How Better Proposal Writing Will Lead to More Closed Deals


Not all businesses or organizations need to produce written proposals, but for those that do, proposals are often essential to keeping the doors open. Whether it’s a scientist seeking grant funding, a vendor responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP), or a sales team submitting a proposed solution to a new contact, these documents play a key role in the revenue/funding cycle.

Unfortunately, most proposals tend to fall flat in ways that compromise their effectiveness. Fortunately, better writing can counter most of these problems.

  • They’re just plain poorly written. Often, proposal writing falls on individuals whose core work lies elsewhere. They might be an engineer or scientist focused on research, for example, and writing the proposal is just a necessary evil. But because their expertise lies in the work they do, their writing perhaps leaves something to be desired, yielding proposals that are confusing, awkward, and just plain hard to read.
  • They fail to understand the principles and psychology of engagement. No proposal is going to work if the recipient doesn’t (1) read them in the first place, (2) keep reading them, and (3) respond to them on a personal level. That means the proposals need to immediately pique and maintain interest and speak directly to the reader’s needs, motivations, and goals.
  • They don’t understand their audience. Following directly from the previous point, too many proposal authors target their proposals to themselves or to their peers rather than to their intended recipient. This might mean they use jargon that readers don’t understand or use big words that get in the way of plain meaning.  Or it might mean that they speak to their own concerns rather than the reader’s pain points. Either way, a proposal that misses its audience will fall short of its objectives. 
  • They’re too generic to stand out. Unfortunately, your proposal will almost always be in competition with other proposals. To be successful, it needs to stand out. There is as much art as science to capturing and keeping attention, but at the very least proposals need to spell out how your organization or operation is unique; in other words, if you’re to stand out, so must your proposal.
  • They talk features but not benefits. One way to stand out is to get into how your work will help the reader and his/her organization. Get them excited about what you do. To whatever extent possible, bring the solution to life with examples, success stories, and case studies. In short, the proposal must communicate not only what you do but also what you do for the reader.
  • They don’t provide all the information for the reader to make a decision. The proposal not only needs to make the case for the author’s service, product, or work, it also needs to preemptively answer any questions the readers might have and counter any objections. Then, it needs to provide any information needed to act.
Because proposals are so important, and because it’s so easy to make relatively simple mistakes with them, a little skills development can go a long way. If nothing else, study successful proposals from your own organization and others and compare to unsuccessful proposals. What did the successful proposals do differently? How do they read? Also, consider getting some direct training; almost all of the elements described can be improved with a little focused skills development. Check out additional tips on “How to write a winning proposal.
To strengthen your proposals, see our instructor-led, customized Writing Winning Proposals Course to learn how we can help your organization use its proposals to win more business.
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