Why you shouldn't write your proposals about what you want to say

8 things the customer needs to see in your proposal and 5 they really don’t

Don’t start your proposal by thinking up everything that’s good about yourself that you should tell the customer. This can actually lead to bad proposal writing.

Instead, start your proposal by think about what the customer needs to hear.

But before you can do that, you have to know the customer. And before that, which person at the customer will be reading?

Will it be the one receiving the services? The one who understands what is being procured? The one who runs the procurement process but isn’t involved with the services themselves? Will it be an executive? Or some other stakeholder? Will it be a junior staff member drafted into participating in the evaluation? What will their background and level of expertise be? What will their concerns be? Will they process your proposal like a robot, or read it like a human?

You also need to determine what process they will follow to perform the evaluation and make their decision. Who will be involved? What will the level of formality be? If it is a government customer, then the process will be highly regulated. Your proposal may be scored instead of read. But whatever the process, it will be implemented by people. People who need certain information from you presented in a certain way in order to reach their decision.

That’s where you should start your proposal.

What do they need to see in your proposal in order to reach their decision? Keep in mind this happens in a competitive context. They need to see:

See also:
Great Proposals
  1. That the RFP instructions were followed 
  2. That their performance requirements will be met
  3. What matters about what they are procuring and what they should consider
  4. That their goals will be accomplished by accepting your proposal
  5. The text that is relevant to the evaluation criteria so they can score it
  6. Proof that they can trust you to deliver on your promises
  7. What about your proposal makes it their best alternative
  8. That they can afford it and it’s worth any cost difference between your proposal and the others

There are also some things they do not need to see: 

  1. Unsubstantiated claims of uniqueness and greatness that make them roll their eyes, wish the evaluation was over, and damage your credibility. And cheesy slogans.
  2. Statements of “understanding” that don’t demonstrate any real understanding because they could have been copied from their website, even if paraphrased
  3. Any proposal writing that is not what they need to see that gets in the way of the things they do need to see. Also known as "fluff."
  4. Pages of proposal writing that are all about you, your qualifications, and what you will do, but are not about what the customer will get or how they will benefit from accepting your proposal
  5. Anything that fails the “So what?” test

It’s not about you

So forget about what you want to say in your proposal and instead help them evaluate your proposal and reach their decision. Make it easy for them. Format and present your proposal so they can find exactly what they are looking for. Drop all the noise that gets in the way.

It’s not about your story

Once you show the customer what they really need to see, you can focus on your message. Although you probably won’t have to, because it will already be there. If you give them what they need to see, not only will the attributes you would want some kind of “message” or “story” to deliver already be there, but they’ll already be in the right context for the customer to accept your proposal. 

The story that will be told will not be about you. Because you don’t matter. The story will be about the customer, what they will get by accepting your proposal, and why it’s their best alternative. 
 

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business

 

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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.

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