Do you have to do a proposal or do you get to do a proposal?

Is working on a proposal a necessary evil or an opportunity? Is it an assignment you have to complete to keep someone else happy or is it a chance to bring meaning to your work? Is it a chance to add to the corporate coffers or is it a chance to advance your career and expand the salary pool? Is it something you have to do to get a customer, or is it an opportunity to define a new relationship?

Proposals have deadlines. This means everything that needs to be done needs to be assigned to someone accountable for completing it on time. By definition, these assignments are things that people have to do. And by accepting that definition, you suck the motivation right out of the people you need engaged in winning.

If you frame a proposal as something that people have to do, then people will do the minimum that they have to. There is no meaning in their work beyond fulfilling requirements. People will measure success by completion. The proposal is just a step towards getting the work, and even if it wins, will likely be ignored by those doing the work because it is irrelevant to what they do. Think about that last sentence. Most proposals are irrelevant to what people actually do.

But a proposal is much more than a deadline. A proposal is a chance to define your relationship with the customer and the nature of what people will spend their time doing. A proposal is a chance to define what job opportunities will be created, and what those jobs will be like. A proposal is a chance to make positions more than just jobs. A proposal is a chance to bring meaning to those jobs. A proposal is a chance to be relevant. A proposal is a chance to matter.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that if a proposal is required, you get to have a chance to matter. Most fail to seize that opportunity. It doesn’t even register as an opportunity when you see the proposal as something you have to do.

A great proposal is written from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. An ordinary proposal is a description of what you will do and why you are qualified to do it. A great proposal will be about what matters to the customer.

When you frame the proposal as something you get to do instead of something you have to do, it increases your chances of winning. If your proposal matters to the customer more than any other alternative, they will accept your proposal. Creating a proposal that matters to the customer starts by creating a proposal that matters. Your chances of the proposal mattering to the customer are much greater when you think it should and try to make it so than when you just fulfill the requirements because you have to. Do you get to work on something meaningful, or do you have to do something meaningless? Which will appeal to the customer?

How do you create a proposal that matters? Step one is to find your passion for what matters about the customer and the nature of what needs to be done. The second step is to say what matters and why with passion.

It helps to have a stake in the outcome. When you will be the one doing the work if the proposal wins, then wouldn’t you rather have defined a project with meaning and a proposal that remains relevant after the project starts? But even if you’re creating a proposal for a project that someone else will have to work on, wouldn’t you rather gift them with something relevant and meaningful, instead of something that will be ignored? Is the proposal a way that you get to pay it forward, or is it just something you have to do?

Proposals can be challenging. They can be exhausting. Is there anything meaningful that we do that isn’t challenging and exhausting?

Deadline pressures can warp people. People who respond by constricting what they do to the minimum to ensure they meet their deadline can’t create a great proposal, and can’t win against a competitor who isn’t also constricted. When you get to bring meaning to a proposal that matters, you get to win.



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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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