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Why Your Proposals Don’t Win

Proposal writing is often a daunting task and, unless your proposal wins, it’s a task with little reward. What are the factors that decide whether a proposal wins? What pitfalls are you falling victim to during the proposal writing process?


Most people make the same mistake when it comes to writing a proposal–they don’t focus on the needs and selection criteria specified. This may sound obvious, to address how you or your product can solve the problem at hand, but most people go into the proposal writing process ready to discuss their work rather than explaining how their work can address this specific problem.

By carefully reading and analyzing the request for proposal (RFP), you can decipher the need or needs. The winner selected will be the one who can best demonstrate that they can meet those needs.


It is this subtle nuance in focus that can determine whether your proposal wins. However, there is also a formula that winning proposals follow. The formula process is simplified like this:

• Determine the needs specified in the RFP

• Compose one-sentence discriminators about your product/technology that sets it apart from competitors

• Build a team that agrees with these discriminators

• Write the proposal by answering each question specified in the RFP

This is the process of a winning proposal at its most basic level. Obviously, following a timeline and other factors are details that come into play as well. Sticking to this basic winning formula is key to writing a successful proposal.


Your discriminators are everything in your proposal. These are essentially your claims about your product/technology and how these claims fit the need specified in the RFP.

Each section of your proposal should state your discriminator and then follow it up with supporting statements and evidence. Writing a proposal this way makes it easy for the reviewers to find the information they are looking for, rather than forcing them to hunt through your pages and pages of technical details that may not be relevant to their needs.

Write for Reviewers

If you are writing proposals that consistently don’t win, ask yourself whether you are following this structure of writing. Proposal writing may seem choppy and repetitive compared to other forms of writing. The discriminators may be repeated over and over in various sections. This is a method of proposal writing, and it’s a winning method.

You must write your proposal in a way that is easy for the reviewers to read. Often, the reviewers will have a matrix by which to judge you. Try to use the terminology from the RFP identically in your proposal so the reviewers can easily find where you addressed each of their concerns/needs.

It is common for proposals to be chopped up for review. There may be one reviewer for technical sections and another reviewer for the executive summary. This is why it is good to be repetitive because it’s unlikely that a single reviewer will sit down and read your proposal all the way through.

Again, Focus
The proposal that will win may not always be the best technically or the clear choice to subject matter experts in that field, rather the winner will be the one that focuses on the needs specified in the RFP.

Arrogance alone can disqualify a proposal. Don’t make the content about you, your expertise, or that you are the best simply because. Write a proposal that convinces the reviewer you can solve their problem. That is a winning proposal.

Why Your Proposals Don’t Win
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