Two female hands typing on a MacBook laptopIf you’re responsible for proposal writing, your goal is to create a proposal that is fully compliant, meets all requirements, and is easy to read, then grade. Your proposal should make your team standout and tell a memorable story that makes an impact on the reader. For the fifth post in the Perfecting the Proposal series, we sat down with Rebecca Wayland, Proposal Manager at Trident Proposal Management, to get her thoughts on high impact proposal writing.

Centering Your Proposal Writing around the Five W’s

“You could tell a wonderful story, but if you’re not addressing the requirements, you lose the bid.” Rebecca Wayland, Trident Proposals.  

In our last post about managing the proposal, we spoke about the proposal outline being the foundation of the entire proposal. The job of the writer is to turn this outline into a well-rounded, succinct, and above all, compliant narrative.

To avoid many of the mistakes writers make during proposal writing, think about the Five W’s: who, what, why, where, when; but you’ll want to scale them out a little bit more. In your proposal, mention who did the work, what they did, how they did it (methodology, tools or best practices) what was the benefit and why those results had an impact.

Writers who don’t hit all those points tend to make some common mistakes. One issue is when writers combine too many W’s into one sentence. For example, they will cram a three-stepped approach into a single run-on, seven or eight-lined sentence. That’s not easy for reviewers to read or grade, as it forces them to extract meaning from a tangled ball of thoughts, and this could hurt your overall performance. It’s best to keep each W short and succinct.

Many writers also make the mistake of using passive voice. With active voice, you make it clear who did the work. Proposals with passive voice come across as ambiguous and have a lack of authority. If you can write: “Johnny is responsible for doing the following things…” that’s a lot more compelling than writing: “This was done in the past.”

Where to Put Win Themes in the Proposal

You must satisfy the requirements, and you have a limited amount of space to do it in. Yet, you still want to tell a great story to make your team stand out. The Executive Summary gives you a little space to work with to introduce your win themes. This is the why and it should be the most compelling part of your narrative.  

Pick three things in your proposal that will set your company apart from the rest of the pack from the perspective of your graders. Do you have past performance? Do you have star performers with extensive credentials on your team? (Name dropping in the Executive Summary is very effective, as long as it’s allowed.) 

“You can’t assume that the customer has any additional knowledge of you—what sets you apart. Only what’s in your proposal is what makes your grade. That’s why it’s important for you to make that information accessible to a variety of audiences.” Rebecca Wayland

Keep weaving your win themes throughout the technical approach, the management approach, or even in your past performance. You can differentiate them, without taking up much more space, in order to substantiate your narrative.

Trident Proposals likes to use a callout box or make key differentiators a different text color to break up page after page of dense text.

Ideally, you will use the above tips to make these key differentiators noticeable. When the graders read through your proposal, they can easily copy them in their evaluation sheet to defend why they scored your offer as above average.

What Happens if You Lose the Bid?

A well-written proposal isn’t necessarily a winning proposal, because price plays a big role in a lot of these bids. If you lose a bid, that doesn’t mean all the hard work that you put into that proposal is trash. More than likely, you’ll have a part of your proposal that is salvageable and can be re-used in future proposal writing.  Storing your proposals in a secure proposal repository is key.   

Every time an RFP comes out, you’re expected to start fresh and build an outline from that specific RFP. But, if you’re writing a response for a customer that you’ve submitted a bid to in the past, take a look at the debriefs if that customer provided them. If the customer told you they liked something about your proposal in the past, and you’re going to submit another proposal to them, reuse that particular snippet if you can.

Predicting if a proposal will win is a lot harder than knowing if it’s well-written, consistent throughout, and above all, meets the requirements. High impact proposal writing conveys that your company is professional and detail oriented. That’s the best you can do.

Our next and final post for the Winning Proposals Series talks about the most important of the Three Commandments for Proposal Writing: Compliance.

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