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A two-part strategy for writing great proposal introductions

If you can write a great proposal introduction, you can write a great proposal. The opposite is also true.

If you write a bad proposal introduction, you’ll probably also have a poorly written proposal. Unfortunately most of the proposal introductions I review are in bad shape. They don’t reflect the customer’s perspective or say anything that matters to the customer.

Proposals often make common mistakes like saying the company is “pleased to submit” the proposal, stating universal truths, or making (often grandiose) unsubstantiated claims. Or they introduce the company submitting the proposal and describe themselves instead of saying what the customer wants to hear. They talk around what matters as if they have to get warmed up before writing with substance.

For the customer this means reading and reading, which they probably don’t want to do in the first place, in search of what they really want to know. By the time they get to it, they’ve often tuned out. And they see your proposal as lacking in substance and value. That’s obviously not the way you want to get started.

What the customer wants to see in a proposal is what they are going to get. That is what your introduction should focus on, right from the very first sentence. The first thing you should tell them is what they are going to get. The rest of your proposal is about why they should believe it.

The problem with doing this is that on large, complex projects, it’s difficult to say what the customer will get in a single sentence and make it matter. If the customer has told you what to provide, then it’s hard not to simply say you’ll give them what they’ve asked for.

When this is the case, what matters to the customer is what challenges will have to be overcome in order to deliver the desired result. Your introduction should be about how you’ll overcome those challenges.

When you are wondering what to make your proposal about, consider making it about how you’ve solved the challenges that are in the way of achieving the desired result. Your value to the customer is being able to deliver the result in spite of the challenges.

This does not mean you should list or describe the challenges. It means you should list or describe the solutions you offer that lead to achieving the results. Don’t make your proposal about problems. Make it about solutions. You don’t even have to use words “challenges,” “solutions,” or “results” in your proposal to take advantage of this approach.

People often make the same mistakes at the paragraph level. They write introductory sentences that are about what they are going to write, instead of writing what matters. If you learn to stop doing this at the beginning of your proposal, you can also improve every single paragraph that follows. If you make every paragraph about offering solutions to the challenges of that topic that lead to the desired result, you will strengthenevery paragraph of your proposal.

When you make your entire proposal about:

  1. The solutions to the challenges
  2. That lead to the desired result

What the customer sees is a credible approach to getting what they want. That has value.

The customer doesn’t care about who you are, how great you are, when you were founded, or even how much experience you have. What they care about is how your attributes solve the challenges that lead to the desired result. If your experience or other attributes matter, they only matter because they’ll do something that leads to the result.

Sometimes the same challenges show up throughout a proposal. Sometimes the same result is what is desired in every section. When you have the same solutions leading to the same results but applied to different details, what you really have are proposal themes. Flip that around and what this approach gives you is another way to develop your proposal themes.

You can also use this two-part strategy as an approach to reviewing a proposal. Does the introduction offer solutions to the challenges that lead to the customer getting the result they desire? Does every paragraph that follows do the same?

To write a great proposal, you have to write it from the customer’s perspective instead of your own. This can be a challenging skill to learn. Using this two-part strategy to give the customer a credible approach to getting what they want, that has value to them, and shows how your attributes add credibility to them actually getting what they want can help you achieve a proposal that reflects the customer’s perspective. It’s a simple technique that can greatly improve your chances of winning.

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