The Development Source

How do You Write Winning Proposals?

The proposal profession has benefited greatly from Steve Shipley and his company, Shipley Associates.  Mr. Shipley and his colleagues not only provide outstanding proposal services to companies, but they also convey their knowledge and passion for wining proposals in excellent publications and presentations. 

Shipley Associates’ Proposal Guide for Business Development and Sales Professionals (I have the second edition from 2003) is the clearest, most succinct, and most helpful guide to doing proposals available.  I strongly recommend this book to any proposal professional.

Brad Douglas, a Shipley Associate, has excellent advice about writing winning proposals.  His advice can be boiled down to two basic principles:

  • Writing is a skill, a technique, and a mindset.
  • Proposals are written for evaluators, not their authors or organizations.

As Mr. Douglas notes, “Writing is much more than putting words on a page – writing is a reflection of your thinking and strategy.  Like it or not, your competency is based on the quality of your writing.”  For Douglas, the key to good proposal writing involves (1) meeting important criteria; and (2) having a customer focus.

Good proposal writing should meet these criteria:

  • Compliance:  have all the issues and requirements been addressed?
  • Responsiveness:  does the writing clearly and directly address the customer’s needs?
  • Strategy:  does your writing support your proposal strategy?
  • Competitive focus:  is it obvious why your offer is better than the others?
  • Quality of content:  Is the writing focused, well organized, clear, concise, and accurate?
  • Visuals:  Do the visuals clearly communicate your major points?
  • Page and documents design:  Is the proposal clear and easy to evaluate and does it look like it is focused on the customer?

Good proposal writing also needs to be focused on the customer.  You know you are focused on the customer when:

….You are aligned with the customer’s mission.

….You cite the issues (hot buttons) that are important to the customer.

….You cite the benefits of your solution before the features.

….You name the customer more often than yourself.

….You make your proposal easy to read and understand.

…You offer proof of your benefits (features) that are focused on the customer.

Now that you have the keys to good proposal writing, you are ready to write.

I will discuss Mr. Douglas’s recommendation for effective proposal writing in subsequent articles.

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