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5 good things and 5 bad things to write about in your proposals

Plus three things you don’t need to write about

A simple guide to what to write about in your proposals.

Good things to write about in your proposals

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Proposal writing

These are the things the customer is looking for, the things they want to see. Instead of talking around them, make a point related to them at the start of each paragraph. 

  1. Explanations and reasons “why.” The reasons why you do things show more insight and depth of understanding than a claim about what you do or how great you are. 
  2. Proofs. Proof points can be evaluated as strengths. Things that are unproven are often just noise. 
  3. Details. Providing details can earn confidence and show that you know what to do. It’s not the claim of having a process that matters. It’s the steps. It’s not the claim of being qualified that counts. It’s the details.
  4. Differentiators. You must be different in order to be better. Customers often evaluate by looking for the differences between your proposal and the others.
  5. Visuals. Seeing is believing and an illustration is easier to process than a bunch of text. Replace as much text as you can with visuals.

Bad things to write about in your proposals

The evaluator doesn’t want to read your proposal. So filling your proposal with things that sound good to you but don’t actually help the evaluator assess your proposal may make you feel good, but it won’t help you win. In fact, it may hurt your credibility and do more to lower your score than raise it. No matter how beneficial it sounds or how pleased with yourself you are for writing it.

  1. Claims. Look carefully at what you just wrote. What did you claim? If you claimed anything without an explanation or proof, consider deleting it. Unsubstantiated claims are not likely to be evaluated as a strength. And because they hurt your credibility, they are more likely to hurt your score than raise it.
  2. Descriptions. Descriptions may inform, but they do not show insight. Sometimes they are really just claims. Don’t let the RFP fool you by asking you to “describe” your approaches. What the customer really needs to know is whether you are credible and whether your approaches address their concerns and will deliver the results they are looking for.
  3. Beliefs, commitment, intentions, or values. Not only will these never get scored as strengths, but they can take something that might have been a strength and water it down. Instead of being committed to something, just do it.
  4. Talking around the point. Instead of building their proposals around the points they want to make, stating those points, and then substantiating them, many people talk around the subject until they find a point and don’t make it until the last sentence. The customer may have skipped to the next paragraph by then because you weren’t saying anything they could evaluate. Get straight to the point you want to make in the very first sentence, and then substantiate it.
  5. Anything that does not pass the “So what?” test. After each sentence ask “So what?” If the sentence doesn’t pass the test, it needs to be deleted or fixed. Every single sentence in a proposal needs to pass the “So what?” test. If it doesn’t, then either delete the sentence or fix it.

Plus some things you can skip writing about in your proposals

These subjects are important. But you can’t simply make claims about them. Focus on what you do about them and not claiming the word. 

  1. Compliance. Your claims about it or your intention to deliver it simply do not matter. The customer will be the judge of compliance. The things you do to achieve it, on the other hand, do matter. "We will comply with everything in the RFP" will not score highly (or at all). Proving that all requirements will be fulfilled, checked, and double-checked will improve your chances greatly.
  2. Strengths. You don’t need to tell the customer your strengths. You do need to prove that you have them and what the impact will be. Proof can earn you recognition. Customers pay attention to proof statements. Claims about your strengths are often ignored. And when they earn you an eye roll, they do more harm than good.
  3. Your understanding. Your claim about understanding or description of the customer or project do not demonstrate understanding. You are not helping the customer perform their evaluation by telling them things they already know. Besides, understanding needs to be demonstrated and that’s best done through results. If your approach delivers the right results, in the right way, and addresses their concerns, then it’s obvious that you understand. Show your insights and the reasons why you do the things you do. That is how the customer can see you understand what you are doing.
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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.

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

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