The 3 Big Mistakes in Writing Proposals

This is about some common mistakes that most people make in writing proposals. The 3 typical mistakes highlighted in this article are not just commonplace; they are BIG mistakes and can often result in the proposal being rejected or worse, simply ignored. The good news is that with a bit of re-thinking about what constitutes a good proposal, you can produce proposals that create more positive impact...
BIG MISTAKE #1 - Talking about Yourself
Most proposals tend to contain a lot of information about how great you are as a vendor, your company history, your universe of products and services, various awards won and of course the qualifications and experience of your executive team. Is any of this going to help the client with their specific issue? You answer this by saying surely the customer wants to know about your company, products and services to assess the offering. Sure they do, but this is not central in their mind. They are not interested whether you have 17 different types of widgets. What they want to know is do you have one that fixes their problem, and how will it do that? See, customers don't want to struggle with a lot of information you provide them and work out for themselves how your company might fit into their scheme of things. They want you to explain this clearly.

So it's good to start by first focusing on the customer's key areas of concern - state this clearly so that they know you know what these are. Then explain how working with you will fix or alleviate all these concerns. Put your company history and executive team profile in an appendix so they can read this later if they want to.

BIG MISTAKE #2 - No Compelling Value or Proposition

When evaluating a proposal, decision makers will ask the following three key questions:

-who are these guys? can we trust them? (this is the "emotion" question and is about brand, credibility, relationship etc)

-does their offering meet our need? (this is the "compliance" or "logic" question and is about features, price, fitness for purpose etc)

-what's special or compelling about them? (this is the "unique proposition" question)

Most average proposals handle only the "features" or "compliance" question. The better ones also remember to cater to the "emotion" question. But the truly effective ones ensure that all three questions are categorically addressed, especially the "what's unique about these guys?" question. You have to emphasize the value proposition because if you don't, the client might think you haven't got one.
BIG MISTAKE #3 - The Customer has to work out the Structure
Have you ever read a proposal where you can't figure out what information is where and it all feels like one jumbled-up collection of company information, elaborate descriptions of capability and technical information spread over many pages? Of course you have - you wrote it yourself! Most times it's the way you wrote because you did not start with a well-planned structure in mind.
Remember to start with a clear structure in mind, with information neatly compartmentalized and segregated. One really smart way is to work out in detail the table of contents first, before you start to write. Use paragraph or section headings and sub-headings whenever possible as these enhance readability.When you have a clear structure worked out, your customer will not need to work this out themselves.
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