8 ingredients of proposal persuasion and great proposal writing

Where do the magic words that can win your proposals come from?

Persuasion is Part Differentiation

If you are not different, the customer won’t have a reason to select you. If you don’t point out the things that differentiate your offering, then all the evaluator has to consider is the price. Everything can be differentiated, even when the customer forces everyone to bid the exact same thing. Differentiation is how you make your bid special.

Persuasion is Part Positioning

How will your proposal compare against the competition? Will it be stronger, faster, cheaper, better, more credible, more trustworthy, less risky, more technical, or something else? It’s not enough to have a strong proposal — you need to help the evaluators understand how your proposal relates to the competitive environment, the customer’s objectives, the requirements of the opportunity, and any alternatives they might be considering or things that might impact the project. Positioning is about defining the relationships.

Even if your proposal is not competing against other proposals, it will still be compared to other alternatives, approaches, or solutions. You should position your proposal amongst these alternatives to frame the discussion, instead of letting it happen randomly.

Persuasion is Part Motivation

An evaluator can get all the answers they need and still not accept your proposal. Accepting a proposal means effort. It means spending money. It means justifying things to your boss. It means taking action. It means change. The evaluator needs to be motivated to accept your proposal. Maybe your reasons will motivate them. Or maybe you’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse. In addition to anticipating the questions the evaluator needs answered, you should also anticipate what they have to do to accept your proposal and what it will take to motivate them to do it.

Persuasion is Part Anticipation

The most important thing you can do to win your proposal is to anticipate how the evaluator will reach their decision. Finding this out will require research. Sometimes you can just ask them. But sometimes what people tell you and how they actually reach a decision are two different things. Researching their decision making history and trends can help. If the evaluation is a formal process, then understanding and anticipating it can help you optimize your proposal to win the evaluation.

Sometimes you have to guess. However, make sure your guess is based as much as possible on the evaluator’s perspective, instead of your own. Not all evaluators are the same. Different people have different priorities. For example, consider this list:

  • Risk
  • Cost
  • Time
  • Speed
  • Policy
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Public welfare
  • Competitive positioning
  • Thoroughness
  • Formality
  • Innovation
  • Quality
  • Reputation
  • Politics
  • Career
  • Personal goals
  • Corporate goals

If you ask people to rank them by priority, you’ll find that everyone will put them in a different sequence. If you ask them to write them down or tell you their priorities, you’ll also find a difference between what they say and what they actually do. It’s human nature. You must accept it and dig a little deeper if you want to be able to anticipate how they will make their decision.

If you want to win, you should build every aspect of your proposal around how the evaluator will reach their decision. The problem is that you have to find that out before you can build your proposal around it. Your ability to anticipate is one of the most important factors in writing a successful proposal. It is also why if you wait until an RFP comes out, you are already at a disadvantage, because you have a very limited ability to anticipate the customer.

Persuasion is Part Strategy

What are your corporate strategies? How does this pursuit align with them? How does that impact what you should do and say in the proposal?

What is your customer relationship strategy? What are your offering strategies? What are your competitive strategies? What are your proposal strategies?

Once you know what you intend to do to win, then you need be able to translate that into the things you need to say in order to win. If you jump into proposal writing without thinking through your strategies, or if you try to develop those strategies by writing about them, you’ll be at a disadvantage to competitors who did their strategic homework.

Persuasion is Part Value Proposition

Value is always a consideration for the customer, because the price is always more than just a number. Is the price reliable? What does it include or exclude? What are the short term and long term implications? When are their discounts? What could change? What is the most probable price really going to be?

Your value proposition is more than just a strength or justification for your pricing. A value proposition is really an explanation of what the price really means.

A value proposition is also a definition of what matters. If a customer is not persuaded to award to your higher price when it is also a better value, it just means that you don’t understand what the customer really values. It means you don’t understand what really matters to the customer. Ultimately the customer decides what to value, so if you haven’t validated your value proposition with the customer, you are at risk of being wrong.

Persuasion is Part What Matters

In addition to differentiation and positioning, customers care about what matters. Even when they don’t know what matters. By explaining what matters, you show insight and add value. You also align what you are offering with what matters. And that matters.

Persuasion is Part Copy Writing and Presentation

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking about how they want to present their proposal first. They worry about how it will look. Or they jump head first into writing as if all it takes are the right words to hypnotize the evaluator into doing whatever you want. Unfortunately, persuasion in writing is different than persuasion in person. And the decision process behind selecting a proposal and making an award is different from other kinds of decisions. Before you are ready to think about copy writing and presentation for a proposal, you need to have thought through everything identified in this article so that you have the right inputs. Effective copy gets attention and sets the stage. A good presentation will create the right impression. But without the right differentiation, strategies, positioning, value proposition, and methods for motivation copy writing has nothing to be persuasive about.

Once you’ve done your homework, copy writing and presentation are about effectively delivering your message to the proposal evaluator. You can appeal on an emotional level or on a rational one. Or even both. What is going to work depends on who the evaluator is and what the evaluator’s expectations are.

This brings us back to anticipation. You must anticipate what matters most to the evaluator, how they go about making decisions, and what they expect to see in a proposal. Will a fancy proposal impress them or offend them? Will copy based on fear motivate them or make them oppositional? Do they need to see all the technical details or will their eyes glaze over? Ultimately, all of the aspects of persuasion are integrated. Their effectiveness depends on your ability to anticipate so that none are left out or weak.

That’s why we believe in having just enough of a structured approach to prompt you to think through everything. When only the best proposal wins, it’s usually how well thought through you are that determines whether you are able to push past writing a good proposal and deliver a proposal that’s great.



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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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