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8 things you need to write a winning proposal

It’s not a certain style. It’s not a great layout. It’s not enough time to do proofreading or to have one more draft. What you need is to know what to write about, the means to make sure it happens, and some way to know if what was written is what you want. What you really need is to:


  1. Collect the right intelligence. In order to do the best job of proposing the best outcomes for the customer, you need to have an information advantage. Collecting the right information is as much about knowing what information to collect as it is how to get it.
  2. Turn what you learn into something you can use in the proposal. You may think you’ve done a good job of collecting intelligence, but how does that impact the proposal? How do you turn it into black ink on paper? You have to collect it in the right format, and assess it with the proposal in mind.
  3. Have the right goals and action items, in the right sequence. Information should build on itself over time. But only if you get the sequence right. The things you need to do all have dependencies. For example, customer contacts and relationships, positioning, competitive assessments, and teaming are all inter-related. You need to do first things first.
  4. Get everyone on the same page. More people will touch the proposal than you realize. You need to get them all working together, sharing the same vision, and knowing what to do.
  5. Have or develop the best offering. Pretty words will not help if you offer the wrong thing at the wrong price, or if someone else offers something better. Incidentally, knowing what to offer takes you back to collecting the right intelligence.
  6. Have a means to measure progress. You need to know if you are on track. And if you get off track, you need to know by how much so you can do something about it. You need to know before you run out of time. That means you need to plan what is going to be written in such a way that you can measure progress against the plan. This takes more than an annotated outline.
  7. Define and measure quality. You need to know whether the proposal is any good while there is still enough time to do something about it. But it starts with being able to define what the right proposal is. If you can’t do that, then you’re not even aiming at the right target. This means you have to have the quality criteria defined before you start writing, so that the writers know what target to aim at. If you do this, then not only do writers and reviewers work with the same set of quality criteria, but those same quality criteria give you a means to measure proposal quality.
  8. Turn the art into a science. Measuring progress and quality means being able to quantify it. Both can be done if you have the right definitions. Collecting the right intelligence and turning it into something you can use in the proposal can both be measured. In addition to gaining progress and quality measurements, you also gain metrics that you can collect across a number of proposals to determine what correlates with your win rate. Instead of simply going by the gut feel of experienced people, you can actually make decisions based on hard data.


So how do you get what you need?

That’s where process comes in. You need a process to achieve the things listed above. Most companies don’t have a pre-RFP intelligence gathering process and a post-RFP proposal process, let alone a process that’s integrated. Most companies don’t actually have a documented process, they just have a way of doing things that evolved to deal with the pain caused by deadline pressures.

When we created the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process, we based it on achieving what it will take to win a pursuit:

  • Bring structure to what intelligence you collect and provide a means to measure it
  • Ensure that what you learn gets incorporated into the proposal
  • Put everything into the right sequence
  • Get everyone on the same page
  • Get the information you need to present the best offering
  • Measure progress to ensure that everything is on track
  • Provide a workable definition of proposal quality and a means to measure it
  • Turn the art into a science by giving you a platform to collect metrics


The MustWin Process is what’s at the heart of the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase. Instead of just providing a template, it shows you how to take what you know and use it to win.

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A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

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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