Getting your proposal down to the good stuff

A company recently contacted me because they weren't winning any business from a new customer. The reason the customer gave them was that their task order responses were being evaluated as high risk. They asked me to review their proposal template and make recommendations to improve it.

The proposal was limited to three pages. As I started reading, I started deleting everything that wasn’t vital. That was when I realized that this is a very useful technique for improving proposals. Simply delete everything that isn’t vital. I was doing it to see how much space I had to work with to write something that would add substance to improve their risk score. But every proposal can benefit from the same approach.

In the past, we’ve told people to just skip the steps in our process that weren’t needed in order to win. It’s a trick, because we’re confident that they won’t find anything that’s not directly relevant to winning. But it’s a great way to achieve process buy-in. If they can’t find anything that’s not needed to win, then everything left must be crucial to winning.

This same approach can be applied to the text of your proposal. If a statement doesn’t absolutely need to be there, it should be deleted. If your introduction says “we are pleased to submit the following proposal,” that’s not information that is vital for the customer to make their decision. Delete it. If you’ve made statements that are universally true and apply to everyone equally like “Quality is critical to the success of this project,” delete it.

Some things can go either way, like the year you were founded. If it’s vital, then you should say why. If it’s not vital, then delete it. Whenever you aren’t sure whether something is vital or not, it needs to be fixed. There should not be an ambiguity. Either make it say something vital, or make the reason why it’s vital clear, or delete it.

It’s very important to assess what’s vital from the perspective of the customer. It’s not about what you think is vitally important to say. It’s about what the customer thinks is vital to making their decision. Either it’s information they need, or it’s not. What you think is vital really isn’t — unless you can position it as vital to the decision that the customer has to make. If you are struggling with what is vital and what isn't, figuring out the difference may be the most important thing you can do to improve your proposals.

If your proposal drops in length because you deleted a significant portion of what you had written, that’s not a bad thing. But it’s also not necessarily the goal. Maybe you’ll make room for something else that is vital. Or maybe you’ll make room so that you can better explain why some of the questionable statements really are vital. Maybe when you’re done, it won’t be any shorter. But what it will be is vital.



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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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