Producing the perfect proposal is no easy task. You need to rely on internal sources for the best information and you need to create supporting documents to ensure that you don’t miss any important requirements. You also need to ensure that you use the right language, such as shall, should and may statements, tie features to benefits, have the right design and layout, and make your content customer-focused and easy to understand.

It’s no wonder that with all these moving parts, mistakes are made and proposals fall short of being as impactful as they should be. If you’ve wondered why your proposal win rate is not as high as you want it to be, or think that there’s more that you could be doing to create stronger proposals that are easier to read and understand, here are six tips that could help you.

You haven’t complied with the RFP instructions

It happens; you’re in the middle of a busy day and get sidetracked somewhere along the way. The result: your completed proposal seems to have gaps of information and they’re obvious.

According to expert business development consultant, Robyn Haydon, information gaps are created when you jump straight into writing without taking the time to understand the client's requirements. Worse yet, you could end up with pages of content you’ll never use.

Revisit your compliance matrix. It’s best practice to always develop one before you create your proposal to ensure that you cover all requirements of the RFP. This may also require that you reorganize and rewrite the paragraphs affected.

Your content doesn’t address requirements

Having content drift away from the requirements is a common challenge that many deal with, but it’s one that’s also easy to fix.

If you spend a lot of time writing proposals, you’re likely familiar with shall, should and may/will statements, which help the client understand how well your business will be able to address their needs.

When writing a proposal, it’s important to use shall, should and may statements for each paragraph. This may also include who will perform a specific activity, a process that will be used and comparisons to your competitor’s approach to solving the problem. This way your content is tight and focused on addressing the client’s needs.

Your content isn’t customer-focused

Typically, a lack of focused content is due to a lack of understanding of the client’s business and their objectives.

A simple fix for this is to review the RFP and gather the client’s “hot buttons”. Hot buttons are important elements related to your client’s requirements which, if met, will place your brand in a position to win the business. This also includes the strengths that your organization brings to the table. Drawing attention to these areas makes your content more customer-focused.

That being said, be careful not to focus on your company too much. For example, if you make any statements that don’t equate and direct value to the customer, replace them with statements that do.

Your proposal isn’t compelling and feature rich

When your proposal doesn’t give the customer a solution with a desired result, it misses the mark. Often, this is because you’ve included a list of features without benefits, or you haven’t provided proof to support the statements you’ve made. 

Refer back to your capture and proposal planning documents and make sure that your features are tied to benefits, and that any statements you make are backed by proof. This way, the client is able to understand how your proposal addresses their specific needs.

Your solution isn’t easy to evaluate

Complex solutions require well planned and written proposals. Without the right amount of planning, your proposal will likely not express how your solution addresses the client’s needs. In cases where proposals don’t speak directly to clients’ needs, ensure that each section includes an understanding of the requirements, a list of the requirements, your solution, the features of your solution, the associated benefits, and the proof points.

Remember: when writing a proposal, your client is going to be looking for the use of certain terminology, so be sure to include as such throughout your content. It shows that your business understands their requirements.

Your visual communication elements are hard to understand

The design of your proposal is just as important as its content. When your client cannot make sense of graphics and the layout of your content makes it difficult to keep track of, your proposal doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

Download our guide to the best proposal design tips for Microsoft Word 2016

Here are a few tips on how to ensure that your proposal layout and design hit all the right notes:

Always repeat valuable information

When including graphics that relate to a benefit, ensure that you label them clearly. Not doing so makes it difficult for the client to see the value immediately.

Balance page limits, readability, and graphics

Create a balance between the number of pages, the complexity of language (use easy to understand words to guarantee comprehension), and the number of graphics you use.

Use informative headings

Take the opportunity to use headings that best relate to the RFP. Headings that are specific entice the client to read the paragraph and pay more attention to the content.

Showcase your business strengths in the executive summary and introductions 

Make your company’s strengths easy to spot, as this way your client will be able to see your business as the preferred vendor.

Make use of white space

White space makes reading and digesting information much easier, especially in important document. Here are a few tips on how to use white space:

  • Add line breaks
  • Use headings & subheadings
  • Bullet lists
  • Graphics
  • Tables
  • Keep your paragraphs short by breaking up longer paragraphs into shorter paragraphs
  • Use font sizes that are easy-to-read (usually 10 or 12 point for text)


Writing proposals regularly can make you adopt a few bad habits here and there. Using the right planning documents and the above tips can help you quickly spot sections in your proposals that need attention.

Does your proposal team need to get back to best practices?

In this guide Robyn Haydon, expert on new business development, shares best practices that all proposal teams need to stick to for success.

 Download your copy here.