Ingredients of a Winning Proposal

While the ultimate decision of who wins an opportunity belongs to the customer, are you adding the right ingredients to win? 

Chocolate chip cookies are classic. Nearly everyone knows the basic ingredients for this cookie. I know you’ve already conjured the perfect version of this baked good in your mind, even among the dozens of existing variations: crispy, cakey, chewy, doughy, buttery, gluten free, vegan, sugar free, lots of chips, fewer chips, semi-sweet, milk chocolate, big, small, store-bought, homemade. The varieties are endless, and no doubt you can argue the best version for hours.  

Everyone has preferences. Your customer is no different. Despite the variations, proposals win because they contain a few simple ingredients. 


Don’t offer a snickerdoodle when your customer wants a chocolate chip cookie. Plain and simple. Offer your customer what they asked for and stop trying to sell them something they didn’t. 


Is your version of a winning proposal different from your customer’s? Are you offering a crispy cookie when the customer really wants something soft and chewy? You still offered them a chocolate chip cookie, right? 

Responsiveness addresses the customer’s underlying needs or issues that aren’t always included in the bid request. Your offer can’t simply meet requirements, it must focus on the needs of the customer and provide specific benefits associated with the features of the proposed solution. 

Technically, yes, you did offer what they asked for, but didn’t take their needs into account. You offered what you thought they needed, when in fact, you missed the mark completely. Never underestimate the power of knowing your customer. Compliance does not equal responsiveness. 

Competitive Focus and Win Strategy 

Is it obvious why your offer is better than competitors’ offers? By now you’ve realized it’s not enough to just be compliant and responsive. You must also demonstrate why your offer is better than the rest. Articulate your discriminators, relative to the competition. 

Highlight your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, ghost the competition. Show your customer you offer what they need, and you can do it better than your competitors. 

If your cookie is softer and chewier than the competition, show that. If your customer wants milk chocolate chips in the batter and the competition offers semi-sweet, tout the sweetness of your chocolate. 

Quality of Writing 

Make sure your writing focuses on the customer and their needs, is well-organized, clear, and correct.  Proposals shouldn’t skimp on the quality of the words and sentences on the page, nor on the order of the ideas presented. Plot your message so the main points are stated first, then developed through the rest of the text. This ensures your main points are read by the evaluator and invites them to read further details. A high-quality proposal blends the organization with words and sentences seamlessly. 

No doubt the best cookies use quality ingredients. If you bake a gluten free cookie and use only rice flour, the customer is unlikely to take another bite. You likely needed a blend of flours and starches to produce a quality cookie worth eating and finishing. 

Visualization and Document Design 

People look first, then read. A good proposal design entices readers, then facilitates understanding. 

Many evaluators often skim a proposal, looking for graphics that stand out, then maybe reading the associated captions, headings, highlighted statements, and the executive summary. While body text is important, your customer needs to see why your offer should be selected even without reading the whole document. Many customers will remember what they see more than what they read, but when they can visualize and read, they retain the information much longer. 

How many times have you perused a bake shop to select the perfect cookie? I’m guessing you probably knew which one you wanted based on looks alone. If the bakery offered samples, that was even better because you got to see and taste, solidifying that you selected the perfect cookie. 

Your customer knows what they need, whether they articulate that or not. Getting to know your customer is the best way to use the ingredients of winning proposals in the best way. The ingredients above—compliance, responsiveness, quality writing, etc.—will place you on the path to winning; how you use them—crispy, cakey, chewy—will ensure a win. Provide that soft, chewy cookie the customer wants, instead of the crispy one you thought they wanted.