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How to write proposals that beat your competitors

Filling these gaps is the secret to great proposal writing

Most proposal writing is good. But not great. Good proposal writing is not competitive. If you want to win consistently you need to write better than good, you need to write better than everyone else.

Most proposal writing sounds beneficial. It attempts to make whatever you've got to work with sound good. Most proposal writing shows that the vendor is fully qualified and meets all the requirements. It’s positive. It's good.

Unfortunately, good proposal writing is not competitive. Making your company sound good may please The Powers that Be within your own company, but it's not what the customer wants to hear. And that's why it's not competitive.

Every company that will make it into the competitive range will have written a proposal that is fully qualified, meets all the requirements, and has a competitive price. They will all be good proposals. But the winner will be the one that pleases the customer the most.

To make your proposal writing great enough to win over all competitors, instead of aspiring to create a proposal that sounds good, you should set the standard for your proposal writing to be based on what it will take to win. Doing that requires discovering what pleases the customer the most and what they need to see in order to conclude that your proposal is their best alternative. This usually involves saying less about yourself and more about what they are going to get as a result.

Achieving this requires more than just having a lead to bid.

A good lead is one where you have enough insight into what matters to the customer that you have an information advantage, combined with a great offering and enough insight to present it from the customer's perspective. A good lead is one where you can define what it will take to win and write a proposal based on it. A lead without this is really just a cold lead. What percentage of your bids are cold leads?

See also:
Great Proposals

Believe in yourself. But not too much.

Everyone who submits a proposal believes they have the best offering. But they often deceive themselves about how much insight they have. They don’t see that as a disqualifier and the result is they lose far more than they win. 

Winning over all competitors is easier when you don’t deceive yourself about how much insight you have into the customer, the opportunity, and the competitive environment. But even those with real insight often fail to drive it into the document that closes the sale.

What to do about it

To raise the bar on your competitiveness:

  • Take your customer insight and use it to write a proposal from the customer’s perspective. Don't make your proposal sound "good." Make your proposal sound like what the customer needs to hear in order to decide that your proposal is their best alternative. Instead of filling your proposals with things you think sound good, fill it with things that will help them make a decision in your favor and get it approved by their management.
  • Prove that your offering is not only superior and meets the requirements, but that it matters in ways that make it the customer’s best alternative. Instead of making your proposal sound "good," make it matter.
  • Write your proposal based on the customer's decision making and evaluation process. Instead of writing your proposal to sound "good," write it to get the maximum score against the evaluation criteria.

It turns out that proposal writing has less to do with writing and more to do with:

Hardly any proposal writers know all these things or even how to write about them at the start of the proposal. It is unfortunate that most companies start their proposals without providing this insight and input to their proposal writers. Whether your proposal staff come from an editorial, technical writing, engineering, marketing, or other background, they need input and guidance. If your proposal writers are not informed in all these things, how do you expect them to capture the win with only an outline to guide them? Your competitiveness depends on how well you provide this information to your proposal writers.

Filling these gaps is the secret to achieving great proposal writing.

Proposal writing is a process

The proposal process should be designed to bring this information to the proposal writers. If proposal writing starts with just an outline, you are not going to get a draft that achieves all of these goals. Your proposal writing will not be competitive. Your win rate will suffer.

Proposal writing must be based on an understanding of what it will take to capture that win. If you’re not talking about how to build the proposal around your insights, a plan for what to write based on what it will take to win, and how the writing will be presented before the proposal writing even starts, you’re just not trying to win. Making a submission is not the same as trying to win. Even if you think the proposal is "good."

Exercise-based training for proposal writing. The online training that comes with a subscription to PropLIBRARY addresses topics like the fundamentals of proposal writing and how to respond to an RFP with the right words. This is in addition to the MustWin Process documentation that can help make sure you deliver the information proposal writers need to win, and MustWin Now, our online tool with forms for automating how you collect this information and turn it into guidance for proposal writers.
Want to know what the founder of PropLIBRARY would recommend? Just ask me.... We can talk about reengineering how you go about winning business and come out of this better than you ever were before. Use the widget below to grab any open spot on my calendar before they’re filled and we can discuss your challenges.
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A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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