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Why your proposal should have a thesis and how to write one

Discover how to point your proposal writers in the right direction and improve your win probability.

A thesis is tremendously helpful for proposal writing because it gives you something to prove. A thesis is the central claim in a paper. When you try to write a thesis for a proposal, you’ll probably struggle and that’s a good thing. If you want to win, you should be putting some effort into figuring out what to write before you just throw words at the customer. 

The difference between a proposal thesis and a theme is that themes more easily degrade. Theme statements intended to link your proposal to benefits and differentiators tend to become watered down beneficial sounding claims without proof. They become ideas and attributes instead of statements that matter. They become unsubstantiated claims. However, we’re all taught in school to prove a thesis. A thesis provides better guidance for achieving writing that make proposals compelling.

Why don’t a lot of proposals have a thesis?

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Because it’s hard to pick just one. 

The point of most proposals is really just Pick me! Pick me!” and that’s not very persuasive. If your thesis is “We have the most experience” or “We have the best qualifications” what you are really saying is “Pick me! Pick me! I’m the best!” because the customer doesn’t get anything from the fact that you have experience or qualifications. 

It’s hard to know what the customer really wants and to address it better than any other alternative without doing a lot of research. You have to put effort into writing a good thesis, and do it before you write anything else.

So instead, companies pile on all the reasons they think they are great. These claims tend to be shallow and unsubstantiated. And when they aren’t, they are rarely differentiated or say anything that is significantly different from the pile of claims made by their competitors. The result of doing this is a proposal that is not competitive and easy to beat. It results in proposals written about your company instead of proposals that are about the customer. 

What should a proposal thesis be?

The central claim for a proposal should be: How does what you are offering address the customer’s needs in a way that is better than every other alternative? 

The best thesis will be about things that matter to the customer, like what they are going to get.

From the customer’s perspective, this is more important than a description of your company and how great it is. The greatness of your company becomes relevant when you write to prove that what you are offering is better than every other alternative.

A simple formula for your proposal thesis

Fill in the blanks: [Company name] offers [what you will do or deliver] that will [fulfill a key requirement or goal] by [differentiated approach].

This is a simple example to help you visualize the concept. There are many other ways to formulate a thesis for a proposal. 

Your thesis should go before you introduce yourself. It should be the very first thing the customer reads. It’s that important. You only matter to the customer as a vehicle for getting their needs and goals fulfilled. Make yourself part of the proof that they’ll get what the proposal promises instead of the point and focus of your proposal.

How does a proposal thesis like this drive better proposal writing?

A thesis must be proven. Claims of greatness from a vendor fail against proof. Every. Time.

A good thesis will force you to prove that you are the best alternative for the customer. It forces you to make the proposal about the customer.

Give every proposal section a thesis of its own

In the RFP, the customer may have asked you to describe something or tell them how you’ll do something. But what you should write is a proof of what you are describing. The customer may have used the word “describe” but what they really want is relevance to their needs and goals. The customer has asked you to describe it because they want to assess if your ability to deliver is credible. What they really want is proof. A thesis for your proposal sets you up to deliver it.

A thesis forces you to plan your content

You can’t just spew words and end up with a proof that is better than all alternatives. You certainly can’t have section level thesis statements that add up to proving your top level thesis without some planning. Simply adding the thesis for each section to your outline before you start writing makes a huge difference in what you will get out of your proposal writers. If you take it a step deeper and itemize some of what they’ll need to say in order to prove each thesis, you’ll be able to quickly and easily produce a full content plan for your proposal.

A thesis delivers focus

Proposals should not be exercises in creative writing. They should be structured like a proof. Instead of teaching and elaborating this to proposal writers who just want to complete their contributions and go back to their normal jobs, try giving them a proposal thesis to prove. And then watch as they slip into better proposal writing without even thinking about it. Watch as the proposal gains focus. Watch as what gets written matters more than when proposals are written without a thesis. Then watch what that does to your win rate.

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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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