The Development Source

How are the Traits of Highly Successful Salespeople like the Traits of Winning Grant Proposals?

In sales, there are tried and true skills that determine whether or not you will be successful.  Many of the same skills that lead to success in the sales arena also will help lead to success in grant proposal development.

According to Geoffrey James in Inc. (, there are five essential characteristics of highly successful salespeople.  I will apply them to grant proposal development.


Successful salespeople are adept at moving a sales situation forward without offending, frustrating, or alienating potential customers.  There is a solid middle ground between passivity and aggressiveness that proposals also must convey.  Your proposals must be poised, confident, and assertive without turning off reviewers.

Control over Emotions

Successful salespeople understand how their emotions might help or hinder a sales opportunity.  They also are adept at expanding their positive emotions to help move a sales situation forward.  Similarly, your proposals must find a way to affect reviewers emotionally – and positively – without being saccharine or silly.


Great salespeople are attuned to their customers’ moods, emotions, and needs.  They listen, observe, and try to understand what the customer is likely to be feeling.  Your proposals also must be empathetic.  You must demonstrate that you understand the funder’s problems and needs and have devised a solution that can help alleviate those problems.

Problem Solving

Great salespeople learn the problems their customers’ face and try to solve them in ways that makes it possible for the customer to purchase a product or service.  Great grant proposals identify a problem or need and then help reviewers understand how you can move the customer from the way things are today to what the customer would like them to be in the future.


Salespeople need a strong sense of optimism.  It gives them confidence and helps smooth over disappointments and defeats.  To develop winning grant proposals, you need to be optimistic too.  You need to believe that you have a very good chance of winning a contract.  Now the challenge is to find a way to develop that winning proposal.

These five traits – assertiveness, control over emotions, empathy, problem solving, and optimism – will go a long way in helping you develop competitive grant proposals.  Keep in mind that all proposals are essentially sales documents.  The same winning traits that characterize great salespeople should characterize you and your grant proposal.


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