The difference between writing an ordinary proposal and writing a great proposal

20 opportunities to good from good to great

Almost every proposal we review has the same problems, whether it was written by a billion dollar company or by a single person company. They are ordinary. They all sound the same. Some are more detailed than others. Some show promise and pique my interest. But I almost never get surprised and see one that’s great from cover to cover.

What that really means is that you have an opportunity to consistently beat your competitors.

All you have to do is make the leap from writing an ordinary proposal to writing a great proposal.

Here are 20 examples of the differences between them to help you get started:

An ordinary proposal introduces things by saying how pleased you are.
A great proposal introduces things by describing how much better things will be for the customer because of the results you are going to deliver.

An ordinary proposal says you’ll fulfill the customer’s requirements.
A great proposal talks about the results you will deliver as a result of your meeting the requirements.

An ordinary proposal is about your commitment, recognition, desire, intent, etc.
A great proposal drops the promise words and just delivers the results.

An ordinary proposal describes who you are.
A great proposal explains why you matter.

An ordinary proposal describes your qualifications.
A great proposal tells the customer what they will get as a result of your qualifications.

An ordinary proposal describes your experience.
A great proposal explains the benefits you will deliver as a result of your experience.

An ordinary proposal describes how you will fulfill the requirements.
A great proposal tells what you will accomplish as a result of fulfilling the requirements.

An ordinary proposal describes what you will do or deliver.
A great proposal explains why you do what you do or how you will deliver it.

An ordinary proposal describes your team.
A great proposal explains why your team is structured the way it is and what the customer will get as a result.

An ordinary proposal starts sentences with “We,” “Our Team,” or the equivalent.
A great proposal makes the customer the subject.

An ordinary proposal is about you and why you're so great.
A great proposal is about the customer and how much greater things will be for them when they accept your proposal.

An ordinary proposal is about what you have done that’s similar.
A great proposal is about why what you have done matters to the customer.

An ordinary proposal shows understanding by restating the customer's requirements and telling the customer what you know about them.
A great proposal demonstrates understanding by describing the results you will bring and the improvements you offer over the current state.

An ordinary proposal tells the customers what their needs are.
A great proposal tells how you will fulfill their needs.

An ordinary proposal says you are capable, qualified, experienced, etc.
A great proposal explains what matters about your capabilities, qualifications, experience, etc.

An ordinary proposal has graphics to make the proposal more visually interesting.
A great proposal has graphics to make the proposal more meaningful.

An ordinary proposal responds.
A great proposal make a point.

An ordinary proposal is compliant and optimized against the evaluation criteria.
A great proposal is about something meaningful to the customer, while being compliant and optimized against the evaluation criteria.

An ordinary proposal is about the things you will do.
A great proposal is about what the customer will get out of the things you will do.

An ordinary proposal is about how you are the best choice.
A great proposal is about how the customer will be better off by selecting you.

If you noticed that they are all similar and have something in common, you are right. They are all about whether you are writing about yourself or what matters to the customer. The examples above are really just a bunch of different ways that can play out in a typical proposal. But some of them are pretty deep. You might need to ponder them for a moment while you discover the Zen of proposals.

If you propose the same thing as your competitors but your proposal says what matters about your offering and your company, and your competitors describe their offerings and themselves, your proposal will sound superior. You might even win with a slightly higher price, because your proposal will appear to offer a better value, even though it’s for exactly the same thing. Your ability to deliver will be more credible and will also appear greater, even though you’ll be delivering the exact same thing. Your competitor offers what they offer. You are offering to fulfill the customer’s goals.

If you are responding to the kind of RFP where everyone proposes something different, then this approach makes proposal writing itself a competitive advantage. Luckily, it looks like very few companies have discovered that, so you’ll probably have this advantage all to yourself. That’s a great way to win.



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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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