Proposal writing is very different from other forms of writing. The goals are different, the methods are different, and even the word choices are different. Extremely competent professionals often produce text that would be acceptable for other applications, but which amounts to rather ordinary proposal writing. Ordinary proposal writing is not enough to win. So I’m constantly looking for ways to show people how to get from ordinary proposal writing to great proposal writing. When I do proposal training, here are some of the things I focus on to help people break out of the ordinary so they can win in writing.
- Make a point. Every sentence in a proposal has to do two things: respond to the RFP and make a point that explains why it matters. Don’t just simply tell them what you are offering, why you are qualified, or how much experience you have. Tell them how what you are offering achieves their goals, why your qualifications mean you will be able to deliver as promised, or how your experience will lead to better results. It helps to know what matters. If you don’t make the right points, your proposal will add up to nothing, even if you say how really and truly great your company is.
- Differentiate. You can’t win if you don’t differentiate. Customers pick winners based on the differences that make one the best alternative. The points you make in your proposal writing must differentiate your proposal.
- Write from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. It’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what the customer needs to read in order to make their decision. If you simply describe your company and your offering, you’re not writing from the customer’s perspective, you’re writing about yourself. You have to twist your sentences around to be what the customer wants to see instead of just writing what you think sounds good.
- Use other people’s words. When there’s an RFP and a formal evaluation, you are being evaluated against the words in the RFP. That means your points have to match their evaluation criteria, and you have to make those points using the words of the RFP. Instead of writing things the way you want to say them, you have to use their words. It’s more like solving a puzzle or cooking than it is like speaking.
- Communicate visually. A great proposal writer doesn’t have to be an artist, but it does help to be able to doodle. A good graphic communicates better than good writing. A good graphic can be used to drive what you do write. Great proposal writers build what they write around great graphics.
- Have a process. Before you start writing you need to know what points to make. Before you use a graphic to drive what you write, you have to be able to draw that graphic. Before you can use the customer’s words, you have to parse them. Before you can write to the customer’s perspective, you have to understand the customer. Without the right information delivered to the right people at the right time in a chain of events leading up to the start of the proposal, a great proposal writer won’t be able to achieve great proposal writing. Great proposal writing only happens at the tail end of a process.
- Make it add up to what it will take to win. Winning a proposal requires you to make the points that add up to being the customer’s best alternative. Winning in writing requires discovering what it will take to win.
- Time management. I know you’re getting pulled in a hundred different directions, but there’s this thing called a deadline… Even if you have the skills and you have the information, you have to be able to deliver on time in spite of all the distractions. You have to prioritize, and this may mean some brutal choices. But keep your eyes on the prize. See “Making it add up to what it takes to win” above. See “Have a process” above for the most significant thing you can do to support time management.
What great proposal writers do is bring it all together at the same time. They do all of them and skip none of them. They do them all in every single sentence. When you put an ordinary proposal next to a great proposal, the difference is huge. Even when the RFP forces everyone to offer the exact same thing, a great proposal will clearly offer more value, be more insightful, and be more trustworthy.
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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.