Proposal managers get all the glory and usually more money. Proposal writers are sometimes treated like low-skilled interchangeable assembly-line workers, as if any writer can do the job. But proposal writers are different from other forms of writers. And if you care about your win rate, it’s a difference that matters.
Proposal writers are matchmakers as much as they are writers. They don’t merely articulate, they put things in context. They don’t merely find the right words, they find the right considerations to bring into alignment, and then find the right words to express it in a way that matters to the proposal evaluator. There is always more than one way to say something. Proposal writers consider multiple ways of saying things until they find the combination that produces the best chance of winning. Then they articulate it.
Their skill at what to consider is as important as their skill at writing. First, they must consider RFP compliance. Then they must consider optimizing the language for the evaluation score. Then they must incorporate the company’s bid strategies and positioning. They might even need to reference the company’s strategic plan or branding guidelines. Then there is the consideration of graphics and visual communications which are often initiated by the proposal writers. And oh yeah, while they’re at it they must not only describe the offering, but do it while focusing on what matters about it. Doing this usually means collaborating with one or more subject matter experts who understand the offering, but usually don’t understand the context that it must be presented in. And all of this must be written not as simple descriptions, but from the perspective of what the customer needs to see to make their decision. They must translate not only the words, but the perspective as well.
And this is just the mechanics. Considering the strategies, positioning, and other elements required to put the offering in a context that makes it the customer’s best alternative is where a proposal writer's matchmaking skills come into play. Proposal writers create a match between you and your customer. Proposal writers create a match between your best attributes and strategies, and what the customer needs to see in order for you to be their best alternative. They not only produce a proposal, but they help you realize what your company needs to become to reach its full potential.
While other forms of writing are pure art, proposal writing is just as much a process. It has a discovery phase, an assessment phase, a planning phase, and an implementation phase. It’s not just as simple as putting words on paper. It requires steps. In many ways, the writing part is the smallest. It's one part writing and 999 parts figuring out what to write.
Proposal managers provide vital leadership. They herd cats. They implement the necessary process. It’s a critically important role and very difficult. But proposal managers need writers who can do more than put RFP compliant words on paper. Proposal managers lead, but they require proposal writers to win. And just as all types of writers are not the same, they don’t all have the right skills to win.
Think about that the next time you select a proposal writer. You aren’t selecting a writer. You are selecting a winner. And to win you need someone who understands how to put things in the right context.
Incidentally, the skills a proposal writer needs do not always correlate with experience or training. Sometimes well-trained proposal writers with tons of experience still write descriptive copy from their own perspective. If you are a PropLIBRARY subscriber, here’s an assessment tool we created to help you identify those who have the gift.
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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.