Writing Winning Proposals through Good Planning

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 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.  He recommends a very sensible five-step writing process:

  • Plan:  Think through your proposal section.
  • Organize:  Use the customer requirements as your outlining guide.
  • Write:  Write in a free-flowing manner.
  • Examine:  Walk away from your writing and review it later while letting others review it too.
  • Revise:  Emphasize clarity, conciseness, correctness, and persuasiveness.

Let us start with planning.  First, proposal writers should take three simple but effective steps to plan their writing assignments:  (1) define common terms – the customer’s and your own; (2) use a planning worksheet to outline your section; and (3) seek feedback early in the process.

Define common terms

What are the features of your product or service?

What are the benefits of your product or service?

How do the benefits help differentiate you from the competition?

What benefits are important to the evaluators?

Develop a planning worksheet

Your planning worksheet should help you identify the customer’s main issues; your solution; your differentiators; your experience; and your performance.

Seek feedback early

Remember, you are part of a team!  Use your colleagues, especially your Subject Matter Experts, to review your planning sheet and suggest improvements.  This can be accomplished at a brainstorming session or through an individual review of your worksheet.

If your planning process has gone well, every one of the proposal writers should have a detailed planning worksheet before they begin writing.  Please note that I have emphasized the word “before.”

Too many proposals are written prematurely before the proposal team has carefully thought through what they are planning to present.  If you write before you plan, you are very unlikely to develop a competitive proposal.

Resist the very human urge to start writing once you have read the Request for Proposals.  Step away from the computer keyboard!  You must have a substantive outline before you write, and that can only be done through careful planning.

In subsequent articles I will discuss the other four steps.

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