- Contain a differentiator. When customers compare proposals, they look for the differences. Your proposal should call out the differences that make it the customer’s best alternative.
- Deliver a result or benefit from the feature. Features do not matter as much as what the customer gets from those features. Customers don’t just want features, they want their goals and desires fulfilled. What will they get out of what you have said?
- Matter. If what you just wrote doesn’t matter to the customer, then either delete it or rewrite it to make it matter.
- Pass the “So what?” test. Pretend you are the customer. Read what you just wrote. Ask yourself, “So what?” Now make sure it provides the answer.
- Align with the evaluation criteria. No matter how brilliant it is, if it doesn’t fit the customer’s scoring or decision making procedures, it won’t help you win. Prioritize the points you make to reflect how you will be scored.
- Address who, what, where, how, when, and why. It’s an easy mantra that can help ensure you exceed RFP compliance and ensure you answer all of the customer’s questions.
- Address everything the RFP required. What you write should add up to full compliance with all of the RFP requirements. Did you ignore, skip, or fail to meet any of them?
- Use the same terminology the RFP used. The customer will evaluate you against the words in the RFP. Using other terminology, no matter if it is more up to date or otherwise superior, can reduce your score.
- State the conclusion and substantiate it instead of building to the end. Customers read proposals by first looking for what they will get and then looking for why you are their best alternative. Then they look for the details to see if they can trust you. When you build to the finish, you make their decision harder and reduce the chances of it being successful for you.
- Be about the customer (and not you). Everything in a proposal should be about the customer and their decision. Even when they ask you to describe yourself, what they really are looking for are the things that they care about that might impact their decision. It’s all about them. Don’t make your proposal all about you. Every sentence should provide information from the customer’s perspective.
- Demonstrate instead of claim. Your claims may be hurting your credibility. The customer does not accept it when you say you “understand” them, have the best solution, have the most experience, etc. They want proof. Don’t make a claim and support it. Instead, offer a benefit or result and support your ability to deliver that.
- Show why you are the customer's best alternative. If you are not, you won’t win. It’s that simple. Just make sure you carefully apply #11 as well. Every single sentence of your proposal should be part of achieving this goal.
Plus 6 things you should never do:
- Make unsubstantiated claims. See #11.
- Simply describe. See #3, #4, and #10.
- Talk only about your company. See #10.
- Use passive voice. See #9.
- Lead off with a universal truth that applies to all competitors equally, like "quality is vital for this project." See #3 and #4.
- Say anything that doesn't matter. See #3, #9, #11, and #12.
You can’t do all of these in every sentence of your proposal. But you can do at least one. And in each section (if not each paragraph), you should cover them all.
So check yourself. See how well you did.
And the next time you're not sure how to approach writing something for a proposal, pick one and start. #9, #12, and #1 are good places to start. If writing like this is too unnatural for you, then just focus on achieving #3 and let your passion for the subject matter come through. But you should still check it against the full list when you are done.