How to write better proposals

How to write better proposals

Kris Sæther
18. Feb 2020 | 5 min read

How to write better proposals

Proposals are an important way to win new business for many companies, but they take a lot of effort. Sometimes with questionable payback. You can tilt the scale in your favor by taking a more strategic approach to the proposals you write. 

In his best-selling book Write Better Proposals – Win More Business, Canadian author, speaker and consultant Michel Theriault provides the strategic techniques you need to change your proposals from simply providing information to persuading your client and winning them over.

Theriault has extensive experience writing winning proposals, training evaluators and reviewing proposal submissions.

Here’s a summary of Theriault’s 7 techniques to writing better proposals that win you more business.


1. Develop a strategy

Don’t respond to an RFP without a plan. This means understanding what the client needs, not just what they put in their RFP. 

Figure out their hot buttons (the most pressing and important issues facing your client) and make sure you hit them. Figure out what matters to them, identify what to emphasize and how to convince them that you’re the only choice. 

Understand your competiton’s strength and weakness, and trash them without mentioning their name or being unprofessional, using a technique Therriault calls ‘ghosting’, ie. subtle techniques that get your client to look closer at your competitor's claims and to doubt some of them. 


2. Answer the questions

The client asks questions for a reason. Think about what their reason is, and what they are trying to find out. It may not be obvious from the question. Answer it with sufficient detail to convince them. Don’t beat around the bush, give them fluff or theory. 


3. Avoid boilerplate material

Everyone uses it. But don’t just cut and paste and do a Find/Replace to change the client’s name. Adapt and edit it to fit the needs and context of your client. Don’t simply give them package sales material. 

Customized writing will stick in the client’s mind when they evaluate you. Generic stuff won’t. Worse, it tells them something about your level of effort to pursue their business.

Besides, it will be much harder for your client to give you a higher score on their evaluation criteria if they’re basing it on generic boilerplate material.


4. Mirror your client

Repeat your client’s phrases, terminology and even parts of the question(s) in your responses, within reason. Studies show this type of mirroring will get you results. 

You should also call the client by name where possible, and use a first-person ‘You’ to make it a more personable response. Don’t use your company’s name too often, they know who you are.


5. Differentiate yourself

Let’s face it, proposals are a talent contest. In any case, differentiating yourself is important, since evaluators compare your bid against the others and decide which is best. 

If you’re used to government RFPs, you’re probably thinking, “They don’t compare bids, they score against a set of criteria.” Well, evaluators are human, and even the best evaluation criteria have some subjectivity. Between the first bid they read and the last, there will be some comparisons between them. 


6. Readable structure

Make it easy for your client to find the information that matters for their evaluation. Break up your text and use headings, bullet points, short paragraphs, pull-out boxes and other visual cues to draw attention to important information. 

Start your answers with a clear, unambiguous statement that pinpoints your strengths and your benefits to the client. Repeat it in a short summary at the end. Repetition can be a good thing. Be sure to match your stucure to the evaluation criteria, to make it easy for the evaluators to score you. Imagine that they have a checklist in front of them, and are checking it off when they find your answers.   


7. Clear writing

Don’t try to impress them with fancy writing, you aren’t writing an essay or a novel. Forget what you learned in school, and write to communicate and sell yourself to busy, sophisticated buyers. 


Get the edge over your competition

“The only reason you write proposals is to win more business”. This is how Theriault starts off his book, and it’s true. 

In the end, your proposal is the most visible evidence of your professionalism and your capabilities. If you write a compelling proposal and have a strong. financial bid, you have the edge over your competition and…  yes, you’ll win more business.


download winning proposals


Kris Sæther

Kris Sæther

Kris Sæther is Chief Commercial Officer of Xait. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Media Studies, and has worked in financial communication in London and Frankfurt prior to joining Xait. He has 20+ years experience from the information management industry. Kris is an avid runner and skier, and a passionate fan of the world’s coolest soccer team, Tottenham. If he is not working or running you will find him cheering for his two daughters on the handball court.

Follow our blog

We write professional blogs worth a read. Follow the blog for a sneak peek of the future!

You may also read

Don’t waste time on formatting and layout: Get started with document automation

Apr 07, 2020 - Monica Vigrestad

Don’t waste time on formatting and layout: Get started with document automation

Ever felt that intense pressure of a deadline getting all too near, be it on a business document, report,..

A buyer's guide: What to look for in proposal software

Apr 02, 2020 - Silje Stensland

A buyer's guide: What to look for in proposal software

If you were asked to describe your company’s proposal production process in one sentence, which of the..

When The Going Gets Tough The Tough Get Going

Mar 31, 2020 - Eirik Gudmundsen

When The Going Gets Tough The Tough Get Going

This is a famous English expression meaning when a situation becomes difficult, the strong will work harder..