In my seminars and workshops, I always stress strategy as the most important element of a proposal. While there are many things that matter, a strategy can strengthen everything else. Instead of worrying about the weak link in your proposal, strengthen all the links.

Successfully responding to a proposal is about more than just writing material. A common error is to simply start writing based on the response requirements of the RFP. You need a real strategy to be successful, a strategy based on many factors, not just what is written in the RFP or based on informal discussions.Letting your subject matter experts, or even worse, professional writers or marketing staff, simply put words on paper without a strategy to guide them, is a recipe for failure.

Before anybody starts writing, you need to establish a strategic approach to the proposal response. This will include the key messages that you want to put forward. The strategy will be developed and the messages identified based on careful analysis and research. Whether you dig deeply or not, this approach to winning proposals will give you the advantage over your competition.

A proposal is not a simple piece of writing. It must follow the client’s format and structure, answer specific questions, match evaluation criteria requirements, provide details so the client can understand your value and benefits, convince the client you’re better than your competition, and keep the evaluator’s attention, all at the same time.

Your proposal requires thoughtful strategy with respect to the pricing and the written submission. Preparation of the overall proposal often involves a wide variety of contributors, yet the end result must appear cohesive.

Writing a winning proposal requires the following elements:

  1. A strategy for winning.
  2. A plan for developing the proposal.
  3. A message that’s backed up with good content and evidence.
  4. A way to deliver the message that makes it easy to evaluate.


As I say, “Communicating without a strategy is like throwing darts blindfolded, just less likely to hurt your audience.”

So, proposal writing is not a tactical activity where you simply package information in response to an RFP. Writing a winning proposal is a strategic activity where the writing is a relatively small part of the successful proposal.

The difference between being strategic or tactical is what differentiates a successful proposal from an unsuccessful one. Many organizations respond to proposals with a very mechanical process, which is often designed to minimize effort and work with the available resources, skills and experience. These proposals are a compilation of boilerplate material and cut-and-paste from various sources, and not enough attention is paid to the response.

Successful proposals begin with a strategic approach to winning the business, and the proposal itself simply executes that strategy.

In future podcasts, I’ll discuss some specific elements of strategy that you need to develop before you start writing a proposal. Don’t make the mistake of writing backwards – know your strategy first, then write, not the other way around.


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