One of the most important things to realize about proposal writing is that it is not about you, your company, or even your offering. It’s not about telling the customer anything. It’s about the customer, their decision, and what they need to hear to make it.
It’s hard to turn your brain inside out and backwards to articulate things that the reader wants to hear instead of what you are trying to say. It is impossible to do this if you don’t know your audience.
To better understand your audience, you should ask questions like:
- What matters to them? This is what you want to write about. Your offering is merely a way of fulfilling it. They don’t want what you're proposing. They want what matters. So give them that if you want to win.
- How will they assess what they are reading? Will your proposal be scored or read? Do they have written evaluation criteria? Can you influence their assessment by how you describe what’s important?
- How do they make decisions? Some organizations are consensus driven and some are authoritarian. Some are centralized and some decentralized. Most have policies, procedures, and various thresholds. How will these impact what you are proposing?
- Who is involved in making decisions? Is it a person, a committee, or a chain of command? What is the role of the person you’ve been talking to or submitting your proposal to?
- What are their preferences? In what you are proposing there are countless choices and trade-offs. Did you pick the ones that you thought were best or the ones the customer would prefer?
- What do they already know or believe about what you are telling them? What you are telling them will be compared to something they already know that can act as an anchor point. What will your offering get compared to? Changing a customer’s world view through a proposal is usually impossible. But if you understand how they view things you can position yourself in a way that is not in conflict with what they already know or believe.
- What alternatives do they have? Can they do nothing? Could they do it on their own? Do you have competition? Do they need to be motivated?
- What processes do they have to follow before acting on your recommendations? Do they have internal policies and procedures they have to go through in order to purchase something or act on your proposal? Is what’s in your proposal compatible with them?
- What are their expectations regarding format, presentation, and level of detail? Expectations can be written or unwritten. If they are written, they should be treated as instructions and followed. If the reader’s expectations are not written down, you need to discover them and then treat them like instructions.
These are the things you need to learn about your customer. If you cannot answer questions like these, then your problem is with understanding how to develop audience awareness, not with knowing how to write a proposal. There is no writing trick that can overcome a lack of audience awareness, so the best place to start is to make sure that you understand the reader. In fact, you should put far more effort into understanding your audience than you do in the actual writing.
A subscription to our MustWin Process Knowledgebase provides access to the forms, checklists, and documentation for Readiness Reviews to guide people to collect information like this, Proposal Content Planning as the bridge from intelligence gathering to proposal writing, and then Proposal Quality Validation to ensure that what was written properly reflects what it will take to win.
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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