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6 ways to turn ordinary proposals into great proposals

Because good enough is not good enough to win consistently

Congratulations. You have a good proposal. Too bad you’re probably going to lose. If you want to win, you need to submit a great proposal. The good news is that you may not have to rewrite the entire thing to get there. If you have a good proposal, here are some things you can do to improve it and make it great:

See also:
Great Proposals
  1. Have you maximized your evaluation score? If your customer will have a formal proposal evaluation, then the place to start is whether you have maximized your evaluation score. When proposals are scored and not read, an ordinary proposal might score well, but a great proposal is designed to achieve the highest possible score. Can you make it easier for the customer to complete their scoring sheets by using the same words that they use in the evaluation criteria? When you assess your proposal against those criteria, is it clear that you will not simply score well, but that you will get a great score? Can you better guide the customer to the reasons they can use to justify giving you the highest score? Is your proposal easy to navigate and easy to evaluate? Can you include references to the evaluation criteria in the text? Can you use tables that show how you stack up against the evaluation criteria?
  2. Have you shown real insight? Or did you just copy some text from the customer’s website? Have you talked about what matters and what impacts success? Can you go beyond what’s in the RFP? Can you show a depth of knowledge that makes you an asset to the customer? Instead of merely claiming to be innovative, have you shown ideas that are perceptive and clever? Have you explained the reasons why you do things? Have you incorporated all the intelligence you’ve gathered about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment?
  3. Have you differentiated? Have you claimed the same things that everyone else will claim? Have you proposed the same approaches, but only a little bit better? Or can you offer something different and better? You can’t produce a great proposal if it’s the same as everyone else’s, or even if it’s just a little better. Can you change the rules? Can you give the customer a real alternative to choose from? What do you do that’s special? Why do you do things the way you do? What does it add up to that’s different?
  4. Have you taken risks? If you don’t take risks, you can’t be exceptional. If you aren’t exceptional, you can’t be great. A great proposal is not normal. It is not safe. Competition is not safe. A great proposal may lose. But the odds of losing with a good proposal that plays it safe are actually worse. A good proposal can become great by taking strategic risks to differentiate or show insight that no one else would ever dream of. This is how you become the only alternative the customer even considers.
  5. Have you written your proposal from the customer’s perspective? You do not decide whether your proposal is worthy of winning. The customer does. Your attributes do not matter. What the customer gets as a result of your attributes matters. A great proposal is not about you. It is about the customer. A great proposal is not you telling your story. A great proposal is the customer reading your proposal and getting excited about their future. Can you read your proposal the way the customer will and say things that reflect the customer’s perspective instead of your own? Can you make the proposal about the customer and make them excited about what they will get if they select you?
  6. Did you get the context right? An ordinary proposal has all the right details. A great proposal puts the details in context. Putting things in context brings meaning to them. Can you explain to the customer what it all adds up to? Can you show insight about why the details matter? Can you make it clear why your proposal is the customer’s best alternative?

To do these properly, every item above requires doing your homework before the proposal even starts. If you don’t start already having the information you need, you may not be able to achieve it during the proposal. Proposals writers can’t make up greatness. They can’t fake it. But you can make sure that you’ve fully leveraged all that you know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment. In the rush to get to a draft, companies often fall back on descriptive writing and sticking to the RFP. Often, the people with knowledge about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment aren’t the ones doing the writing. So if you can achieve a good proposal with some time remaining before your deadline, you might be able to turn it into a great proposal. And if not this one, maybe the next one…

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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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