9 Things Successful Proposal Professionals Do Differently

According to Dr. Heidi Grant Stevenson, a blogger for Psychology Today and the author of an intriguing new book, Succeed:  How We Can Reach Our Goals (2011), even very bright people are often clueless when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail.  Recent research on achievement shows that successful people reach their goals not because of any inborn traits or extraordinary IQs but because of what they do.

Dr. Stevenson identifies nine things that successful people do differently from their less successful peers.  How many of these traits do you have as a proposal professional?

1.   Get Specific

When you set a goal, you are specific as possible.  Being concrete gives you a clear definition of success.

2.   Seize the Moment and Act on your Goals

Because we are all very busy, we often routinely miss opportunities to act on our goals.  To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take action to achieve a goal.

3.   Know Exactly How Far You Have Left to Go

To achieve your goals, you must candidly and regularly monitor your progress and determine what remains to achieve your goal.  “It will take 15 more hours to finish producing our application” enables you to adjust your behavior and strategies so that you are likely to succeed.

4.   Be a Realistic Optimist

Positive thinking is very important in achieving goals, but you must be realistic about how likely you are to achieve them.  Simply telling your proposal team that the “first draft must be finished today” is meaningless unless there is a high probability that this is possible.

5.   Focus on Getting better rather than being Good

Our talents and skills are very malleable.  To improve, you should focus on getting better at doing something specific rather than just being good.  This is a more realistic and motivating goal than trying to achieve some abstract standard of excellence.

6.   Show Grit and Determination

Grit and determination are common characteristics of successful people, especially in the face of difficulties.  By planning, by developing good strategies to accomplish difficult tasks, and by sheer persistence you often can succeed.

7.   Build your Willpower

Successful people have strong willpower.  They are determined to succeed.  Identifying difficult challenges and satisfactorily addressing them will increase your sense of willpower and enable you to be more successful.

8.   Have a Sense of Limitations

Today, it is fashionable to say that we all have unlimited potential.  This is simply not true.  We all have limitations, and we must understand and respect them.

9.   Focus on What You Will Do, Not on What You Will Not Do

One of the best ways to succeed is to ask a simple question:  “What can I do differently?”  Focus on behavioral changes you realistically can make rather than on simply avoiding unproductive behaviors.

I think that Dr. Stevenson has identified 9 important things successfully proposal professionals do differently.  As Dr. Stevenson concludes, you usually do not have to become a different person to become more successful, but all of us need to do everyday things in proposal development differently – and better.


  1. Tom C
    August 25, 2011

    I like your emphasis on reality within your traits for proposal management success. I would only add something I learned as critical in hospital adminsration and equally in health care proposal management… tolerance of ambiguity. This is another very real characteristic of ambiguous RFPs, multi-displinary proposal writing teams, client’s proposal evaluation teams and all that surrounds these three elements. Keeping a sense of humor is also vital for helping proposal teams stay on track.

    • TheProposalGuru
      August 25, 2011

      Dear Tom: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree with everything you have written.

  2. Patricia Hall
    August 31, 2011

    In reading the nine important things successfully proposal professionals do differently, I apply them to my approach to the branding of our company. It is extremely important to communicate in that time envelope and show the benefits/relationship while bringing the match together. I loved it and thank you for taking the time publish it.

    • TheProposalGuru
      August 31, 2011

      Thank you for your kind comments! I am glad the article was useful.


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