How To Write a Really Persuasive Proposal

10/4/17 11:04 AM Anna Duin RFP Responding

What's the difference between a passable proposal and a poignant proposal? It's a question that haunts us. We fall asleep wondering why we're losing projects, trying to figure out how we can stand out more. 

Not surprisingly, there's no magic bullet for this problem. Just like there's no fool proof fix for any type of Sales or Marketing problem. But there are a couple of things you can do to immediately make your proposals more persuasive. 

Below are 3 simple steps to more compelling content; including what you should cover in each section of the proposal, how to get better responses from your reluctant SMEs, and how to make sure your content is consistent. 

Skip ahead and get all our winning RFP response tips in this easy eBook. 

How to Write Better RFP Responses - eBook

Step #1. Make sure you're hitting the right objectives for each section

Hitting "objectives" really means two things: #1. answering the question. #2. making sure you've really answered the question. 

The former means you understand the basics of what should be included in each section of the proposal. Sounds simple, but it can actually be rather tricky. 

To clarify, this article gives a high level overview of how to approach each section of the proposal. (It's our most popular blog ever.) It covers specific proposal writing tips as well as suggestions for each section.

The second objective, making sure you've answered what they're really asking is trickier. This is about whether or not you've proved your worth, differentiated yourself, and answered the "so what" question.

For example, "who you are" might be a digital marketing agency, part 1 of the question. But "so what?" Who you really are is the marketing agency that on average doubles your client's leads. Okay, now I'm interested. 

So while there is no perfect formula for being persuasive, there are a few people who are really good at it that we can learn from (even if they're not proposal writers). 

Key takeaway: first make sure you've providing the basic requirements for each proposal section. Then make sure you're answering the deeper "so what?" Spell out how you're different from your competitors, and how you're providing exactly what your reader needs. 


Step #2. Get better responses from your SMEs

If you're a Proposal Manager, you've almost certainly experienced the pain of trying to wring quality RFP responses from your SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). 

Your team is hesitant to write at all, then your engineers give you confusing diagrams with no explanations, and the rest submit vague, dry, responses. 

I know how you feel. Which is why when I went to this year's APMP (Association of Record for Bid, Proposal, Business Development, Capture, and Graphics Professionals) conference I had to attend the lecture entitled: "APB: A Writing Model for Reluctant Writers, Enigmatic Engineers, and Circuitous SMEs."

Julia Quigley of Lohfeld Consulting Group presented. Quigley has a Master's in Rhetoric and Composition and created a brilliant "APB writing model" as a formula for getting better responses from SMEs. APB stands for Approach summary, Process, and Benefits explanation, the three elements that should be included in any well crafted proposal.

Quigley Slide 13-1.pngImage credit: Julia Quigley, slide 10 of her aforementioned presentation

Download her presentation here, just look for the "Quigley" presentation.

While her presentation specifically relates to winning government projects, the approach is widely applicable. What I loved most about it was that it was basically a cheat sheet for how to get better responses from your team.

She also gave great specific examples of what upgrades a response from mediocre to extremely compelling. 

Quigley Slide 12-1.png

Quigley Slide 14-1.png

Quigley Slide 16-1.png

Image credits: Julia Quigley, slide 10 of her aforementioned presentation

I later spoke with some engineers who also attended the lecture and they said it was the first time they understood what proposal managers wanted from them.  

Key takeaway: most of your team will not understand how to write a section independently, and they won't know what information to include. A structured response style can help them narrow down and clarify what you need. 


Step #3. Make sure you're consistently using your best content

There is nothing more infuriating for a Marketer or a writer than working tirelessly to create great content and then not have your team use it.

It's easy to think they're being stubborn or lazy by not utilizing your hard work. But what if they just can't find it?  

The number one mistake I see proposal writers make is they spend all this time writing responses and content, but spend no time organizing it, and making it accessible. 

Because if you're team can't find it, your hard work is wasted. So whatever system or proposal software you use to organize your content and/or security questionnaire responses, make sure it provides easy access for all your stakeholders. 

What is proposal management software? [eBook]

Your organization system should specify:

  • Who wrote the content (don't muddy the waters by sharing logins) 
  • When it was written
  • A revision history
  • When the content was last updated
  • How often it's been used

The last one is really critical. It's extremely helpful to track which responses are being used, and if they're part of winning proposals. Because then you can help ensure that your team is always using your top content, and make your proposals that much more convincing.

It's also really good idea to assign "owners" to important questions/content, and assign "expiration dates" for when those responses need to be updated (quarterly, annually, etc.).

And while it's certainly easier to track those content details with proposal software (see how our team keeps our content fresh here), it's not impossible to do it without. But workarounds will likely require combining a task tracking systems with a content sharing platform.  

Key takeaway: you can write all the great content in the world, but if your team can't find or maintain it, it's useless. 



Overview of how to write each proposal section

Download the APB approach to proposals presentation here (just look for the "Quigley" presentation)

Download eBook

[Editor's note: this blog was originally published August 31, 2016, but has been updated for clarity and accuracy.]