Oh, I know, you’re a seller, not a grammarian! You hated English 101—so irrelevant! Well, I was once your English prof*, and here I am, back to remind you of a few key lessons that you’ve forgotten but that will make you a boatload of money!
I’m offering you a crash course on four last-minute revision strategies, guaranteed to make your proposal four times better. These are:
- Build a Theme
- Name Your Team
- Write Actively
- Align Your Bullets
And I promise, when your financial success is on the line, you can learn these few key concepts and apply them in one hour of a final revision. So here goes!
Build a (Five-Paragraph) Theme
That’s what I taught you, but you’ve forgotten. Your proposal includes the myriad ways in which you can bring many awesome benefits to your prospective customer. The more benefits, the better, right? WRONG! Your goal in any proposal is to be memorable—it’s a competition! The people who read it can’t remember all the wonderful ways you will make them happy. Stick to THREE ways.
Here’s the formula, which you can apply to any proposal regardless of the requirements:
Opening: “We are your provider of choice” (theme) because we will do (a), (b), and (c) to meet your requirements.
Section One: “Here’s what (a) is all about and why you need it (how it meets your requirements).”
Section Two: Here’s what (b) is all about and why you need it (how it meets your requirements).”
Section Three: Here’s what (c) is all about and why you need it (how it meets your requirements).”
Closing: “As we have demonstrated, we are your provider of choice because we will do (a), (b), and (c) to meet your needs and exceed your requirements.
Now, I know the RFP has 23 sections or your proposal has to address many more than three reasons. But what you have to do in your first 15 minutes of revision is this:
- Create 3 key, overriding ideas from your proposal
- Repeat them in your cover letter, Executive summary, Statement of Work, and closing)
- Move all of your additional promises to a place under one of the 3 key ideas. Just sort them out.
- Fit them into the Proposal requirement sections, if applicable, as best you can
Name Your Team
I know, when you get the contract you will hire new people and make it work. But you know what? If I am your prospective customer, reading your proposal for $5 million of new work, I want to hear that you will assign one of your very best and most experienced leaders as the project manager. Maybe you’ll also hire a new project “director” to report to your lead, but for heaven’s sake promise me someone that you know, trust, and have a history of depending on.
That change will take you less than 15 minutes, and you’ll have a little time to spare for my next two points! Even if you have to change that assignment later, go for it in the proposal!
Groan. This is a grammar lesson, I know. I will make it as painless as I can.
Just look at this one example:
- Weak: The reports will be delivered every two weeks. [This one makes no commitments about WHO will be in charge of delivery]
- Strong: Jacob Mulholland will deliver your reports every two weeks. OR “We” will deliver, OR “Your dedicated project manager” will deliver your reports every two weeks. [This one says WHO will be held accountable]
Wherever you promise an outcome, just write a sentence like this: (WHO) will do (WHAT) (WHEN). Or just think, “Somebody on our team is going to do something for you.” You don’t need to learn grammar rules. Just copy my formula.
There’s an old corny line that will help you remember this one: “Mistakes will be made. Others will be blamed.” It’s the ultimate cop-out. “Who” will make the mistakes? “WHO” will we blame?”
By the way, don’t be afraid to say “We” will do XYZ,” or use your company name in place of “we.” It’s okay—simple English that people can understand.
You can review your proposal in 15 minutes and make a few key changes to make your writing more active.
Align Your Bullets
I am guessing you have many proposal sections with bullet points to highlight what you will do. That’s good—bullet points are powerful and they can be memorable. But what makes them memorable is repetition—that is, to throw another grammar rule in here, make them all in the same structure.
I will leave out the grammar rules and simply give you some illustrations. You don’t need to be able to explain it, only to do it.
Here’s a sample bullet set that needs to be revised (because the grammar isn’t parallel)
- Prepare weekly reports
- Monthly summaries
- Exceptions will be documented
- Training manuals prepared
- Consulting as needed for your team
Now look at that list when the grammar structure is repeated:
- Prepare weekly reports
- Deliver monthly summaries
- Document exceptions
- Provide training manuals
- Consult with your team as needed
The key here is to lead with verbs—in each case a word that says we will DO – we will prepare, we will deliver, we will document, we will provide, and so on.
Okay, four things to work on, 15 minutes each, and a complete edit in 60 minutes. Of course I hope that someone in your organization can learn these principles and do the revisions for the sales/business development team. But until that day comes, step it up! You did pass freshman comp, you know these principles internally, and you don’t have to explain them. Just take a last 60 minutes before you hit send, and you will quadruple the impact of your proposal in comparison to your competitors!
* Before I became a business owner and whale hunter, I was a professor of English. Taught freshman comp and other courses and coached hundreds of people to write well. It’s the fundamental skill of sales—the art of persuasion!
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