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8 simple indicators that you’re going down the wrong path before you lose your proposal

The sooner you get back on the right path, the better your chances of recovering...

There are lines you should not cross. If you do, your proposal will never recover. Cross them and the only way you can win is if all of your competitors mess up worse than you did. That is not a winning proposal strategy.

The purpose of this list is to help keep you from crossing any of these lines. I challenge you to identify anything below that can safely be deleted without jeopardizing your ability to win.

The following are things you should never do. They are all clear and objective to make it difficult to get into denial about them. When you find yourself doing them, you know that you're about to go down the wrong path and should consider changing your course:

See also:
Differentiation
  1. Bidding without an information advantage. An information advantage can be about the customer, the opportunity, or the competitive environment. An information advantage is what you need to show insight. It is also key to identifying a winning value proposition that is differentiated from your competitors. Everyone has the same RFP. Basing your response only on what’s in the RFP means that all you are really doing is competing on price, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise.
  2. Failing to plan your offering separately from your proposal. Planning a document like a proposal and engineering an offering or solution are two very different things. When you do them both at the same time, any change to one creates a change in the other that results in a vicious cycle that ends with submitting whatever you have at the deadline instead of what it will take to win. If you add to this the sin of writing without planning, what you really get is a combination of engineering by writing narratives and thinking at the speed of writing. Neither is good. If you don’t think through your offering separately from thinking about what you should write, you are setting yourself up to fail.
  3. Being unable to articulate what it will take to win before you start writing. You don’t discover what it will take to win by writing about it. You should write your proposals to substantiate how you have positioned yourself against what it will to win. You can’t do that unless you can articulate what it will take to win before you start writing. If you articulate it before you start proposal writing and it’s not compelling, don’t expect your proposal to somehow become compelling. But you can fix it before you start writing your proposal. Do yourself a favor and start your proposals with the sense of excitement that comes from knowing what the path to winning is before you start.
  4. Failing to consider what matters to the customer before you start writing. Everything you say in your proposal should matter. You may know what matters to you, but if you don’t know what matters to the customer, you’re going to have a tough time making your proposal matter to them. If you don’t know what matters to the customer, when you try to say something about the positive results or benefits you will deliver, all you will be able to do is guess.
  5. Lacking differentiators. You can’t be best without being different. And because being just a little better is a losing strategy, differentiation the most important thing to talk about in your proposal. Even when you are bidding the exact same thing as everyone else, you can still differentiate your proposal. In fact, it becomes even more important.
  6. Writing that is not from the customer’s perspective. Even when the customer asks you to describe your company and your offering, it’s not really about you. All the customer cares about is what they are going to get, whether they can trust you to deliver it, and what they have to do to get it. Their decision is all about them. Your proposal should be too. It should be written from the customer's perspective instead of describing yours.
  7. Failing to define proposal quality before writing. “I’ll know it when I see it,” is the worst sin in proposal writing. If you want to actually achieve a quality proposal, you have to know what you are aiming for from the beginning. Our entire process is built around our definition of proposal quality.
  8. Performing reviews without quality criteria. Forget about having generic proposal reviews. Instead, think in terms of validating the fulfillment of specific criteria. If you don’t specify the criteria for your reviews, the results will be hit or miss. I have never heard of a quality methodology that is based on a hit or miss approach.

If you do the things above, you may still be able to write a decent proposal, but you will not be able to write a great proposal. And that's no way to compete and win with any consistency.

These things ruin your competitiveness and lower your win rate. Fixing them has a great ROI because a small increase in your win rate will easily pay for the effort it takes.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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. 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 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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