Lesson 19:

Proposal Development
Part 1 –  Structure

Many of our clients are small businesses seeking to build relationships with new clients.

Consequently, these companies often do not have designated in-house proposal development support.

While extensive proposal opportunities, such as State or Federal, explicitly outline their proposal requirements, smaller bid documents are often less specific. Thus, it can be challenging to know how to structure a proposal.

We are here to help. As a fellow small business, we love supporting other small businesses. Below, please find tips for a basic proactive or bid-response proposal.

Cover Letter

A straightforward approach to the cover letter is the following format:

  • Introduction and understanding of client and opportunity.
  • A summary of your solution’s value.
  • Closing and call to action.

Your cover letter should be brief, focusing on the client and the benefits of your offer. Don’t worry about covering all your offer’s features; you have an entire solutions summary section to use for that purpose.

Executive Summary

As we’ve discussed in Lesson 17: Executive Summaries, the executive summary should be high-level and succinct. Your executive summary usually spans one to two pages.

Here you will address your client’s concerns and hot buttons. What problems do they currently face?

Pair these hot buttons with elements of your solution. Keep each section client-focused and brief. In other words, use the executive summary to summarize how your solution will benefit the client.

About Page

The about page is your chance to give your company’s background and history. Remember to keep your information relevant to the opportunity.

First, begin with a brief professional summary concerning the opportunity. Follow this with an overview of your work history and experience.

Next, you can include details such as previous clients, your education history, and any relevant certifications.

Solutions Summary

Beginning with an overview of your solution’s benefits, the solutions summary is your chance to flesh out your offer in detail. Separate your solution into sections by pairing features with their respective benefits and your company’s discriminators.

Begin with a description of a feature from your solution. Follow this description with answers to the questions “so what?” and “why us?”

Many companies prioritize features only, letting benefits fall to the wayside. However, features only offer the “what” of your solution. What is the number one rule of client-focused writing? Benefits over features.


Whether or not to include an investment section in a proactive proposal is a hotly debated topic. Some businesses prefer to omit the investment section, discussing pricing during a separate sales conversation instead. Other companies include a full spectrum of available packages and a la carte products or services.

If the bid document requires a distinct pricing section, stick to those requirements. Otherwise, you are free to decide for yourself.

Some companies even create two copies of their final proactive or signature proposal. One with pricing and one without. This way, they have the flexibility to choose which copy to provide to clients based on customer intelligence.

Past Performance and/or Testimonials

Finally, consider including past performance examples and testimonials to drive home your experience and credibility.

Reach out to previous clients to request testimonials or recommendations. Remember to ask for consent when including names and company details. If your client is not comfortable with you using their name, you may redact company-specific information and keep your client’s information private. For example, instead of the testimonial from “John Smith, Account Executive at Domino’s Pizza,” you can change it to “Account Executive at an international pizza chain.”

Regarding past performance content, stick to relevant past performance examples. Even if your relevant past performance isn’t as impressive as other contracts you’ve completed, demonstrating to your client that you have experience with companies of their size and industry keeps the proposal customer-focused.

Again, always stick to what the bid document asks for. Sometimes a bid document will ask for examples of your highest-value contracts, regardless of industry or company size. In this case, follow the bid requirements.

Key Takeaways

We hope this overview offers insight for crafting your next bid response or proactive proposal. Stay tuned for part two, where we discuss basic proposal design tips and tricks.

Are you still struggling with crafting the perfect bid document? We offer proactive, signature, and bid response services to align your messaging and get your sales processes from chaos to done. 

Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

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