Our busy lives demand efficiency at every turn, and shorter attention spans are the norm. As AI becomes integrated into our daily work routines, the need to accomplish more with less will only intensify.
Yet, saying something in fewer words is rarely easy. In fact, this trend has elevated the role of marketing professionals in winning work. Conveying complex solutions and benefits in a concise and compelling manner requires deep understanding, strong writing, critical thinking, and marketing skills. To adapt to a new way of reading, we must write differently.
One way to enhance communication with clients and deliver strong winning messages is through our headings and subheadings.
I challenge my teams to tell our story within our proposal headings. Can readers make an informed decision based on headings and subheadings alone? I ask this question literally. Let us assume our readers are raiders, skimming proposals in just a few minutes. It’s our job to make it as easy as possible to choose our firm.
Asking the question is one thing but embedding it as an essential activity of proposal development is another. Here are steps for improving your headings and telling compelling stories to today’s raiders:
- To begin, I recommend creating a separate document with three columns: current headings, suggested headings, and final headings. Current headings may already be well-thought-out or simply placeholders, depending on when you start this activity. Typically, I find it best to carry this out before the second review of the proposal, but you can adjust the timing based on your proposal development process.
- Pro tip: If you have not executed a thorough compliance check, do it now. Do your sections, headings, and subheadings follow the RFP?
- Next, review your cover letter and executive summary drafts to hone in on your win themes. To keep them easily accessible and avoid switching between screens or tabs, I prefer rewriting them on a piece of notebook paper. Then, I proceed to revise and rewrite the headings in the second column, incorporating win themes and strategic messaging. The goal is to create concise headings that highlight as many benefits as possible while telling a cohesive story.
- Adjust your suggested headings to align with the RFP and client language. This requires a comprehensive review of the RFP, as well as insights from the client’s website, blog, social media presence, and any relevant white papers or publications. Depending on the expectations of the technical team, you might consider providing two recommended headings to cater to different preferences.
- Pro tip: If you have access to AI like ChatGPT, ask it to help you rewrite the headings, incorporating the client’s buzz words. It’s not as smart as you, but it just might give you a solid foundation to build from.
- Afterward, key decision makers should review and approve or modify your recommendations. I find it beneficial to conduct a brief meeting with two or three people to go through the recommendations one by one. However, with a seasoned team, this can be completed by sharing the document rather than having a meeting.
- Finally, conduct a thorough review of the headings from the perspective of a marketer and writer. I approach this review as if I were reading a story, ensuring that there is cohesion, flow, and logical progression. It is crucial to perform this review in a separate document, without the supporting information, as the headings should be able to stand on their own and effectively convey the intended message.
Leveraging headings can help us win more opportunities in an increasingly visual age where more is less. By challenging ourselves to tell our story within our headings, we can capture the attention of busy readers, create a cohesive and compelling narrative, and win more business.
Mercedez Thompson has 11 years’ experience in professional marketing services. As a pursuit manager at PwC, Mercedez collaborates with thought leaders, marketing and sales staff, and client services personnel to develop the firm’s most strategic proposals. She was a 2022 APMP 40 Under 40 Winner. Connect with her on LinkedIn.