Have you ever been in a meeting and discovered with a shock that you were not on the same page as someone else? It's embarrassing. It's awkward. I was involved in writing a speech for the CEO of a major corporation. The CEO had already discussed with me what he wanted to say and I had written a draft. The draft had been passed to a manager in the marketing department. The take of this manager was that it was not what they wanted the CEO to say. So who's in charge here? Is there a consistent message?
I bring up this example because business proposal requests on the face of it are straightforward, but may have an agenda of which you are unaware. A department requesting a proposal might not have the OK of senior management. Senior management might not even know about it. As potential supplier, you get caught between a rock and a hard place.
It's a question of clarity. You have to take the time to find out, or rather confirm, what it is the client wants. Because of the stricter format, this is less likely to be an issue with an RFP. It's much more likely with some informal business proposition. And here's a very important point. The client may not know what they want and the reason for the proposal may be to define it. Sometimes the proposal request is made so as to determine the best direction for the company over the next decade. It may also be to discover the best way to reorganiz the company due to a change in strategy.
How do you find out? Fortunately most clients are amenable to giving potential suppliers the information they need to come up with productive proposal bids. They organize briefings for suppliers, either live, or via conference calls and web-based sessions. If that does not produce all the answers a supplier needs, the client provides a contact person through which the supplier can obtain additional access and answers to questions.
The focus then is on you, as the supplier, to contact the client in order to get what you need. One conversation can shift the way suppliers decide to approach a bid, simply because they are now more aware of what the client needs, or what the client's real circumstances are.
So here's the point. If you have any doubts about what the client wants, make sure you find out. It's better to know from the start without having to course correct mid way through developing your business proposal. You might also discover that you're wasting your time on proceeding with the proposal bid and should be focusing your energies elsewhere. But please, find out.