Here are 8 simple things a non-specialist can do to dramatically improve their proposal writing. Use this list to go through what you have written sentence by sentence. Doing so can transform your writing into a compelling and persuasive proposal and significantly improve your chances of winning:
- Is it written to achieve the highest score based on the evaluation criteria? If you are writing a proposal in response to an RFP that has written evaluation criteria, this is the most important thing for you to do. You should study the evaluation criteria and make sure that what you have written will get the highest score. Use the terminology in the evaluation criteria as closely as possible. No matter how important you think something is, if it’s not addressed in the evaluation criteria, it won’t earn you any points. To each point, you have to put what you are writing in the context of the evaluation criteria. You should also format and say things that can easily be copied and pasted onto the customer’s evaluation forms to make it easy for them to justify their score.
- How quickly can the evaluator find what they need to prove RFP compliance? If you are not compliant with every requirement, your proposal may not even get evaluated. When there are lots of proposals submitted, the easiest way to get out of reading them all is to disqualify as many as possible based on non-compliance. Functional compliance is not enough. There must be a visual match between what you have written, and what the evaluator sees in the RFP.
- Does it include all of the keywords from the RFP? You must use the RFP’s terminology instead of your own, no matter how strongly you prefer to use certain terms. In fact, you should use all of the keywords from the RFP. The evaluator will be looking at the RFP and then looking at what you wrote to see where you have addressed what’s in the RFP. When they do that, they’ll be skimming for the keywords. You should make them easy to find.
- Does it answer all the questions the customer might have? An easy way to ensure that you answer the customer’s questions is to address “who,” “what,” “where,” “how,” “when,” and “why” in your response. Look at what you have written and ask yourself questions that start with those words. See if you can’t add detail to your response by providing answers to all of them.
- Does every sentence pass the “So what?” test? Have you written descriptive statements, cited qualifications, or made unsubstantiated claims in any sentence without explaining what matters and why? It is not enough to state your qualifications; you need to explain what matters about them and how the customer will benefit. The evaluator is often more interested in why something you said matters than the statement itself. Never assume that the value of a statement is obvious.
- Is what you are proposing merely compliant with the RFP? Everyone is responding to the same RFP. Any serious competitors will also be compliant. If your proposal is merely compliant then you are competing solely on price and vulnerable to someone with a better proposal. Going beyond RFP compliance does not have to mean increasing your price. It can also mean being more credible and trustworthy in your proposal or showing that your offering better aligns with what the customer wants.
- Does it demonstrate to the evaluator why what you are proposing is their best alternative? The customer is considering a purchase and has multiple alternatives to choose from, sometimes including doing nothing. Does your proposal help the customer to realize why it is their best alternative? This means you need to understand what they really want, which may or may not actually be found in the RFP. It also means you have to know what their alternatives are, the trade-offs that are involved, and the customer’s preferences among them. Winning a proposal is not about being the best you that you can be. It’s about being the customer’s best alternative.
- Is it written from the customer's perspective and not simply a description of yourself? If every sentence starts with your company’s name, there’s a good chance that you have written about yourself and not about what matters to the evaluator. When you talk with a sales person, do you want to hear them talk all about why they are the best or do you want to hear them talk about what the offering will do for you and how you will benefit from it? Look at every sentence and make sure that every feature, attribute, or piece of information you provide is put into the customer’s context.
Out of the hundreds of proposals I've reviewed, I've never seen one that didn't fail at least two of these, and most fail four or more. That doesn't make them bad proposals, just ordinary. But what it really does is create an opportunity to beat your competitors by writing a great proposal instead of an ordinary one. If you need help with that, just let me know…
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
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