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8 things that matter to your customers and 6 steps for building your proposals around them

Proposals should be meaningful. But what does that mean? The best practices say that proposals should address all of the customer’s “hot buttons,” but what exactly are they? And about those win strategies and themes… where are they supposed to come from?

We’ve been working for a couple of years to bring structure to helping you figure out what to focus on in your proposals. We generally advise people to focus on what matters to the customer. That’s bit easier to define than “hot buttons.” But it's still too broad.

Instead of saying that your proposal should have themes and that the themes can be headings, subheadings, pull-quotes, or topic sentences and embedded in every paragraph, we find people understand better when you advise them to say something that matters in every sentence. People write a lot less unsubstantiated fluff when they’re trying to make every sentence matter to the customer. And when it comes to figuring out what to say, it’s a little easier to think of things that matter and to focus on them.

But that's still not enough structure. What matters to the customer? We set out to define it and came up with the following list:

See also:
  1. Price matters
  2. What the customer is getting and/or the results of what you are proposing matter
  3. Achieving the customer’s goals matters
  4. Return on Investment (ROI) matters
  5. Risk matters
  6. Trust matters
  7. What the customer has to do to get the purchase approved matters
  8. Whether they have a better alternative matters


Everything else about you and your offering is evaluated by how it relates to those things. This list is how you connect all of your qualifications and attributes, like experience, quality, evaluation score, budget, relationships, innovation, competition, etc. to what it will take to win.

But how much does each of these matter? Sometimes one of them is more important than all of the others to a particular customer on a particular bid. It’s critically important to focus on the right one(s). Otherwise, what you say won’t matter to the customer.

The way you make every sentence in your proposal matter to the customer is to:

  1. Turn the items in the list above into questions and action items
  2. Discover how the customer perceives them
  3. Determine how to best position your bid by focusing on them
  4. Assess them to determine how what matters to the customer relates to what it will take to win
  5. Articulate your positioning in the form of proposal theme statements
  6. Use the theme statements to drive the content of your proposal and make your proposal matter to the customer


This approach fits in nicely with the MustWin Process that is described in the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase:

  • It shows you how to discover what matters by using Readiness Reviews, which bring structure to the pre-RFP phase of pursuit.
  • It helps you get it into the proposal using Proposal Content Planning, which gives you a methodology to ensure that your proposal says everything it should.
  • It shows you how to use Proposal Quality Validation to ensure that the draft proposal reflects what it will take to win.


The result is a proposal that is meaningful because what it says matters to the customer. And that will do so much more to boost your win rate than a catchy slogan.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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.

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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