Persuasion through Written Business Proposals

In the competitive realm of modern business, anything that sets you apart from others can be an advantage. Whether you are trying to win contracts, receive grants, get permission to carry out a project, or acquire financial backing, the last stride to the finish line is often having your proposal pull away from the rest; to have your proposal awarded winner. This is why proposal writing, and the preparation process involved, has become an art in itself.

People often believe a proposal merely explains what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. Although these are its fundamental components, a proposal is, and should be, so much more: It is a finely crafted presentation of why you or your ideas are the best. Successful proposal writers understand that how you communicate something may be just as important as what you communicating.

According to author, instructor, and consulting and management firm operator, Hans Tammemagi, in his book Winning Proposals, a proposal should be viewed as a sales presentation and marketing tool. As in the case of advertising, in order to convince your audience you must understand the basic psychology of persuasion. You should understand how people think, how they feel, and what affects and motivates them. It doesn’t matter if you’re qualified if you can’t convince anyone you are the most qualified, and that anyone is fortunate to be working with you.

However, professional proposals are not all show and no substance either. What makes a proposal truly compelling is when it masterfully combines the two ends of the spectrum; it is a harmony between strong facts and the psychology of persuasion. You can choose to use as many visual graphs, diagrams, and figures as you wish, but all of these are useless if your information is weak, irrelevant, or poorly organized. Tammemagi stresses that you must establish technical credibility. This could mean having the authority in a field review your facts or taking the time to do the extra research necessary.

After this step, Tammemagi says there are five more to take in making your proposal stand out. His Six-Point Guideline for winning proposals is, to:

1.  Establish technical credibility and authority.
2.  Use a client-centered approach.
3.  Get the price right.
4.  Write simply.
5.  Add unique selling points.
6.  Walk the extra mile.

After creating a piece that has strong and clear information, yet is persuasive and appealing, there is still a long list of things to do before you can say your work is complete. After writing and editing, you now have to make your work visually appealing. Whether you know it or not, details as seemingly insignificant as spacing and paragraph length will discreetly reveal why or why not your work is superior.

If your proposal also includes giving a presentation, Tammemagi says that this is a prime opportunity to use even more persuasive techniques to “sell” your ideas. The way you carry yourself will indicate whether you truly believe in, or are passionate about what you presenting. This is important because someone will more likely have confidence in you and your ideas if you do as well. In addition, a presentation is also an opportunity to clear up any confusion as you can answer questions or respond to negative comments directly.

Because proposals are such a specialized form of communication, they should be planned and created with much intention and thought. The successful proposal writer is a wordsmith, researcher, designer, marketer, and informer all-in-one.

By learning how to make your proposals as persuasive as possible, your work will increase its competitive edge, will be noticeably superior, and ultimately have a much better chance of winning.

About Hans Tammemagi, PhD, has taught courses on proposal writing and runs a successful consulting and management firm..

His book, Winning Proposals, takes you far beyond formulas and recipes, and reveals the psychology involved in giving your proposal that special edge for success.

You can learn more about the book, read the table of contents, and view sample content in our Web store.

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