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Why winning in writing is more like cooking than speaking

Winning proposals has nothing to do with talking a good game.

Some people talk a good game and can be very persuasive. But they write a lousy proposal because they think all they need to do is sit down at a keyboard and hook the customer. Winning in writing has nothing to do with talking a good game.

While a conversational style in proposal writing is a good thing, there are so many ingredients that have be prepared in just the right way that winning in writing more closely resembles cooking than speaking.

Winning in writing is not about getting the customer to take what you’ve got. Winning in writing is about the customer making a selection from among other alternatives using an evaluation process. To select you, they need to:

You need to deliver the meal the customer wants, and impress them with how well prepared it is

And they need to see it all in writing.

That’s a lot of ingredients to keep organized in your head and get onto paper in the right order and in the right context. Winning in writing is a combination of fulfilling their expectations, satisfying their evaluation process, and giving them the best alternative. So you have to prepare the ingredients correctly. For winning in writing, this preparation generally involves:

  • Research and intelligence gathering, to develop an information advantage
  • Assessment, or figuring out what to do with what you've learned
  • Offering design, to show up with the offering they want more than their other alternatives
  • Strategy, to position everything both good and bad in ways that are advantageous to getting selected
  • Assembly, or getting the right things into the document in the right order
  • Communication, which for a proposal is a combination of articulation and graphics design

You can’t just sit down and write or talk your way out of it. That’s why proposal writing doesn’t just need a process. It is a process. If your process involves someone figuring it all out in a single step while typing a narrative response, then it’s a bad process. But it’s still a process.

A better process would collect the ingredients, assess them, and prepare a plan for what needs to be written, so that when you sit down to write it’s already mapped out for you. But a lot of people see writing as difficult, and don’t want to stray out of their comfort zone. For most of them, their comfort zone involves trying to write it like an essay in school, usually at the last minute with little or no planning.

If you try that on a proposal you will leave ingredients out. And the ones that you include will not be prepared properly. And you won’t be able to fix it because you can’t un-cook something.

The kind of proposal you get without planning is like a soup made with whatever random ingredients the cook had available. Even if the soup is tasty, if the customer doesn't want soup the customer will not be pleased. To win, you need to deliver the meal the customer wants, and impress them with how well prepared it is. To do that you have to not only take the order, but understand their preferences, have the ingredients, and figure out how to best prepare them.

To do this in writing, you have to break it down into steps:

  • Understand the customer's preferences
  • Gather everything that will need to be written about and how
  • Assess what you know and what you want to offer
  • Determine what your bid strategies and positioning should be
  • Prepare a plan for how to combine your ingredients into a winning proposal
  • Validate that you’ve accounted for everything and have the right plan

And then you can start cooking. I mean writing. Skip any one of these items before you start writing, and the quality of your proposal will suffer. You can't just talk your way through winning in writing.

While we're on the subject of cooking... PropLIBRARY Subscribers can access our Proposal Recipe Library for providing inspiration and acceleration to your proposal writers.
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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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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