How to tell if a proposal is well written

Strategic issues and how well a proposal reflects customer concerns beyond what it says in the RFP usually have more to do with whether a proposal wins or not than the quality of the writing itself. However, when two proposals offer the roughly the same thing, the quality of the proposal writing can determine whether you win. So how do you know whether a proposal is well written?

A lot of things go into a winning proposal. It must be RFP compliant, reflect your win strategies, present your themes, answer all of the customer's questions, be optimized against the evaluation criteria, and more. But how can you assess the quality of the proposal writing, separate from the offering, pricing, or win strategies?

Let’s start with some bad signs:

  1. The first paragraph doesn’t actually say anything. The fact that you’re “pleased to submit” does not add any value to the customer.
  2. The first paragraph is followed by a description of your company.
  3. The customer doesn’t see anything about what they are going to get from what you propose until midway down the page.
  4. The text contains unsubstantiated claims or universal statements that would be true regardless of who was submitting the proposal.
  5. The proposal claims understanding without demonstrating it or makes patronizing statements telling the customer what they require.
  6. The text explains what you do, without explaining what matters about it and why you do it that way.
  7. The text does not contain insight beyond what is in the RFP.
  8. The text is written to tell the customer about the company instead of what the customer will get as a result of selecting the company.
  9. The proposal does not contain the answers to questions you should expect the customer to have.
  10. The terminology used is different from the terminology that the customer uses.
  11. The proposal is not organized according to the RFP or optimized to reflect the RFP’s evaluation criteria.
  12. The proposal contains few or no visuals (graphics, tables, etc.).

I’m willing to bet a free beer (although you’ll have to visit me to collect it) that if you pull any proposal your company has submitted off the shelf, you’ll find at least four of these problems in it.

In addition to being free of the problems above, a well written proposal would:

  1. Say what the customer is going to get right from the beginning. And remain about what the customer is going to get throughout the proposal.
  2. Show insight that goes beyond what is in the RFP.
  3. Include as much (or more) about why you do things, why they matter, and what the customer gets out of it as a result, as it does about what you do, your qualifications, your experience, or your capabilities.
  4. Say something that matters to the customer in every single sentence.
  5. Demonstrate understanding, usually through results, rather than simply claiming it.
  6. Provide answers to common questions (who, what, where, how, when, and why).
  7. Use terminology that matches the RFP, be organized according to the RFP, and be optimized against any evaluation criteria.
  8. Be highly visual, with graphics and tables replacing text as much as possible.

You need at least half of these, and preferably all of them, if you want your proposal to win. If two companies submit the same offering, then the one that does a better job of these eight things will have a significant competitive advantage.

If you compare a proposal that fails all 12 bad signs with a proposal that passes all eight of the things a winning proposal should do, even though they offer the same thing, the proposal that passes the eight items will read like it provides a superior offering.

If you are in a market where the RFP forces everybody to bid the same thing, you should take note. Strengthening your company’s skills in this area is directly related to your competitiveness. If you are in a market where everyone proposes a different solution or approach, consider how much stronger your approach will sound if you pass these eight items.

We took the list of eight things above that you should do when proposal writing, provided some guidance on how to achieve each one, and added it to the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase for our subscribers. PropLIBRARY Subscribers can read it in the MustWin Knowledgebase.




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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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