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7 Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing

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How to Write Proposals that Help Win Deals

Sales proposals are an integral part of complex sales processes for any organization selling their services or products. However, inconsistent proposals with outdated messaging can undercut months of sales efforts – not to mention the countless hours and resources spent by numerous employees across the organization. Although the process of developing a precise, well-written new sales proposal is vital, it is often overlooked by the leadership team and ignored during sales training, resulting in bottlenecks and duplicate efforts during the proposal development stage.

Ultimately, completing a proposal is a race against the clock. In fact, Qvidian’s most recent customer survey concluded that respondents consider receiving content on-time as their biggest pain point associated with colleague collaboration on proposals. But equally important as meeting deadlines, is delivering quality content that is likely to win deals. A rushed, incomplete proposal can cut your chances substantially. For this reason, we’ve identified seven “deadly” sins that slow down and hinder the proposal writing process (and tips on how to avoid them):

  1. Failing to qualify the deal: If you don’t know what the prospect is looking for, it is impossible to align your products or services effectively. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the opportunity, and how it came about so, you can make a well-informed decision about whether or not it makes sense to accept the bid.
  2. Not focusing on what the prospect cares about: Research indicates that the first question buyers ask themselves when they are considering their options is: Are we getting what we need? For this reason, it is important to understand the issues the buyer is currently facing and what they’re hoping to resolve. This will help make your case for how they will benefit from hiring your organization to help solve their problems.
  3. Not structuring the document persuasively: It is important to organize the proposal’s content in a way that highlights your company’s assets and works to your advantage. Specifically, the process of structuring your proposal persuasively consists of four key steps – summarizing your understanding of the prospects’ needs, indicating the probable outcomes, recommending a solution and providing evidence that you can do the job on time and within budget. Neglecting to write in a structured format could hinder the proposal key messages and mask the value your organization will bring to the potential customer.
  4. Not differentiating your offer and your company from the bunch: The prospect needs to be convinced that you provide superior value and differentiation. If there are no differentiators, the prospect will assume they are buying a commodity service and look for the lowest cost. The strongest differentiators are those that are related to the way you work – your methodology, your best practices, your systems, and processes.
  5. Not offering a compelling value proposition: Smart buyers want to see a positive impact in the area of business performance that they believe matters. Give the prospect the evidence they need to utilize the differentiators and show superior value – it’s a great way to seal the deal when proposals are compared side by side.
  6. Not making it easy to understand and use: Make sure the proposal is easy to follow, formatting is aligned, and the key points are clearly emphasized. This can be done with simplistic headings, clear and concise language and sharp sentence structure. The use of long, complex sentences with technical jargon above their expertise will bury your company’s attributes and only speed up the prospect’s tendency to skim through the proposal.
  7. Not editing carefully to remove all potential distractions, mistakes and credibility killers: The final sin may appear to be the least serious of the seven, yet can still hurt your chances of winning and diminish your brand. It is important to review your proposals multiple times, checking for grammar, spelling and other minor written mistakes. Asking the appointed team leader to proof the proposal at various stages may be more work on the front end, but will speed up the process closer to the deadline.

Although some of these “deadly” sins may seem small, any one of them could be the deciding factor in winning the business. Analyze the opportunity, and the customer needs and then articulate your value to ensure a successful outcome. Who knew that avoiding a few sins could produce such heavenly results?

For more details and to check out Qvidian’s complete free guide click the image below to download your copy now

What’s the Value of Your Time?


If you could increase your speed and efficiency exponentially as it relates to proposals, would it be worth an hour of your time? Most proposal managers or proposal writers would answer, “Of course it would!” But how many times in life do we have this opportunity only to forego it saying, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time to learn something new.” Do you see the disconnect? As a proposal professional, you know time is your greatest asset, but how you use it makes all the difference.

Or how about this: have you ever used a product, thinking you knew how to use it, but you didn’t get the results you expected? Easy to blame the product, but if you looked back at the directions, you might discover it was a user-error. If you’re like me, someone who reads directions as a last resort, I’m guessing you have experienced this once or twice in your life. Why do we think that reading directions or learning how to use something correctly will slow us down? Compared to our friends who happily and willingly read the directions, the whole scenario results in something that resembles the Aesop fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

As Qvidian’s Customer Champion, I talk with customers all the time. In doing so, I’ve seen a clear pattern emerge. It’s what Qvidian’s Director of Education, Michael Heffelfinger, knows firsthand, “Once we’ve engaged with a customer through our Consulting Services, their utilization skyrockets. We give our customer knowledge, confidence, and pride of ownership in Qvidian.” Leslie Caldwell, RFP Specialist for Spectrum Business told me that how Michael helped them the most was understanding how they were using the Qvidian system, and how they were NOT using it. In one hour, he brought them huge value by teaching them how to use the system in a better way. One of the Spectrum employees in the training exclaimed to Michael, “What you just showed me is going to save me 5 hours on every RFP (Request for Proposal),” and Michael had been there less than one hour. You can read more about the benefits Spectrum experienced in this case study.

I’m happy for our customers who understand the value of taking the time to learn a system, who make use of Qvidian’s many educational services including weekly open Q&A sessions, online courses and our full-day of hands-on training at our annual Connect conference, not to mention those who are active participants in our advocacy group, Club Q where customer share shortcuts and insights with each other. I see other customers who feel that because they have had some experience with Qvidian in the past, they believe they know everything they need to know to maximize its use. What they may not realize is that Qvidian is a company that innovates continuously – always listening to our customers, asking them for feedback, engaging them in beta testing and more. If you think you know the most efficient ways of using Qvidian because you used it 6 years ago, think again. Qvidian is committed to continual innovation, always striving to add even more speed, efficiency, and flexibility to the system.

Increase Win Rates & Reduce Response Times With Powerful Cloud-Based Automation Tools That Anyone Can Use. See for yourself with our online demo.

While we’re known for our content library and helping proposal writers complete RFPs with ease, many customers are now using us even more for content management benefiting from our metadata and reporting capabilities and answering the skyrocketing influx of security questionnaires – without which their booked revenue can come to a screeching halt.

When you look at all Qvidian does, the multitude of ways we can benefit you and your team, one hour of your time can feel like a small investment. Invest wisely – explore Qvidian’s Consulting Services and our many educational opportunities. According to Spectrum Business, less than one hour of learning saves 5 hours on every RFP. If the same were true for you, what would be the impact of that equation?

Ghosts in the Cupboards Holding You Back?

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I was recently travelling to Boston for work and happened to read a great article in the Airline Magazine regarding antiquated laws around the world. Some of these have been in existence for so long that there is actually no way anyone would be prosecuted for the offence. A few examples being:

‘In London, it is illegal to flag down a taxi if you have the plague.”

‘In Ohio, it is against state law to get a fish drunk.”

Or how about, “In the UK it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.”

I suppose with today’s society, there is the need to ensure that the laws governing a country are kept as up-to-date and relevant as possible. Some however, miss the net and stay around for a while.

But from a business perspective, it is vitally important your collateral doesn’t have the “ghosts in the cupboard” and that you regularly check your collateral to ensure it is relevant and up-to-date. In my role at Qvidian, I hear many people tell me about the need to simplify their content library as it is out-of-date or it is stored by a number of people on many devices and clouds. I always advise people to begin collecting collateral by having a review of collateral companywide to see what people have and what needs to be culled.

Whether you are writing an RFP (Request for Proposal) or sales proposal or putting together a DDQ (due diligence questionnaire), your data should be from a trusted source that has a version control and is regularly checked for updates. At the end of the day, your colleagues are using this collateral to promote and inform prospective customers about your company. If the collateral is incorrect then you are making yourselves liable to many issues further down the line.

Qvidian provides cloud-based sales solutions that save sales, content, RFP, legal and proposal teams time while improving effectiveness and optimising productivity. If you would like to know more, contact us. If you are in or near the UK, please call on +44 207 1933 059. If you are in or near the US, call +1-800-272-0047.