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9 ways to keep your proposals from looking and sounding like all the other proposals

How to stand out from the pack

If you don’t want your proposal to look and sound like every other proposal the customer will have to read, then you need to get good at reading your proposal like the customer, and being honest about what you see…

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  1. Read your proposal and look for the differentiators. Ask if other companies will claim the same things, whether or not they are true, whether or not your claim is stronger. If they can say the same things, you’ll all sound the same. Differentiators are the secret to writing a proposal that stands out from the pack. Focus on getting them right. Make your whole process revolve around your differentiators. Try standing for something that is better than normal.
  2. Read your slogans. On second thought, don’t even bother. Just throw them out. Along with the slogans, throw out everything that sounds like advertising. Those claims belong in brochures going to strangers and not in proposals. They won’t convince the customer that you are their best alternative. But they might convince the customer that you sound like every bad ad they’ve ever seen.
  3. Read your statements about the subject matter. If you’re using academic or universal pronouncements that apply to everyone equally as an introduction to what you have to say, then rewrite them so they only apply to you or so they become part of what you will do or deliver. For example, I often see proposal writers start by saying things like… [insert something that is factually true] is [critically important|vital|a big fat concern|etc.] to achieve [the success of the project|a goal that everyone bidding will share or claim, probably because it says so in the RFP]. For example, “In these troubling times, it is critical that everything possible be done to maximize efficiency in order to continue to meet the performance specifications. [Company name]’s approach will…” The first sentence does not differentiate you because it is true no matter who wins. Efficiency is always important and the sentence doesn’t say that you’ll do anything about it or that your competitors won’t. And it doesn’t prove your understanding or set the stage in any meaningful way. Introductions like this can often be simply deleted, but sometimes they can also be turned into a statement about what [Company name] will do or deliver. And if you really want to stand out from the pack it will describe the differentiated approach [Company name] offers.
  4. Read your proposal and ask why it is more credible than those of your competitors. Then ask whether your proposal explains that and then proves it? If not, you’re no more credible than you competitors, no matter how much you want to believe in yourself. Being more credible than your competitors is important for standing out from the pack, because it makes you more trustworthy than the pack. You don’t become more credible by claiming it. You become more credible by proving it and by having approaches that deliver it. Focus on credibility and your approaches to risk and quality may write themselves in a way that is more authentic.
  5. Read your proposal and ask whether you’ve treated the customer and the opportunity as if they are unique and worthy of special attention. Have you offered something that is a perfect match, or have you just done what you were told? Like everyone else. If your offering is as unique and special as the customer and the opportunity are, you will stand out from the pack. But you can’t claim uniqueness. You shouldn’t even use the word “unique.” Instead, just propose an offering that is a perfect match for what is unique and special about the customer.
  6. Read your proposal and ask whether the approaches you describe are merely competent and routine. If so, they will sound just like everyone else who is competent. Widely accepted best practices can easily become boring when you have to read through dozens of them. The standard of care does not make you stand out from the pack. If your approaches aren’t exciting, you’re just not trying hard enough. You can improve on the standard of care by going beyond procedures and focusing on your interactions, communications, transparency, delivery, metrics and performance measures, decision making, logistics, or any of the other factors that impact the efficacy of your practices. Try writing your approaches as if failure is not an option and you need to prove that they will hold up under any contingency.
  7. Read your proposal and ask whether you sound beneficial or whether you sound like you will have a profound impact. Every one of your competitors will sound beneficial. Addressing benefits in your proposals tends to degrade into a lack of specifics. For example, people start claiming their experience will deliver benefits without itemizing what those benefits will actually be. Will accepting your proposal have an impact on the customer? Or will it just keep the trains running on time, just like everyone else will promise? Try showing how you matter by having an impact.
  8. Read your proposal and ask if you are avoiding talking about certain things. Are you saying things to yourself and cynically mumbling under your breath when you read it? If so, then your self-censorship is probably making you sound like everyone else. You may be hiding some awareness that could be turned into advantages if you address them properly. If you want to stand out from the pack and sound different, try sharing some truth that you don’t normally reveal. 
  9. By far, the best way to stand out from the pack is to start before you read your proposal. Start before the proposal is even written and determine how you are going to stand out and differentiate. Then plan the content around proving how you’ll deliver your stand-out offering as promised. Fixing these issues on the back end of your proposal is like trying to repair the foundation of a house after it is built and doing it against a tight deadline. That’s not a reliable way to create something exceptional that someone else would want to purchase.
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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.

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