Who decides if your proposal is any good?

You don’t know whether your proposal is good. I don't either.

You and I don't get to decide whether a proposal is good. Only the customer gets to decide that.

Only the customer can decide which proposal is good enough to accept.

You might have what you think is a great offering, on paper. You might have what you think is a great plan, on paper. But if the customer chooses another alternative, that is what will get done, built, or delivered. And your proposal will remain a concept. On paper. Forgotten. 

No matter how good you think your proposal is, if the customer chooses another alternative, it’s because the customer considers that other alternative to be a better match. If your proposal is not the best match, in the customer’s eyes, then your proposal is not as good as the alternative. 

The trick to doing proposals isn’t to develop your own awareness of what a good proposal is. The trick is to develop your awareness of what your customer thinks a good proposal is.

A company that consistently wins its proposals does so by discovering what their customers think is good. They set this as their standard and measure everything they do, from offering design to proposal development, against that standard. 

Their proposals aren’t descriptions of themselves and what they do or will deliver. Their proposals are about doing or delivering things in a way the customer thinks is good. Their proposals aren’t about telling the customer what’s good. Their proposals are about substantiating their ability to deliver what the customer thinks is good. 

There is a problem with this. Knowing that the customer will decide what is good regardless of any thoughts you might have on the subject does not help you know how to prepare your proposal, unless you know the customer’s preferences.

Winning proposals do not start with brilliant writing. Winning proposals start by understanding the customer’s needs, expectations, preferences, and approach to making decisions. This usually happens long before any proposal writing actually starts. This information becomes the basis for bid strategies and proposal writing. Building your proposal around these things, instead of what you think is important to say, is how you achieve a good proposal. Discovering, assessing, and then using this information to drive proposal development forms a process that has more to do with whether you win than the act of proposal writing.

But there is another problem with it. You don’t find out whether your proposal is good until after you submit it. This means that you have to prepare your proposal based on your assessment of what the customer thinks is good. The challenge is to focus not on what you think is good, but what the customer thinks.

This is particularly difficult if you don’t know the customer as well as you should. You have to think from their perspective, even if you have to guess.

Your process and standards for defining what a good proposal is should systematize looking at things from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. Your writing and your reviews should not be based on your own idea of what is good. You must define your own quality criteria, but they should be based on what you believe the customer will think is good. Theirs is the only standard that matters.




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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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