Some people in our audience are proposal specialists, and some are not. While we love to talk best practices with other specialists, the fact is that most proposals are written by people who do something else for a living with proposal writing added on top as an inconvenient necessity. So what can you do to improve your proposal writing when you are not a full-time proposal writer?
First the bad news: A winning proposal is a winning proposal. Whether this is your first proposal, something you do occasionally in addition to your real job, or you write proposals full time, the goals, standards, and techniques are all the same. A non-proposal specialist needs to write "just as good" as a specialist in order to win.
Now the good news: Writing is the easy part. Knowing what to write is much harder. The most difficult thing about proposal writing is getting the information you need. What specialists bring to the table isn't some inherent knowledge of what to write, but rather knowledge of a process for getting it.
Now for some more good news: You can follow the same process used by the pros. You can learn about the proposal process and implement the techniques on your own, or you can purchase an off-the-shelf set of process documentation like the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process. Following the right process will help you plan and prepare so that you have the information you need to write a winning proposal.
What a specialist brings is experience in implementing the process so they can do it without having to look up every step. Experience makes it easier to anticipate what you'll need later and have everything lined up. Experience makes it easier to understand how the components of the process work together to achieve your goals.
If you focus on learning the process and anticipating the information you will need, you can write a proposal that is as good as a proposal specialist. You may even be able to write a better proposal than a specialist, if the specialist lacks the depth and breadth of information you have. It doesn't matter how much experience you have, you can't formulate win strategies without customer, opportunity, and competitive intelligence. If you don't have superior positioning and win strategies, a proposal specialist won't be able to "make them up" for you or somehow put a better polish on a proposal with weak win strategies in order to turn an average proposal into a winner. An average proposal is by definition, a loser.
If you’re not interested in the process or don’t have the information needed to write a winning proposal then you are not in a position to win. Whether you consider yourself a specialist or not doesn’t matter. So as a non-specialist who wants to compete, you need to implement a proposal process so that you can properly prepare, accumulate the right intelligence, and follow the process to turn what you know into win strategies that you can articulate. When you do this, you will have done all the planning and preparation that the specialists do and be ready to write a winning proposal.
Then you will be ready to focus on technique. Technique is less important than having something impressive to say, but that's what the process aims to discover. When you reach the right point in the process, all you need to do is articulate it.
How you articulate it, or more precisely the writing style you use, isn't nearly as important as it may seem. What matters most is that you write from the customer's perspective. Everything should be written in the context of why it matters to the customer. Avoid writing about yourself, what you do, and even who you are. Instead write about the results you will deliver, how your qualifications bring value (as opposed to the simple fact that you have them), and why they matter to the customer.
When you review what you wrote, read it as if you are the customer receiving the proposal. Does the proposal sound like someone talking about themselves, or does it sound like someone who will be an asset to you (as the customer)? Think about proposals you have received from vendors. What is it you wanted to see? What stuff did you ignore? Then write to provide what you would need to make a selection and would want to see if you were the customer.
Writing from the customer's perspective is something that not everyone can do. Even some proposal specialists struggle and fail at this last and critical step (how many proposals start every sentence with "we" or "our"). Master it and you are the specialist. Just don't tell anyone or you'll get drafted into so much proposal work you won't have time for your real job.
The CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process provides step-by-step guidance for writing proposals and capturing business opportunities
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