How to explain why your proposal is the customer’s best alternative

Winning in writing requires that you get this right

Warning: proposal damage may occur

Let’s start by addressing things you should avoid:

  1. Claims. Especially unsubstantiated claims. But claims in general. They rarely pass the “So what?” test. They rarely increase your evaluation score. Claims belong in advertisements. Proofs belong in proposals. Proposals get read differently than advertisements. Things that work in advertisements can backfire when used in proposals.
  2. Descriptions. Descriptions add very little value for the evaluators. Evaluators respond to insight. Insight is usually related to why you do things instead of what you do. Insight is found in why your qualifications matter or how you turn them into advantages in performance. Insight is how you pass the “So What?” test. 
  3. Patronization. Don’t tell them how to make their decision. Do give them reasons in your favor. Be subtle. 
  4. Being merely beneficial. Don’t just sprinkle your proposal with generically beneficial results of your merely compliant offering. It’s good to deliver benefits to the customer. But they have to be superior benefits in order to impact the customer’s decision.

These are bad habits that will undermine your ability to get it right.

So what should you write about in your proposals?

See also:
Winning

You know that the proposal evaluators:

  • Will be checking to see if you fulfill the RFP requirements
  • Will be looking for strengths and weaknesses in how you fulfill those requirements
  • Must complete evaluation forms and justify their decision
  • May need to justify a best value award at a higher price
  • Have other alternatives than accepting your proposal

So talk about what matters to someone making a decision about what to do or which to select. Help them make that decision. Don’t tell them how to perform their evaluation, but do give them the information they need to do it.

If you merely state a claim and then describe your RFP compliance, you will not be competitive against someone who takes proposal writing seriously. Plus, your proposal will be boring and a chore to read.

The most important ingredient in proposal writing

What makes your offering special? What makes it not only better, but the best? What makes you matter so much you become the customer’s best alternative? All of that starts by being different. What are your differentiators?

You can always find differentiators. If they are not what you offer, they might be how you deliver it or why you made the trade-off decisions that you made.

Your entire proposal should be about proving why your differentiators make you the customer’s best alternative. You accomplish this by showing how your differentiators relate to the decision that they have to make. It starts by making points:

  1. At the section level, make the point about how your differentiators will lead to better outcomes.
  2. At the paragraph level, make the point about how your differentiators will result in better requirements fulfillment. 

Make the text and graphics proofs of your differentiators. The result will be a proposal that has insightful advantages that aren’t available elsewhere and that delivers better results, making your proposal the customer’s best alternative.

Planning your proposal content around what it will take to win

You can turn this into a sentence-by-sentence plan. But that might be more planning than you can accomplish, even though companies often spend days' worth of time on the back end doing sentence-by-sentence rewriting that could have been avoided by planning it that way on the front end.

But there is a middle ground for planning your proposal content. Start by identifying your differentiators and the points you want to make. Then have your proposal writers take it from there. You can review what they produce by checking it against the points and assessing whether they are sufficiently substantiated, achieve RFP compliance, and are optimized to achieve the highest evaluation score.

To make it easier for proposal writers to accomplish this, we’ve created a blueprint for proposal writing. It’s only available to our paid subscribers, but we’ve given away hints at how to construct one. In our blueprint we break it down so that someone could follow it sentence by sentence. But the goal is really just to enable people to write better proposals by giving them something to check their paragraphs against.

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Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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