3 things you must do to go from writing ordinary proposals to writing great proposals

Ordinary proposal writing is about the steps in the nearly mechanical process of responding to an RFP. Ordinary proposal writing is about trying to win more points in evaluation and have the lowest price while competing against others who are doing the same thing. Ordinary proposal writing comes down to competing on price while telling yourself that you’re competing on points.

Ordinary proposal writing results in companies whose strategies are based on what they happen to win. You can make a safe living by being just enough better than your competitors to keep the machine going. You will never be great, but you can pay the bills that way.

Let’s put aside the steps in the proposal process, gaming the RFP for points, and competing on price for a moment. Let’s talk about the three things you can’t do without if you want to write great proposals. These three ingredients are simple to describe and hard to achieve. That’s why most proposals are ordinary. They are:

  1. You must anticipate the questions you will need to answer when writing a great proposal. When the proposal starts, more time will be wasted on not being able to answer important questions than on anything else. Proposal writing means making choices about what to offer and how to position it. Choices like “Should we bid this or that?” and “Should we position it this way or that way?” depend on knowing what the customer prefers and what matters to them.
  2. You must be able to answer those questions. If you get to the proposal and don’t know what the customer prefers, you’ll get stuck and won’t know what to do. In almost every case, if you get to this stage it will be too late to get the answers you need and you’ll end up writing a watered down proposal that dances around the issues. It will be less competitive than a proposal written by people who have the answers. You must anticipate the questions you will have in order to show up at the start of the proposal already having the answers. If you understand the customer’s preferences, you’ll be able to write a proposal that not only offers something compliant, but offers something that matters more than what your competitors offer. You might even be proposing the exact same widget, but your offering will matter more to the customer. That’s the difference between ordinary and great when it comes to proposals.
  3. You must be able to present your proposal from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. If you simply describe your company and your offering, your proposal will be ordinary. A great proposal is about the customer and not you and your offering. Never describe. When you describe you are writing about yourself. The customer does not care about you. They care about what they will get and how they will benefit from accepting your proposal. They do not want your qualifications. Your qualifications and the details of your offering only serve to make your ability to deliver what they do care about more credible. Make your proposal about the customer, what they are going to get, and why it matters --- even the parts where they ask you to describe yourself!

 

You still need a process so that you do the right things in the right order. You still need to address things like proposal quality. You still need to be compliant with all RFP requirements and to optimize your response against the evaluation criteria. But all of that will just make you ordinary. Even if you are the best at being ordinary, your proposals can’t compete against a company whose proposals are also great.

If you find your company gets stuck during proposal writing, or it finds itself backing up and re-doing things, the real underlying failure is that you either didn’t ask the right questions or you didn’t get the answers and continued to try to write a proposal anyway.

When we created the MustWin Process that’s available on PropLIBRARY, we started by identifying what questions you need to know the answers to in order to create a proposal that reflects what it will take to win. Then we set things up to guide participants through discovering the information needed, assessing it, and turning it into a winning proposal.

We also created an eBook for those who don’t need everything that PropLIBRARY offers. It contains 135 critical questions in 9 categories to help you anticipate what you’ll need to know to write a great proposal. It comes with a PropLIBRARY Subscription or it can be purchased separately. It even comes with a coupon so you can purchase the eBook and then upgrade to a subscription and get full credit.

If you want to create your own list of questions, just pay attention during your proposals. When you see people getting stuck trying to make choices, determine strategies, or write their sections, create a question that would deliver the information they wish they had and add it to your list. It will take time to create a list that way, but you can accelerate things by anticipating what those questions will be.

When you get to the point where you can start a proposal already having the answers, not only will people not get stuck and be able to complete their assignments more quickly, but they'll do a much better job. They’ll have what they need to know to write a great proposal.



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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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