In this episode, I’m covering some of the key skills required for a successful proposal. These aren’t all the skills needed and you don’t have to have them yourself, but they are the fundamental ones you must included in your team.

Subject Matter Expert

To write an effective proposal response, you need qualified subject matter experts (SME) who contribute to or write key elements of the technical portion of the proposal. Using writers from the business development or sales team or even hiring external writers is tempting, however you’ll end up with generalities and something that looks and feels more like a sales pitch rather than solid quantifiable details and information that evaluators need in order to give you a good score.

There’s no substitute for someone who understands the business and knows how it works in practice. The other benefit of having that expertise is that SMEs can draw on their past. They can bring forward issues that may be important to the client, but which a non-technical writer simply won’t be able to include.

Subject matter experts include individuals within your organization who are highly experienced in a particular area, such as quality assurance, human resources, Information Technology (IT), logistics, product development or direct service delivery. Subject matter experts can also be subcontractors who provide a particular part of the overall service.

Even the best subject matter experts, however, may not write well or be able to focus their knowledge and expertise into strategic messages directed at proposal evaluators. In this case, use the SME’s knowledge and expertise, and support them with someone who can do the writing.

Marketing and sales skills

While the technical subject matter expert is important, the ability to sell is equally important. Be careful however – your proposal can’t simply be a marketing and sales pitch.

You need to be able to combine your technical and service expertise with client requirements, deliver on hot buttons, themes and messages, and talk about the technical subject matter in a way that gets the client’s attention and speaks directly to the evaluator in a concise, well-structured response that results in a high evaluation score.

The necessary skills go beyond general marketing and sales and delve into specifics related to your particular service and how to best represent your capabilities so they match client expectations, evaluation criteria and the RFP questions and structure.

Effective selling involves being able to look at your service, solution, background and expertise, and identify ways to take the facts and turn them into compelling reasons for the client to favor your proposal over the competition’s.

Creative skills

Writing a proposal is not a mechanical process. It requires creativity in addressing issues, dealing with negative concerns, putting forward your advantages, and convincing the client you have the best proposal.

Creativity doesn’t mean using a template document, boilerplate material and cut-and-paste response. Creativity enables you to uniquely address the requirements of the proposal by using base material, but not simply by reusing old material. Every proposal should be customized for the client, but that doesn’t mean just doing a ‘search and replace’ on the client’s name.

To some extent, creativity also involves the ability to look at what you’ve got, compare it to what’s expected, and match up those results in a creative way, especially when there’s a gap.

When there’s an area in which you don’t have direct experience or background, being creative will help you find ways to address the problem effectively, and meet requirements as closely as possible.

How you present information, including diagrams, lists, tables and photos, also benefits from creativity. Since the only reason for including information of any kind is to influence the evaluator to give you the highest evaluation score possible, you need to be creative in your presentation. Resist the temptation to use information in its original form, and understand why you’re presenting it. Then modify your presentation to get the point across.


Good writing skills go well beyond grammar and punctuation. In fact, good writers can write bad proposals.

The writing skills you need include the ability to get the message across in a concise targeted fashion with simple, well-crafted writing that’s not pretentious or arrogant. This sometimes means ignoring rules you learned in English 101. Communicating effectively is more important, because the message needs to be easily read and understood by the evaluator.

Filling pages with colorful prose, complex vocabulary, and complicated but correct grammatical structure that impresses rather than communicates won’t help you win proposals. At the same time, filling your proposal with poorly written, highly-technical and unfocused writing is also sure to fail.

The gap between what you write and how the client interprets your writing is a hurdle you need to overcome and with these skills and the right techniques, you will be able to bridge that gap easily.

Our Book "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals". is now available at Amazon in many countries, including the USA , Canada, UK, Japan, Germany and France. You can also order it directly from the author on this website