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. Cross them and 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 bid strategy.

The purpose of this list is to make things easy. If you cross any of these lines, you need to change your approach. It’s that simple. I’ve tried to make this list as short as possible. To make it fundamental. I defy you to identify anything on the list that can safely be deleted without jeopardizing your ability to win.

The following are things you never do. When you find yourself doing them, it’s an indicator that you're about to go down the wrong path:

  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. 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. See also:
  3. 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.
  4. 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 write 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 writing and it’s not compelling, don’t expect your proposal to somehow become compelling. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 these things, you may still be able to write a good proposal, but you will not be able to write a great proposal. And that's no way to compete.

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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.

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