Most of what I write about proposals deals with the mechanics of how you construct sentences, develop documents, and implement an effective process so you can do it reliably. Today I’m taking a little break to talk about something that can make the difference between good proposal writing and great proposal writing.
About 15 years ago I was sitting in on a presentation coaching session and the person leading it was telling a group of engineers how they should talk about what makes them passionate. Forget about the script. Forget about the specs. Skip the PowerPoint. Go straight to what matters and talk about the things that are important.
The same is true in proposal writing. A great proposal shows a passion for how you can make a difference for the customer.
Uses the universal "we"
Same old, same old
Something you have to do
Follows a script
Gives them what they asked for
Provides the specifications
About the customer
Takes a stand
Your style is a discriminator
Someone you want to work with
Something you want
Gives them something with personality
Tells a story
You can't write a proposal like this by copying a sample. You can't even recycle your own proposal and achieve this. Every conversation you have is different. Even when the subject is the same.
I think one of the major things that prevents people from achieving greatness with their proposals is that they want to appear "professional." And "professional" means sounding like other proposals. Not standing out. Nothing someone might criticize.
It's harder for people in big companies. Committee reviews can suck the life right out of a proposal. Nobody's going to get fired for a "professional" proposal. And as long as everyone else submits similarly boring "professional" proposals, someone has to win and it could be you.
But what if someone breaks the rules and stops being "professional?" Could you offend the customer? Possibly. Could you ignite their passion and win because of it? Ask people who buy Apple computers. Did you know Apple Computer's market capitalization is almost the same as Microsoft's?
You can discriminate yourself from your competitors even though you offer the same exact offering as everyone else, simply by discriminating your proposal writing. This is true even for bureaucratic and regulated government proposals.
First, be different. Then be better. And demonstrate it — with passion. Do you understand their issues, care about quality, try harder, or want their business more? Don't simply say that "quality is our number one priority" and put them to sleep. Instead, say something like "It's a good thing we make sure we understand your priorities, otherwise our total obsession with quality could get downright annoying."
What's the matter? Afraid to use the words "obsession" and "annoying" in a proposal? Are you afraid to sound "unprofessional?" Is this any better: "Our staff will make quality their priority. Our Project Manager will work with the customer to ensure that both quality goals and deadlines are met according to the requirements of the RFP." ZZZzzzzzz. Boring. Worse, it sounds just like every other proposal the customer will receive.
Did this article provoke you? Get you thinking? Some of you probably disagree, but even those who disagree are thinking about change. That's something that's hard to achieve and often half the battle. Better yet, some of you agree and are thinking about trying it out. That's really what you want in a proposal.
Got a proposal where you're the underdog? Try being great instead of being "professional" and steal the win away from those who are merely "good."
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