Here are 8 simple things a non-writer can do to dramatically improve their proposal writing. Use this list to go through what you have written sentence by sentence. Doing so can transform your writing into a compelling and persuasive proposal and significantly improve your chances of winning.
- Is it written to get the highest score based on the evaluation criteria? If you are writing a proposal in response to an RFP that has written evaluation criteria, this is the most important thing for you to achieve. You should study the evaluation criteria and make sure that what you have written will get the highest score. Use their terminology as closely as possible. Anything you have written, no matter how important to you, will not help you win if it is not addressed in the evaluation criteria. The best thing you can do is to provide snippets that can easily be copied and pasted from what you wrote onto their evaluation forms to justify their score.
- How quickly can the evaluator find what they need to prove RFP compliance? If you are not compliant with every requirement, your proposal may not even get evaluated. When there are lots of proposals submitted, the easiest way to get out of reading them all is to disqualify as many as possible based on non-compliance. Make sure they can find all of the RFP requirements in your proposal and that they can easily match what they see in your proposal to those requirements.
- Does it include all of the keywords from the RFP? You must use the RFP’s terminology instead of your own (no matter how strongly you prefer to use certain terms. In fact, you should use all of the keywords from the RFP. The evaluator will be looking at the RFP and then looking at what you wrote to see where you have addressed what’s in the RFP. When they do that, they’ll be skimming for the keywords. You should make them easy to find.
- Does it answer all the questions the customer might have? An easy way to ensure that you answer the customer’s questions is to address “who,” “what,” “where,” “how,” “when,” and “why” in your response. Look at what you have written and ask yourself questions that start with those words. See if you can’t add detail to your response by providing answers to all of them.
- Does every sentence pass the “So what?” test? Have you written descriptive statements, cited qualifications, or made unsubstantiated claims in any sentence without explaining what matters and why? It is not enough to state your qualifications; you need to explain what matters about them and how the customer will benefit. The evaluator is often more interested in why something you said matters than the statement itself. Never assume that the value of a statement is obvious.
- Does what you wrote exceed the requirements of the RFP? Everyone is responding to the same RFP. Any competition will also be compliant. If you are merely compliant then at best you are competing solely on price and at worst vulnerable to someone else offering something better. Exceeding the specifications of the RFP does not have to mean increasing your price. If it’s a choice between two vendors with the same offering and one offers a better written response or does a better job of answering the customers (written and unwritten) questions, who do you think has the competitive advantage?
- Does it give the evaluator a reason to want what you are offering? The customer is making a purchase and has multiple offerings to choose from. Does your proposal give them reasons to want what you are offering more than what anyone else might be offering? This means you need to understand what they really want, which may or may not actually be found in the RFP. Your proposal must provide compelling reasons for the evaluator to select you (as opposed to someone else).
- Is it written from the customer's perspective and not simply a description of yourself? If every sentence starts with your company’s name, there’s a good chance that you have written about yourself and not about what matters to the evaluator. When you talk with a sales person, do you want to hear them talk all about themselves or do you want to hear them talk about what the offering will do for you and how you will benefit from it? Look at every sentence and make sure that every feature, attribute, or piece of information you provide is put into the customer’s context.
Here is a link to 20 examples that show the difference between being merely good and being great when it comes to proposal writing.
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