Want to win? Prove it!

I have a confession to make: I like to write. I am an introvert, so I prefer the written word to live interaction. I am good at crafting entertaining and impressive prose.  And that is one of the weaknesses I try to overcome as a proposal professional.

Proposal writing is not about coming up with the most impressive and clever writing. Rather it is about racking up points on the evaluators’ score sheet, and thereby winning. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do this by digging deep into your online thesaurus to move hearts and souls. Sure, a snappy technical volume is better than a drab one.  But the more dependable way to win is by proving the case with documented data that your firm has the staff, experience and technical solution to address the government’s problem. Pretty prose impresses English teachers, but data rack up those winning points.

Prove it to me. As a faithful reader of this blog you have already know the importance of an opportunity assessment to make sure that you have done the research and pre-RFP outreach to know how your team stands up against the competition. You have matched the client needs to your firm’s strengths and laid them out in win themes. Finally you have developed a solid compliance matrix to make sure your proposal will not get rejected for missing any of the many “shalls, wills and musts” in the RFP.

By the time the RFP drops, you know a great deal about the story to tell and the points you must make to win. After a thorough reading of the SOW (particularly Section M) you should have a good idea of the customer pain-points and how you need to line them up with your qualifications and solution. Now you need to prove to the review team that you are awesome.

How do you do this? Data. Data. Data. You prove it by demonstrating with recent and relevant outcome data that you can solve the client’s problem. Make sure you are selling the benefits of your offer, not the features. Things like …

  • Cost savings.

  • Faster turn-around.

  • People reached.

  • Reduced downtime.

  • Qualified and RFP-compliant personnel.

  • Customer satisfaction.

  • Lower error rates.

  • Increased revenue and website hits.

In your past performance write-ups, make sure you include how what you did for the previous clients resulted in measurable improvements to things that matter and are relevant to the current buyer.

Does your client need to reach more customers? Earn points with a documented FACT such as:

“By using a cleaned and de-duplicated email list, our client increased their email marketing open rate by 50% and click-through rate by 250%”

In your resumes and bios, make sure your staff don’t just list their duties, but include data about outcomes of their involvement in the work.  Is audience research an important part of your client’s work?  Then earn points with something like:

“In response to a national pandemic, we organized 100 focus groups in 8 cities over 5 months; triangulated data with online survey data from 1,600+ participants using RDD and online methodologies to create messages and strategies targeting pregnant women. Year on year vaccination rates for pregnant women increased from 7 to 12% in this period.”

See where we’re going?

When describing your solution, use data to prove how this approach made a real difference to a previous customer, like this:

“In using this policy analysis methodology with the Arthritis Foundation, we improved stakeholder engagement by 50%, as measured by an internal survey documenting support for the recommendations in the plan”

Consider a table showing the desired and actual outcomes of a big project so you can document how you have exceeded expectations.

Be careful of over-reliance on certifications and awards. Some technical certifications may be required by the RFP, but others will not necessarily translate into customer value, especially if the evaluators are not familiar with the certification. Translators who are trained and certified by the Daisy McFarlane method may be impressive in your world, but maybe not to the buyer who cannot see the connection to program success. Try this simple approach:

“Using McFarlane-certified translators we produced error-free translations for the US Agency for Auto Mechanics in half the time previously required.”

What about commendations (or “kudos”)?  We love getting stroked by our clients. By all means, shine a light on relevant customer commendations, as another opportunity sell the benefits of your team, not just the features of your work. Consider putting brief commendations into “callout boxes” at spots where they are pertinent.

Here’s the type of commendation you could use:

 Descriptive (good)

“Dr. Price and her team were an integral part of our leadership training team. She is skilled at working with Federal agencies, an expert strategist, and a top human resources professional with the ability to manage any people strategy, training or hiring task. I would be pleased to work with her on any occasion.”  

- Project Manager, Over-Precise Analytics, LLC

Descriptive with objective proof points (better) 

“From the beginning of workforce development planning effort, Dr. Price provided me with sound and practical counsel that resulted in significant improvements in our onboarding and staff development processes. Because of her services, we saw a reduction in staff time committed to recruiting by 20% and a 37% reduction in employee turnover year on year.”

-Senior Scientist, Maniacal, Quality Assurance, Inc.


Now I hear someone asking me, well Jim, how do I know if my proof points are compelling? Good question and a key question. Whatever sector you work in, the field of play is always changing and evolving, and your competitors are struggling mightily to differentiate - just as you are. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try out your ideas with past customers who you can trust to be honest. In your face to face encounters with customers, try out different appeals and proof points and gauge the reaction. If you don’t get it, ask for feedback.

  • Talk with your competitors and friends in the field. Read THEIR marketing materials and see what they emphasize and how they describe the value of their offerings.

  • Go to the customer’s conferences and symposia, read the trade press, follow their social media and provide comments. Customers don’t have any reason to keep their plans and needs secret. They are looking for dependable contractors to help them with their mission.

  • Following the award – win or lose - always get a proposal de-brief. There is nothing more valuable than hearing where your work fell short. Yes, it can be hard to hear and you want to push back on stuff that you think is unfair. Complaining will not get you anywhere in a de-brief. “But I showed that qualification on the bottom of page 18!! Didn’t you see it?” is not helpful. Maybe the real problem is that you buried an important proof point in the middle of an irrelevant section where they could not easily find it.

  • If we’re de-briefing following a WINNING bid, it is my practice to ask during the project kick-off meeting “So why did you select us? What set us apart?” Sometimes I’m surprised by the answer.

To sum up, everything in your proposal volume must be aligned with proving your win themes. Focus your writing on making sure you clearly tell the story of why your team is the best by providing proof to the evaluators of every claim.

Thanks for reading.  Next time, we’ll talk about the art and science of getting the most from client meetings. Please join us.