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How this single word can transform your proposal writing

Proposal writers have something to learn from 2-year-olds

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 that 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. Explaining why can be much more important that explaining what you will do.

This is especially true in services bids. The customer is usually the most concerned about results. They only need enough details about your approaches to establish that they are credible. Describing "what" you do does less to establish your credibility than describing "why" you do it that way.

See also:
Making Proposals Simple

The reasons why you chose the approaches you did are the reasons why you think they are the best approaches. They are the reasons why you are doing things out of all the other possible ways there are to do them. 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:

  1. Why is it the best approach?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Why should the customer care?
  4. Why do you care?
  5. Why does the customer require that?
  6. Why does the customer approach things that way?
  7. Why did you make that choice?
  8. Why should the customer select you?
  9. Why are you different?
  10. 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. Instead of asking them to describe what you will do, ask them to explain why you will do things that way.

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 proposal writing assignments being to respond to the requirements, they become 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. This will beat any other proposal that simply explains what the other company will do.

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 a major 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.

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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.

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