One expert's proposal lessons learned

Here are one proposal expert’s hard-earned (and learned) lessons.

1. There is a difference between proposal non-compliance and poor writing.

2. Red faces and closed door meetings in which you are not invited spell trouble.

3. Developing the outline is the one task that proposal managers should never delegate.

4. The last one to touch the Executive Summary is the hero. The proposal manager should never write the first draft of one.

5. Beware of claims that “we have written this before.” Almost always a clean white sheet of paper is where you begin.

6. Use proposal professionals, not SMEs, when it comes to actually writing a proposal intended to “sell.”

7. Allowing “pens down” deadlines to slip is a formula for disaster, not evidence of flexibility.

8. Proposal managers seldom leave enough time for production–just ask those in Production.

9. There is no perfect organization chart, therefore agree to one the project manager can articulate and defend.

10. Themes must be inserted from above; they will not bubble up from below.

11. Putting text in a box and calling it a graphic does not make it so.

12. Features are not benefits and benefits are not features. Wise is the one who knows the difference.

13. We need a fresh approach to proposal capture and writing, one for today, not one invented in the 1960’s.

14. It is wiser to have a good theme that is usable now, than to forage continuously for the perfect theme on which no one will ever agree.

15. The term “discriminator” is tossed around as if there are dozens of them. Most companies are fortunate if they have one true discriminator.

16. In this industry, there is no universally accepted measure of merit by which a theme is measured. As a result, the only good theme is the one you write.

17. Had the Magna Carta been handed to a Red Team, the march towards democracy would have been set back several centuries.

18. Strategic proposal decisions made by committee are almost always fatal.

19. Average proposal writers rely on jargon and buzz words to make their simple material appear more technically complex. Great proposal writers start with complicated concepts and make them simpler.

20. Beware of executives who win their first proposal ever submitted. They believe they have nothing to learn.

21. There are good proposal talkers and good proposal writers. Shun the former, lavish rewards on the latter.

22. Better a proposal team of a few reliables than a legion of talkers and pontificators.

– Jim McCarthy, AOC Key Solutions


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