APMP Best Practices 101: Writing Persuasively

The cardinal sin in proposal writing is not writing for your customer. You could have the best solution in the world, but if all you’re doing in your proposal is outlining your organization’s achievements and stating facts without relating them to your customer’s needs, that proposal likely won’t get you very far.

Your writing needs to be catered to the reader’s intent. Because the reader’s intent when viewing a proposal is making a decision, your proposal needs to be a persuasive document.

This article outlines the fundamental best practices of crafting a compelling story and presenting a persuasive argument in your proposal. Stay tuned to learn how to compel decision-makers to choose your solution over the competition.

Understanding decision-making

In order to write persuasively, it’s important to understand how decision-making happens in our brains and, most importantly, the brains of your evaluators.

According to the 1986 Elaboration Likelihood Model, there are two primary processes that people may use when making decisions: central processing and peripheral processing. If you’re using central processing to make a decision, you’ll be evaluating objectively based on the available information and coming to the conclusion that makes the most logical sense. If you’re using peripheral processing, you’ll be using mental shortcuts and cues to quickly process and act on information.

Obviously, central processing is the more rational of the two when it comes to making business decisions; however, scientists have shown that peripheral processing is the most commonly used way of making decisions. Experts are more likely to use central processing in high-stakes decisions, but the decision-making process for a proposal is likely to involve a mixture of expert and non-expert evaluators. This means you need to make sure you’re catering to both processing styles with a proposal that is both logically sound and subconsciously appealing.

The Six Weapons of Influence

Robert Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice identifies six key principles of persuasion that are invaluable for proposal writers:

  1. Reciprocity: People tend to return favors. Subtly reminding decision-makers of previous benefits or concessions you’ve offered them, e.g. free trials or beta versions you’ve given access to, can trigger a sense of indebtedness.
  2. Consistency: Decision-makers often stick with previous choices. If you’re bidding as the incumbent, this gives you the opportunity to highlight the continuity they’ll experience if they choose you. If you’re not, you can still use this principle to emphasize consistent delivery within your track record.
  3. Social Proof: People follow the lead of others. Demonstrating past successes with notable similar clients can build credibility.
  4. Liking: We are more easily persuaded by people we like. Writing in a relatable, personable tone and showing an understanding of the client and their needs can enhance likability.
  5. Authority: Expertise is persuasive, particularly to a non-expert. Showcasing credentials, awards, and testimonials of your organization and team members can establish authority.
  6. Scarcity: Limited availability increases value. Emphasizing unique benefits can create urgency, e.g. pointing out what you can offer that your competition cannot.

Best practice tips

To write a proposal that stands out, consider these essential tips:

  1. Know your audience

A proposal is essentially a written argument; an appeal to the reader to gain their agreement. You’re trying to convince your customer that you not only deeply understand their problems, but that you are best placed to solve them. You need to tell a story that casts your customer as the main character and yourself as their trusty sidekick, there to support them to meet all of their goals efficiently and effectively.

  1. Be specific and personal

Generic proposals rarely win. You need to clearly demonstrate how your solution addresses your customer’s unique environment, and overcomes its unique challenges. Use real scenarios, precise statistics, and detailed evidence to make your case compelling.

As we’ve established, people make decisions based on both logic and emotion. A classic way of playing to the reader’s emotions is by outlining the potential negative implications of inaction, or the wrong action, on their wellbeing. You can also use vivid language – such as using common words over formal equivalents, concrete words instead of abstract terms, and value-laden terms – to illicit feelings in your reader.

Your customer should come away from your proposal genuinely feeling like you care about the same things they do. You should make sure you understand their values and goals, identify where you have common ground, and make sure those commonalities come through in the proposal.

Remember, though: a proposal is a precursor to a contract. It’s no use to promise your customer the world and fail to deliver – make sure you really care about what you’re claiming to care about!

  1. Structure your proposal like an argument

A well-structured proposal is easier to follow and more persuasive. Here’s a simple structure that mirrors traditional rhetorical argument:

  • Introduction – Inform the reader of the purpose of the proposal, outline the approach, establish credibility and summarize what’s to come.
  • Statement of Fact – Demonstrate your understanding of the customer’s situation and needs.
  • Confirmation – State your solution, offer evidence to boost your credibility and describe the benefits to your customer.
  • Refutation – Address the price for the customer, and attempt to counter any objections to that price by emphasizing the corresponding value of the solution.
  • Conclusion – Reinforce the solution, establish the logistics of the project and conclude the proposal.
  1. Demonstrate your ethics

Building trust is fundamental to persuasive writing, which means ensuring that your persuasive techniques are employed with sincerity and honesty. You can demonstrate to your reader your ethical practices by:

  • Avoiding logical fallacies.
  • Acknowledging and addressing past issues honestly.
  • Showing empathy for those who may be negatively affected by your solution.
  • Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.
  1. Anticipate and overcome possible objections

You don’t want to make it easy for your evaluator to say ‘no’ to your proposal, which means using your words to try and remove roadblocks to that all-important ‘yes’.

To do this, try to get into the mind of your reader, so you can anticipate their questions and pre-emptively answer them with specific, detailed responses.

  1. Leverage visuals

Effective visual design improves credibility, receptivity, memory retention, and emotional response. Use color, informative graphs, and meaningful illustrations to complement your text and create a comprehensive, engaging proposal. Where possible, incorporate multimedia elements like videos or product demonstrations to provide tangible proof of your solution’s value.

Learn about the best practices for graphics here.

Perfect your writing prowess

Writing persuasively is so important for a winning proposal, but persuasion is only one of many crucial components of the writing process. If you want to make sure your writing ticks all the right boxes, APMP has the answer!

We offer a Bid and Proposal Writing Micro-certification that can give you all of the knowledge and understanding of writing best practices that you need.

There are no prerequisites to getting this qualification – you don’t need any experience or even to be a member of APMP. All that stands between you and the ‘BW-M’ postnominal that sets you apart from others in your field is 50 multiple choice questions!

Did you know that:

  • Employers are, on average, 72% more likely to hire a candidate with a relevant micro-certification?
  • Nearly 70% of US workers who hold some form of micro-credential believe that earning it has helped them to progress in their careers?
  • 73% of employers say that micro-certifications help to improve the quality of their workforces?

What are you waiting for? Learn more about the micro-certification, or book your exam, here.



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