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Proposal Writing Techniques From 4 Great Books That Aren’t About RFPs

Proposal Writing Techniques From 4 Great Books That Aren’t About RFPs

I reference four other books in my own book about writing better proposals because they provide excellent examples or lessons that proposal writers can use to improve their proposals. They mostly relate to getting your message across and persuading the reader.

In some cases, I had been using the techniques already in RFP responses and it was only after I read these books that I understood why they worked.

Here are some examples of how these books influence my approach to proposal writing. If you are interested in the books, I've linked the image to the book on, so all you need to do is click on the cover image.


Made to Stick

Random House, 2007 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

In their excellent book, Chip and Dan Heath discuss six ways to make your message stick, which is an important concept in the one-way conversation you are having with the evaluators in your proposal. You want them to remember what you say and give you a high evaluation score as a result.

For proposal writing, these four ways to make your message stick are the most relevant: Simplicity, Concreteness, Credibility and Stories.


Yes 50 Proven Ways to be PersuasiveYes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Free Press, 2008 by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini

I've been using 'mirroring' in my proposals for a while, finding them to be an effective way to get the evaluator's attention.

In Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, they discuss a study that showed how using the mirroring technique can improve results. In the study, the simple act of repeating the customer's order back to them after taking their order significantly increased the tip servers got compared to servers who didn't.

I also advocate admitting weaknesses or problems and telling the cient / evaluator what you've done to correct them rather letting them make up their own minds about your shortcomings. The book discusses a couple of examples, including a study by Kip Williams, a social psychologist, where admitting minor weaknesses improved credibility. This is a powerful message.


Words That WorkWords That Work

Hyperion, 2007 by Dr. Frank Luntz

In Words That Work, Dr. Frank Luntz advocates simple language and small words to get your message across. In my section on how much you should write, I follow his example that “… brevity, clarity, and simplicity are simply the hallmarks of good communication.”

This also supports my philosophy of cutting out the fluff and marketing material. In fact, buyers have told me that they often gloss over the fluff looking for the details. If you've buried the good stuff in with the long winded fluff, they won't see it.


22 Imutable Laws of MarketingThe 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

HarperCollins, 1994 by Al Ries and Jack Trout

The authors talk about their 15th law, "The law of Candor" and explain that an effective way of getting a positive reaction is to admit a negative attribute and turn it into a positive. This is similar to the research from Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive discussed above.

They also touch on another very important element, "The Law of Perception", which is their 4th law. They make the point that marketing is not a battle of products, it's a battle of perceptions. It's the same in a proposal. The client will have a perception of you and your competition. It's your job to know what it is and counteract it if necessary in your proposal.

Their 14th law is the "Law of Attributes. In this law, they correctly point out that for every attribute, there’s an effective opposite attribute. You need to understand not only your attributes but also the competition's opposing attributes. Use this knowledge when you write about your attribute in the proposal and don't let the competition trump your attribute with their own.

Of course anything you learn about selling and sales can be applied in some way to your proposal writing. Just keep in mind that a proposal is a one-way sales discussion, so you have to get it right the first time.

Want To Write Better Proposals?

Here is my book "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals" for a serious look at techniques and approaches you can apply.

Buy it from Amazon in print and for Kindle. For the ePub version, visit Smashwords (only $5.99 USD)

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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