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Crafting a Winning Proposal: Strategies for Standing Out from the Competition

By Jody Bruner

April 19, 2024

Writing Skills

Crafting a Winning Proposal: Strategies for Standing Out from the Competition - Winning-proposals
Crafting a Winning Proposal: Strategies for Standing Out from the Competition - wave-lime-green-1260x540-1
Crafting a Winning Proposal: Strategies for Standing Out from the Competition - wave-lime-green-1260x540-1

A strong business proposal gives potential customers a written account of what you have to offer and shows your discipline, attention to detail, and quality. It’s a written record of how you think through a problem and showcases your solution-finding capability.

Writing business proposals is also time-consuming and time-pressured writing. Many factors play a role in success in the sales world, including product quality, range, fit, and price.

10 most common mistakes

Fortunately, mistakes fall into predictable categories. Any of the following can eliminate the chance of winning the bid, even when product quality is high.

  • Product or seller focused
  • Solution not stated
  • Too much or not enough information
  • Poor organization
  • Obvious boilerplate
  • Unnecessarily complicated writing style
  • Poor tone
  • Typos or poor grammar
  • Poor layout
  • Poor compliance with the Request for Proposals

What readers want

It’s pretty simple: readers want to find the information they need to do their jobs easily and simply. Be the answer to their business problem.

A great report is

  • Helpful
  • Understandable
  • Professional
  • Easy to navigate
  • RFP-compliant

Understand your capability: bid or no bid?

Before opening a new Word document, decide whether you should take the time to bid. Given the time it takes to write a proposal, you should establish a bid/no bid evaluation criteria. Develop one by exploring these questions.

  • What are our relevant capabilities for this opportunity? Do we have the expertise and resources?
  • Will our business benefit if we win this business? Can we make enough money to justify the work?
  • What are our odds of winning? Are we new to the client, or do we have an existing track record with them?
  • If we decide not to bid, will there be any consequences for future opportunities?

Where’s the pain?

Once you’ve decided to bid, assess your customer’s objectives. A clear understanding of their needs and wants will guide the writing of the proposal at every step. It’s the foundation that helps you decide whether to include or not include information.

Consider these questions:

  • What does this customer really want? Is there a problem to solve or an opportunity to take advantage of?
  • Do they have any dissatisfaction with the status quo? If so, take the time to understand their pain.
  • Are there business, technical, or emotional issues driving them to make this purchase?
  • Have they expressed any preferences in terms of solutions?

Develop a competitive strategy

What are your organization’s strengths and weaknesses? Be honest. This single step can win or lose a bid.

Consider these questions:

  • What are our strengths relative to this opportunity?
  • How will they benefit the customer?
  • What are our weaknesses relative to this opportunity?
  • How can we overcome or mitigate them?

Customer needs + your service = customer benefit

Features tell, benefits sell. Make the benefits explicit for your reader: don’t expect them to make the connection you think is obvious.

First, understand your service.

Next, define your customer’s needs.

Add them together to find the customer benefit.

Here’s an example of a customer benefit statement if their need includes reliability:
You can count on us to be here if you need us—we’ve been in business for 30 years.

Plan to win the bidding war

With some up-front planning and analyzing, you can write winning proposals—and even become efficient at the process.

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