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Writing killer proposals for software services
A well-written proposal has perhaps the biggest influence on the decision of the customers to award a software project to a particular service provider. A proposal is the culmination of all the efforts that the marketing or the sales team expends – right from creating the interest in the customer thru submitting the bid. A well-written proposal should contain everything that has been discussed with the clients with respect to the service being provided and everything that you feel the customers need to know.
Before starting a proposal, you should be very clear about the purpose of the proposal. It is counterproductive (and costly) to begin writing a proposal until you know your target audience and the precise advantages your product or service can offer them. Having answers to the questions similar to the following is a good way to ensure that you are well prepared.
Components of a killer proposal
A killer proposal should have everything that'll convince the customers that you have not only understood his problem properly, you also have 'the' solution he needs. All the components of a proposal should aim at achieving the faith and confidence of the customer. Your proposal should first define the boundary of your work, then talk about what you are proposing and how you will achieve it technically, then you have to convince him how the entire project would be managed keeping customer focus and satisfaction in view and finally inform him how much you'll charge for your services and how long will it take to complete the whole work. The following components cover all these:
I hope you all know what a cover page and the table of content means. For those of you who don't, the cover page should contain the name of the service, the name of the company or the organization this proposal is addressed to, the date, and of course the name of your organization. The table of contents should contain all the headers in the proposal and their page numbers.
Following are the details of the rest of the sections of the proposal. Remember that there are no hard and fast rules regarding these sections. You should modify these according to the requirements of the customers. Remember, the important thing is not to have a good proposal, the important thing is to have a proposal that sells.
Usually the person who has to take a decision is a very busy person. He does not have enough time to go through the entire proposal hence we provide a summary of the entire proposal in the beginning and call it the Executive Summary. Keep the following things in mind while writing an Executive Summary.
Scope of work
The scope of work is where you define in very precise terms both the problem that you are trying to address and the boundaries of your service. This section is perhaps the most important section in the whole proposal because the rest of the proposal is based on the contents of this section. You should keep at least the following things in mind while composing this section
The Technical plan is where you show your technical prowess and your ability to provide the solution using a technology that is most suitable for the customer. This is one place where you can use all your favorite jargons and TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms ;-) . It is a good idea to break down the entire project into phases. Some of the most common phases are Requirements Study, Project Planning, System Design, Development, Testing, Acceptance, Support etc. Each phase should have clear entry and exit criteria and should have well defined deliverables on the completion on each phase. Also mention about the location of each phase i.e. whether the phase would take place at your development center or at customers premises, and also mention how long will each phase last. Be very clear about the proposed solution while preparing this section because if the customers don't like what you propose, then thats the end of it. Hence, as I always say, be very clear about the needs of the customers and then come up with a solution. Some of the things to be kept in mind while working on this section are as follows.
Management Plan is the section where you convince the customers that they'll always be in control of the entire project. This is the section where you tell them how the project monitoring, status reporting, quality assurance etc happens in your organization and how it'll happen during this project. In this section you also specify the team structure and hierarchy and the role and responsibility of each person in the team as well as the contact person of the customers. Some of the things to keep in mind are:
This is perhaps the first thing that'll be read by your customers. This section tells about the cost, duration, breakup of the payment and terms and conditions of this proposal and the project. Don't forget to mention any additional costs that the customer might have to bear viz. "the consultants placed at customers site have to be paid a sum of USD 120 per day by the customers" etc.
It is usually a good idea to breakup the entire payment and associate each payment with a deliverable. Be very clear about the terms and conditions and don't forget to mention the duration of the validity of this proposal.
Add any supporting document that you think the customers might need to get a better understanding of your solution and service. You might put some sample status report, templates for user communication, a write up on the methodology of your service etc.
Written by Gunjan Karun
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