Why your proposal probably adds up to nothing...

It takes more than just piling up positive sounding statements to have a great proposal

Most people write their proposals by doing things that add up to nothing. Instead of thinking through what it will take to win, they just start piling on positive sounding attributes. They might even be legitimately positive, but if they don’t fit the way the customer makes their decision, they won’t add up to much. Probably nothing.

The problem is that a collection of positive attributes, even if the attributes are relevant, is not what a customer really wants. They want results. The attributes may or may not be a part of what they need to get what they want. If you explain how your attributes lead to them getting what they want, it adds up to something. If you just describe yourself, all those positive sounding statements won’t impress anybody because that’s not what they really want.

So the next time you start describing yourself, ask if what you’re saying is a result or something the customer will get. Is your experience or your size a result? Is a response to an RFP requirement a result? What do those things lead to? What do they add up to? Why do they matter to the customer?

The next time you want to show that you understand the customer and you find yourself describing their mission or telling them about themselves, ask yourself what that adds up to? Similarly, you should ask what restating the requirement adds up to. If it adds up to the same thing as a copy and paste, it does not imply understanding. It adds up to nothing.

Instead, write about how you’re going to do something that helps them achieve their mission, relates to what you know about them (mission, goals, needs, wants), or fulfills that requirement in a way that matters. Keep at it until it adds up to them reading about what they want to get instead of reading a description of something they already know and adds no value.

Never describe. Never describe yourself. Never describe what you are going to do or deliver. Descriptions add up to nothing. Instead, explain how what you are going to do leads to what they want to get. Don’t describe a better approach. Explain how your approach produces a better result. Make your proposal add up to the results they want.

If you give the customer a credible approach to getting what they want, it adds up to winning. But if all you do is describe how you'll fulfill their requirements, that adds up to nothing, because that's not the result they really want. Figuring out what they really want is critical to winning.

The results you deliver should be extraordinarily special. The combination of results and the credibility of your ability to deliver them should be unique and differentiated. This can be achieved, even when the RFP forces everyone to deliver the exact same thing, because you can deliver it in a way that is special and be more credible.

When you are planning what to offer, focus on what it adds up to. Don’t offer the customer fulfillment of the requirements. Offer them results, one of which is compliance with the requirements. Before the RFP is released, focus on what your differentiators add up to. When the RFP is released, add how your response to the requirements leads to that result, and you'll end up with a differentiated proposal that tells a winning story.

If the RFP is formally evaluated and point scored, it is tempting to list as many positive attributes as possible as point bait. This strategy only works against lame competitors. Piling up points only works won’t work against a competitor who says what matters to the customer. The best results, supported by a credible, differentiated approach to delivering them aligned to the evaluation criteria and RFP language is a superior strategy. So make your proposal about proving to the customer that they will get better results by selecting you, and let your competitors describe their response to the requirements.



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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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