Proposal Writing: Aligning SMEs for Proposal Success

Before you can win a proposal, you need to ensure you write a consistent and compelling response. One that entices the reviewer to choose yours from the pile of responses they are manually reviewing. We know streamlining your subject matter experts' input to a proposal can be challenging. VT Docs ensures a compliant and consistent response, one that helps you to stand out from the competition.
Claire Whelan
5 min read
proposal writing

Effective proposal writing requires a lot of thought and a good process. When you write a response to an RFP (request for proposal), you’re aiming to convince readers that you understand their business problem and can provide a solution. You must, of course, be qualified to do so. That’s where your subject matter experts (SMEs) come in. SMEs add authority and credibility to your response. They have the knowledge and experience that your proposed solution will need.

But you’ll probably ask various SMEs to write and review content as you build your response. So how do you create a clear, compliant proposal when multiple voices provide your raw material?

Proposal software like VT Docs is invaluable here. But there’s also the question of how to get those experts on board in the first place. They have a primary job, and it’s not proposal writing. So how can you convince them to give you their best and increase your probability of a win?

Time is valuable, especially for experts

Whether your SMEs are employees or on contract, your company chose them because they are recognized experts. Their time is valuable. They could be in the middle of implementing a solution that they have already agreed upon with a major customer. This means there’s a real opportunity cost if helping with your proposal jeopardizes their other timelines. Especially if there are service level agreements in place with penalties to pay if you break them. Recognize from the start that time is money for SMEs.

Get experts on board early to optimize their contribution

We’ve written at length about the RFP response process. But when it comes to SMEs, a key step is to brief them early about this new opportunity. To get them on board as you compete to win this new business, do your best to be inspirational. Remember who you are dealing with — technical experts — and take their perspective. If this RFP opens the opportunity for them to design a creative or technically demanding solution, that could help fire them up. Assure them that you will only involve them where necessary and that you’ll be clear about what you need and when.

Make it easy for them to meet your deadlines

Do you have a knowledge base with past RFP responses? If you don’t, start building this repository now. Each RFP response contains a wealth of potentially reusable content nuggets. Information about everything from solution design to subcontractors to pricing. A detailed description your SME wrote six months ago for another RFP might still be 90% correct. Pull this content from your knowledge base and give it to your SME for edits instead of making them repeat themselves. You may also decide that it’s the SME’s job to refresh standard material so that it’s never too far out of date.

Don’t overload your SMEs with irrelevant material

A key part of your RFP response process is to shred the RFP. This involves dividing it into individual sections which lay out the customer’s requirements. You can then tackle them one by one to ensure you don’t miss anything.  VT Docs can help you do this, making it easy to generate a compliance matrix and responsibility matrix. A compliance matrix is a tool you use to cross-reference your proposal with the RFP. It’s a table that spells out each requirement stated in the RFP and then lists exactly where in your proposal (section, page number, etc.) that requirement is addressed. A responsibility matrix is a table that states who’s responsible for different parts of the RFP response process or inputs. These matrices also pinpoint which parts of the document are pertinent to your SMEs. You don’t have to send them the entire document, just the area that’s relevant to themselves.

Many SMEs dislike proposal writing – so make it easy

Your response has the best chance of success with readers if it is a clear, compelling and compliant proposal. It should be in one tone of voice that’s consistent and professional. Your SMEs may be technical experts who don’t enjoy writing, or they might not know where to start. Many SMEs also find that anything they write focuses too much on the technical “how” rather than the “why”.  While you need this technical information, it mustn’t get in the way of reader comprehension.

VT Writer eases the pain for SMEs who aren’t natural writers by scoring their writing for readability. It also flags overly complex paragraphs and passive voice, so they can focus on what they need to edit. Engineers who’ve used VT Docs tell us they like this dispassionate scoring approach. They can see what they need to change and why. The whole process makes them stronger writers.  Over time, VisibleThread can help your SMEs learn to write more direct, active sentences and clearer statements of business benefits while still covering the technical detail that customers want.

You need to prepare to work within an SME’s limitations

What if your SMEs are simply too busy or too intimidated by the writing process to give you the material you need? In that case, be flexible. Hold a question-and-answer interview with them in person or by phone. Ideally alongside an experienced writer who knows how to draw out information from (reluctant) technical experts.

Once you’ve captured their input, let your SMEs review what you’ve written. This way you can make sure you haven’t sacrificed technical accuracy for plain language. This same process can work if you’re trying to build up your SMEs’ profile with blogs and other content. You can record an interview with your expert on pertinent topics where you want your company to be a recognized authority. Do you want more inspiration on how SMEs can help improve your company’s profile on your target customers? Have a look at our webinar on “How to Get the Most Value from your SMEs.”

The way you work with SMEs can be a risk or a success factor for your response process. VT Docs supports you at every stage of proposal writing and coordination. This allows you to get the benefit of their subject matter expertise without endangering your timelines or sacrificing readability. Here’s your at-a-glance summary of how VT Docs improves how you work with SMEs:

Compare to past proposals

How does the current opportunity compare to previous responses that you, and your SMEs, have written? VT Docs lets you find reusable content fast that can save your SMEs valuable time.

Get SMEs on board sooner

VT Docs lets you shred a proposal in minutes and pinpoint which experts you’ll need to work with. Allowing you to get them involved (and excited about this new opportunity) sooner.

Readability feature improves your response

With VT Docs you can smooth out different tones of voice and writing styles into clear, readable prose. This improves the professionalism of your response and makes it easier for the issuing authority to read.

Objective readability tools improve teamwork

VT Writer is an expert resource that gives practical tips on how to simplify and improve the readability of any piece of prose. This means it can minimize pushback from SMEs and other review teams as you build your proposal. The feedback isn’t subjective, it’s from an impartial source. The end result is better teamwork and fewer obstacles to meeting those RFP response deadlines.

Help SMEs improve their proposal writing

Because the readability tips from VT Writer help your SMEs improve their writing over time, they can become better communicators. This will help them in all areas of their career. Including articles they author for trade publications or social media.

The Power of VisibleThread Solutions

We’re continuing to develop our solutions to make it easier for all your team members to improve the power of their communications. Our new Discovery feature will identify the strongest themes within a document and compare themes across multiple documents. This will help improve the compliance of your response. It will also highlight gaps in your proposal writing so you know where to concentrate.

Our shredding tools are also evolving so that they preserve table structures when generating compliance and responsibility matrices. This is an important feature for technical aspects of an RFP, which your SMEs will need to review and respond to.

A successful working relationship with all parts of your proposal team, SMEs included, will allow you to improve the quality of your response and your chances of winning lucrative new business.


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