The proposal document is an expensive, time-consuming, yet necessary document. Therefore it better hit the right buttons with the client so it takes you to the shortlist or gets you invited to do a presentation. So some thought should go into what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say ...The proposal document is an expensive, time-consuming, yet necessary document. Therefore it better hit the right buttons with the client so it takes you to the shortlist or gets you invited to do a presentation. So some thought should go into what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, and the format of your written document. Here’s what to consider.

The Line Items

Every line item in the spec must consider three factors. (1) You must show you understand why that line item is in there and what it means to project success. (2) You must show you can handle/deliver it. (3) You must know who this line item is important to or who is worried about it.

Now boiler plate spec’s and regulations have to be addressed, but the above refers to all the other line items. Keep in mind that the spec is written by an administrator and that person has written his or her interpretation of the actual deliverable. These interpretations are often misleading and inaccurate. Therefore, it’s very useful to get different interpretations wherever possible. Keep in mind the spec is not the choir singing. It is more like an office person getting every ones opinion on where they should go for dinner.

Winning decision makers’ votes is the most important factor. As mentioned in previous articles, it requires satisfying the personal desires, social expectations and project requirements for the individuals. The RFP will seem to focus mostly on the project requirements, but behind every item there is a buyer’s (or many buyers’) concern/s. Otherwise it wouldn’t be there. Therefore your proposal will have to satisfy these concerns for you to get into the game.

Additionally there will be many success factors not stated but significant to the voters, i.e. cost savings, schedule improvements, no complaints, no disruptions etc., as well as risk sensitivities about failure vs. assurance of success. People will be open to discuss these if asked, but it’s a big mistake to assume you know what’s in the back of everyone’s minds. Finally what constitutes trouble and/or success is relative to each individual. It’s best to know each person’s metrics.


Everything above is about the voters and getting their desires met. Many sales people and companies are focused on what the competition will say in their proposals. This is a major mistake, yet competition cannot be ignored. Winning a proposal is not like a sporting event where you have to beat the competition. It is an election where you have to win the votes of the powerful.

Therefore, it’s better to focus on how you company’s competence addresses the project requirements and the voters’ desires - especially the bosses. Who’s better, stronger, etc. is not the issues. The attention will be on who gives the impression that they can do it and do it well -- with minimum risk of failure and/or greatest chance of success. The company that builds the feeling of confidence that the project and voters’ desires will be met, wins.

Numbers, Names and Details.

I will repeat this concept often because it is so important. Numbers are believable. They are also easy to visualize and understand. “13” is more powerful than “many times”. 21 years of experience is more understandable than very experienced. Details of how you accomplished a line item for another project are important to the people concerned about that spec item. Names validate you. They provide concurrence and favorable associations.

Your goal is develop a positive, confident, comfortable feeling in each voter that you understand and can do the work well. In the end decisions always come down to how the voter feels about your company. It then gets justified with details. Keep in mind that anything can be justified, but feelings are the deal maker and deal breaker. The best way to build the feeling of competence is to use numbers, names, and details.

To develop a good feeling you have to paint a colorful picture that the voter remembers. Numbers, names and details dothat. They are vivid, objective, and meaningful.

The other beauty of n umbers, names and details is they will set you apart from the competition - in two ways. They show difference and people can relate to them. Differentiation means that the competition can’t come behind you and say, “We do that also.” The competition doesn’t have the same numbers, details or names that you have, so they can't come behind and say we have that also. They can say they've done it 17 times or many times, but you've done it 13 times - that different. More importantly, most competitors (unless they’ve read this article) will use generalities and ambiguous words, such as, many times, lots of similar applications, very experienced and other “grey” words. Your numbers, names and details paint your story in living color and develop the feeling of credibility within the voters. This will certainly set you apart.

Red Flags and Strengths,

For each line item or section of the specification, you must consider your red flags (areas of weaknesses) and your strengths. Now just because your competitor is “better” than you in certain areas doesn’t mean it’s a weakness for you. That certain area has to be important to one of the powerful voters for it to be a red flag. Many people get hung-up on some capability of the competition that is meaningless to the voters. Remember it’s all about the voters. The same applies to your strengths. They have got to be of significance to a voter. Just because you’re global doesn’t mean it’s a strength to someone looking for local service.

Once you identify your red flags, decide what has to be done to prove they will not affect successful delivery of the project. Don’t get paranoid that competitors will emphasize your weakness to the buyers. It would be tacky and make them look badly. What you have to show is that you are capable of doing that item and doing it well. You don’t have to be the best. You have to be competent. This is where the numbers names and details will help you tremendously.

In the same way consider what strengths you have as they relate to each line item. Then determine how to use those strengths. A strong strategy is to use your strengths to overcome your red flags. However, be sure to apply strengths that are relative to the specification and/or to someone in particular. For example, if you have worldwide capability, but this project is local, detailing your global prowess will be annoying chest thumping. But if you relate how that world presence has given you experience that will help the local area, then it’s useful to use.

The No Contact Clause

Since the award will be decided by the committee and their bosses, your ever present thought has to be "What will it take to win each individual's vote?” or “What’s in it for him or her?” This is why the pre-work is so important. Without the knowledge of each individual’s desires and concerns, it's difficult to target a message that will satisfy that voter. The word “they” must be eliminated from your vocabulary. You must speak about individuals, Sam, Mary, John, etc. when referring to any line item or deliverable.

Since most people are off limits after the spec has been issued, the best after-the-fact way to learn about an individual voter’s desires is to use your network of people that know the voters. If you open your mind and do some asking, you’ll realize you know people that know these voters and they will help you if you ask. However, you’ve got make the mental effort and then make the calls. Most people dislike asking for help and come up with every reason not to. You’ve got to get over it. People will help if asked.

Be careful however. Your contact’s information may not be totally accurate, but it's better than having none. Query them about things the voter typically worries about. Ask about things that person has liked to see in the past, i.e. areas of concerns, and/or positive comments they had on previous projects. It will at least give you some sensitivity to this voter.

With this level of knowledge you’ll now be able to put pen to paper. But wait. How your words get’s interpreted will make or break your proposal. So next section we’ll discuss how to build the feeling of trust and confidence in the belly of each reader.

And now I invite you to learn more

Bonus Tip: FREE Video Series “40 Winning Strategies for Proposals and Presentations”. Just click this Sales Management Training Proposal Link ( Sam Manfer makes it easy for any sales person to become a 70% closer and feel comfortable selling to C-Level leaders.

Author's Bio: 

Sam Manfer makes it easy for any sales person to feel comfortable connecting with top, C-Level leaders. For more inspiring articles and to receive your free Selling Wisdoms E-zine with powerful selling tips visit his Advanced Sales Training Website