To write proposals, first learn how to read them

In order to win in writing, it’s crucial to be able to read your proposal like your customer reads it. The customer doesn’t read a proposal like a book. They read it with a purpose or a goal. Maybe more than one. They might score it, they might compare it, or they might look for answers to questions they have. What you put into your proposal should not be based on what you want to say. It should be based on what your customer wants to read.

If you look at your proposal like a customer and are honest with yourself, the first truth you run into is that the customer doesn’t want to read it. They’d like to fulfill their goals without any of that inconvenient reading stuff. That’s a strong argument in favor of:

  • Using lots of graphics that communicate your message with pictures instead of words
  • Keeping it short
  • Deleting all those unsubstantiated claims, slogans, universal truths, and filler words that make it harder to find the stuff that matters, turn evaluating the proposal into work, and weaken your credibility
  • Making it easy to navigate and find what they are looking for
  • Making it easy to skim

To read your proposal like the customer, you should ask yourself, “If I was the customer…”

  • What would I be looking for?
  • What information would I need?
  • What would I need to get what I want?
  • What would I be willing to consider?
  • What would I need to fill out any forms I may have?
  • What would I want to see first?
  • What adds value?

The customer needs to see that your proposal is compliant with the RFP and fulfills their requirements. They need to fill out evaluation forms. They need to score your proposal against the evaluation criteria. And they need to get their questions answered, believe they can trust you, and see something they want in your proposal. And they are doing this in a competitive environment, comparing what they see in your proposal to what they see in proposals from other vendors.

So when you look at your proposal through the customer’s eyes, do you see what you need? Or do you see what the vendor wanted to say, or worse a bunch of filler and unsubstantiated claims. Is it all about them and how great they are, or does it tell you what you need to know?

The best way to produce a proposal that reads well from the customer’s perspective is to do all of the research and reflect on what the customer needs to see before you start writing. Then you need to construct the proposal around that. This is very different from writing narrative that describes your own company and is based on whatever comes to mind. To intentionally deliver the right information in the right sequence, in the right context, and present it from the customer’s perspective requires you to plan what you are going to write so that each and every part of your proposal has specific goals. You need to capture those goals and assess what gets written against how well it achieves them.

The way we do this is through a methodology called Proposal Content Planning that we developed as part of the MustWin Process that is in the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase. 



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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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