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Everything I needed to know about proposal writing I learned from writing the introduction paragraph

11 lessons learned backed by 12 additional articles to explain the details

Most proposals go bad in the introduction. Right from the start they are not written well. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you fix this, you can improve your proposal writing throughout the entire proposal. You don’t need to spend years studying every aspect of proposal writing. If you just learn how to write a great proposal introduction, you can write a great proposal.

From learning how to write the proposal introduction, I learned to:

  1. Frame the entire proposal as fulfilling what the customer wants. In a single paragraph, you need to make your offering the customer’s best alternative. That doesn’t leave much room for describing your company, claiming understanding, reciting history, or talking around the issue. It means you must summarize your entire offering, what makes it superior, and how it best delivers what the customer wants. I learned to focus on this, make it the only thing you talk about, and put everything into this context. 
  2. Deliver customer awareness to the start of the proposal. You can’t write about what makes you the customer’s best alternative if you don’t understand how the customer makes their decisions and what matters to them. I learned to make understanding these things my highest priority before I start writing. I learned that when I start a proposal with other people, I have to attain consensus on these things before we can write to achieve our bid strategies. I learned to build my proposal process around the things that need to happen and what writers need to know in order to write an effective introduction.
  3. Jump right into things from the very first sentence. I learned that the conclusion I want the reader to reach needs to come first and not last. I learned that many ways people talk around things in the first sentence have nothing to do with the point you want to make. I learned to drop all that noise and make my point
  4. Skip slogans and bragging about unsubstantiated claims. Claims to greatness don’t make your point. They also hurt your credibility. So I learned to simply drop them. Instead of claiming greatness I simply prove that my proposal is the customer’s best alternative. Others can brag, talk about themselves, or sound like a commercial. I prefer to win the proposal. 
  5. Differentiate. It does no good to make your points if everyone else can make the same points. Winning by being the same only a little better is not much of a strategy. I learned that it is always possible to differentiate. I learned to think through what makes my proposal completely different and perfectly well suited to being the customer’s best alternative. Then I write the proposal to present and support those points.
  6. Talk about understanding in the right way. I learned that reciting the customer’s description of themselves does not make any points and is a waste of space. What the customer needs to see is that you will deliver the results they are looking for in a way that will succeed in their environment. If you can do that, you clearly understand them. So when I need to prove I understand the customer, I do it by differentiating in a way that makes what I’m offering tailored to the customer. Then I explain why I tailored it that way and what the customer will get out of it. I prove understanding instead of claiming it.
  7. Write only about what matters. I learned that a long introduction paragraph defeats the purpose. So I also had to learn that I only have room to talk about what matters to the customer. This in turn made me a much better proposal writer. I stopped writing to make sure I said everything anyone wanted to hear, and now only talk about what matters and why. If you say things that don't matter, then your proposal doesn't matter. I learned to aim for insight instead of encyclopedic coverage. 
  8. Write only from the customer’s perspective. I learned that the introduction isn’t about my company or what I want to say. It’s about what the customer needs to hear and writing from the customer’s perspective. It’s about how they evaluate the proposal and make their decisions. It’s about helping them through that process. I learned that talking about yourself and being self-descriptive is bad proposal writing. I learned to write by thinking about how the customer will read what I write.
  9. Combine all the different goals and ingredients into a single statement. You need to write about what makes your offering better. But you also need to explain what that offering is. And how it fulfills the customer’s goals. And what their future will be like with you in it. And write it all in the language of the RFP, especially the evaluation criteria. I learned not to write until I have all the ingredients lined up and how to connect them. 
  10. Say it in fewer words. Summarizing the entire proposal into a paragraph is a challenge. I not only learned to be direct and focus on what matters, I learned to say things nice and succinctly. It’s a paragraph, not a page. 
  11. Think many times. Write once. Thinking by editing doesn’t work. You don’t start with a thought and then edit it until it becomes the thought you want. You have to think about what you want to communicate and what the best way to express it is many times. Once everything is in alignment, then write it. Editing can improve your wording and presentation, but you’ve got to think things through first. Writing to discover what you should have been thinking will not get you there.

Finally, I learned that every sentence is an introduction paragraph. Every. Single. One.

Every paragraph needs to make a point.

Every paragraph needs to differentiate.

Every paragraph needs to be written from the customer’s perspective.

Every one of these 11 points applies to every paragraph of the proposal.  Every paragraph of a proposal is the introduction of a thought. And every paragraph needs to be thought through and presented with just as much care as the introduction. If you know how to write the proposal introduction, you know how to write the winning proposal.

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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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