Why winning in writing is more like cooking than speaking

Some people talk a good game and can be very persuasive. But they write a lousy proposal because they think all they need to do is sit down at a keyboard and hook the customer. Winning in writing has nothing to do with talking a good game.

While a conversational style in proposal writing is a good thing, there are so many ingredients that have be prepared in just the right way that winning in writing more closely resembles cooking than speaking.

Winning in writing is not about getting the customer to take what you’ve got. Winning in writing is about the customer making a selection from amongst other alternatives using an evaluation process. To select you, they need to:

  • See certain things in your proposal
  • Make favorable comparisons
  • Be confident that all of their requirements will be fulfilled
  • Convince others that it’s the right choice
  • Believe they can trust you
  • Accept your terms and conditions
  • Be able to afford what you’ve proposed

That’s a lot of ingredients to keep organized in your head and get onto paper in the right order and in the right context. Winning in writing is a combination of fulfilling their expectations, satisfying their evaluation process, and giving them the best alternative. So you have to prepare the ingredients correctly. For winning in writing, this preparation generally involves:

  • Research and intelligence gathering
  • Assessment, or figuring out what to do with what you learned
  • Assembly, or getting the right things into the document in the right order
  • Communication, which for a proposal is a combination of articulation and graphics design

You can’t just sit down and write or talk your way out of it. That’s why proposal writing doesn’t just need a process. It is a process. If your process involves someone figuring it all out in a single step while typing a narrative response, then it’s a bad process. But it’s still a process.

A better process would collect the ingredients, assess them, and prepare a plan for what needs to be written, so that when you sit down to write it’s already mapped out for you. But a lot of people see writing as difficult, and don’t want to stray out of their comfort zone. For most of them, their comfort zone involves trying to write it like an essay in school, usually at the last minute with little or no planning.

If you try that on a proposal you will leave ingredients out. And the ones that you include will not be prepared properly. And you won’t be able to fix it because you can’t un-cook something.

The kind of proposal you get without planning is like the soup of the day, made with whatever the cook had available. Even if the soup is tasty, the customer didn’t order soup. To win, you need to deliver the meal the customer ordered, and impress them with how well prepared it is. To do that you have to not only take the order, but understand their preferences, have the ingredients, and figure out how to best prepare them.

To do this in writing, you have to break it down into steps:

  • Understand their preferences
  • Gather everything that will need to be written about and how
  • Assess what you know and what you want to offer
  • Know what you want to communicate
  • Validate that you’ve accounted for everything

And then you can start cooking. I mean writing.

Since it already includes a recipe library, I'm so tempted to drop the technical terminology and start referring to our PropLIBRARY as a cookbook for proposals.



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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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