There are some words you should avoid in your proposals, but most of them simply relate to unsubstantiated claims. A list of words that you should use in your proposals is a lot harder because every customer is different. If you focus on the words that should go in your proposal, you might overlook the power of a word that might not actually appear in the proposal, but can make all the difference regarding what you do put into it.
Most people only think about “what” should go in their proposals. “What” they should offer. “What” they need to say. By focusing on “what,” they are overlooking a word that is even more important to the customer. That word is “why.”
Why you chose to offer what you did is extremely important to the customer. When you talk about “why” you are talking about the reasons behind your value proposition. When you talk about “why” you are talking about what matters about what you are offering.
This is especially true in services bids. It is very difficult to have detailed specifications for services, unless they are commodities. The customer is usually most concerned about results, and only wants to know enough details to establish your credibility. Describing "what" you do does less to establish your credibility than describing "why" you do it that way.
The reasons why you chose the approaches you did are the reasons why you think they are the best. And those are the reasons why the customer should select you. They also demonstrate your judgment and demonstrate how well you understand the customer, and that's what establishes your credibility. If you have good judgment, then the customer will be more comfortable with your ability to deliver results even when things don't go according to plan.
What I like most about asking why is that it helps you drill deeper, past a simple statement about what you will do, and say something that matters to the customer about it. Every single paragraph of the proposal should answer at least one “why” question.
When you are preparing the outline for your proposal, trying building “why” into it. Add headings and content that dig deeper. Here are some “why” questions to get you started:
- Why is it the best approach?
- Why does it matter?
- Why should the customer care?
- Why do you care?
- Why does the customer require that?
- Why does the customer approach things that way?
- Why did you make that choice?
- Why should the customer select you?
- Why are you different?
- Why do your qualifications matter?
To really transform your proposals, you should build “why?” into the instructions you give to your proposal contributors. And do it before you start thinking about “what” to offer or how you are going to respond to the requirements.
The reason this is effective is that it transforms the nature of the writing assignment. It gives you the information you need to ensure that what gets written puts the details into the right context. The context of a proposal can be more important than the details themselves. Instead of the assignment being to respond to the requirements, it becomes responding to the requirements in a way that supports the reasons “why.” The assignments become about substantiating your value proposition and explaining the things that matter to the customer.
If you compare a proposal that says what one company will do against a proposal that explains why the company made the choices that led to its offering and why it matters, the one that explains “why” has the advantage. Explaining “why” results in giving the customer the reasons why they should select you, even if you never actually say “why you should select us.” It makes the entire proposal about why they should select you. And that is far more powerful.
P.S.: It occurred to me in writing this article, that all we really need to know about proposal writing can be learned from a 2-year-old. That's about the age they discover the word "why" and ruin everyone's lives for the next year or so by asking it constantly. Just think of that 2-year-old as your customer, anticipate every "why," and answer it before they actually say it. That 2-year-old is wise enough to know what the most important question is.
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 email@example.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.