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What is the difference between doing a proposal and winning a proposal?

18 ways to tell the difference

I’ve seen way too many proposals produced by experienced people that were thoroughly ordinary. In my worldview this means they sucked so bad it was embarrassing, because ordinary isn’t competitive. When your job is cranking out proposals at high volume under adverse circumstances, people tend to give up polishing them. If people do this long enough, they sometimes stop trying. But they continue to reliably crank out acceptably adequate ordinary proposals that they try really hard to make good. But the reality is they are full of bad habits that pass all the reviews and are easy to beat. Having lots of experience with proposals like that does not make someone a great proposal writer.

The problem is that instead of looking at trying to do better as polishing or something that comes at the end and is easy to skip, we should be designing the proposal to win from the beginning so that it’s the clear winner, even if it doesn’t get polished. But when you don't control the win strategies, don't have adequate input, and are struggling just to make the deadline, or are pigeonholed into back-end production, that doesn't even get considered or is treated like it's someone else's job.

The list below shows the difference between focusing on completion and focusing on winning. The thing that I find striking about it is what it implies about the things that need to be done before the writing even starts, how the proposal function should be organized, and how to create the culture needed to win consistently. If you look carefully, you’ll see the core principles behind the pre-proposal and proposal processes behind the differences.

See also:
Great Proposals
  1. Doing a proposal means responding to what they asked for.
    Winning a proposal means offering a response that the customer thinks is better than all the others.
  2. Doing a proposal means offering something based on the best practices.
    Winning a proposal means offering something that will beat the competitors who merely propose the best practices.
  3. Doing a proposal means complying with the RFP requirements.
    Winning a proposal means applying your compliance with the RFP requirements to achieve more of the customer's goals than anyone else.
  4. Doing a proposal means proving you are qualified.
    Winning a proposal means proving that your qualifications will provide superior results.
  5. Doing a proposal means making claims about your company and your offering.
    Winning a proposal means writing proof points to demonstrate instead of claiming.
  6. Doing a proposal means declaring your intentions and promising to do great things.
    Winning a proposal means delivering results and deleting the promises.
  7. Doing a proposal means saying you understand the customer and what they want.
    Winning a proposal means proving you understand the customer by offering the results they want delivered in the way they want.
  8. Doing a proposal means talking around the subject to sound like you know it.
    Winning a proposal means giving the evaluators what they need to see without distractions.
  9. Doing a proposal means following the instructions in the RFP.
    Winning a proposal means showing the evaluators what they need to decide you are their best alternative and to give you the highest score.
  10. Doing a proposal means stating your case.
    Winning a proposal means passing the “So what?” test.
  11. Doing a proposal means telling your story.
    Winning a proposal means telling a story about the customer that happens to have you playing a starring role.
  12. Doing a proposal means carefully crafting the outline before you start writing.
    Winning a proposal means identifying the points to be made and how to present them in every section and subsection.
  13. Doing a proposal means carefully reviewing the draft proposal.
    Winning a proposal means validating the proposal against written quality criteria based on what the proposal needs to be.
  14. Doing a proposal means carefully producing the final copy without defects.
    Winning a proposal means prioritizing your efforts based on what it will take to win.
  15. Doing a proposal means making the most of what you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment.
    Winning a proposal means developing an information advantage and using it to show more insight than anyone else.
  16. Doing a proposal means getting the writing started so you have enough time to do all the revisions you’ll need to turn it into something good before you run out of time.
    Winning a proposal means discovering what it will take to win, figuring out what to write about, and how to present it all before you start so that the very first draft reflects it all and you can improve from there.
  17. Doing a proposal means writing it all out in text because you don’t think you have time to prepare graphics or consider yourself an artist.
    Winning a proposal means figuring out which parts of the proposal are potential graphics before you start writing so that you can build the proposal around them.
  18. Doing a proposal means trying hard to write something that wins.
    Winning a proposal means winning before you start to write.

Is your company focused on doing proposals or on winning proposals?

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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, 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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