How to Write Winning Proposals

Right now we have a proposal out to a small hotel for a wireless network. It doesn’t highlight our products or all of our industry certifications. Instead, the proposal focuses on how this company will see its Guest Satisfaction Survey scores increase, how its reviews on TripAdvisor will improve and why guests will make return visits— after experiencing fast and reliable Internet access during their stay. We supplemented these details with some recent survey information that shows how highly hotel guests rate fast Internet access.

We have also written a number of proposals for projects that we’ve secured even though our price has been higher than a competitor’s, simply because we proved we were in step with those customers’ real goals. The first proposal we wrote using this business-focused format resulted in a $60,000 professional services contract.

A winning proposal has to quickly demonstrate to your customers that your company understands their needs and your solution is the best choice to help them achieve their goals. 

Proposals don’t have to be long, but they must focus on the customer’s pain or gain, with a lot less said about the products, services, or even your company. We don’t make the most of our proposals a formal document. Our writing style is conversational, as if we were talking on the phone with the individual client, and each document is written in the second-person (how “you” will benefit…).

Why write a proposal instead of just sending a quote?


  • Decision-makers make financial decisions, not technical decisions. You have to show how your products and services will either make a problem go away or give them a benefit they don’t have now. You must include measurable results in their industry’s language, not IT geek-speak.

    For example, a law firm will benefit from an increase in billable hours; a school district will benefit from higher student test scores; and a company can lower costs by allowing workers to remotely access their network.
  • The quotes generated by professional quoting systems or the ones you create with spreadsheets are simply bills of materials with brief product descriptions and pricing.

    They don’t convey any understanding of a prospect’s business needs, how your solution meets their requirements and why the combination of your products and services are better than a competitor’s. Include the quote at the end, only after you’ve justified your points.
  • You need to make sure you’re selling to a non-technical manager or business owner, as well as the IT contacts. Often these are the hidden decision-makers. We provide multiple printed and bound copies of our proposals for all contacts, along with an e-mailed pdf of our proposal and product data sheets from the manufacturer.


How we build our proposals – our Table of Contents

  •  Executive Summary –we include three to four paragraphs at the beginning of our proposals, including the customer benefits and total price, which most executives look at before reading any of the word content.
  • Our Understand of Your Needs – this is a brief description of the problem they are trying to solve, or the business goal they are hoping to achieve. Sometimes we even quote the customer, saying, “You asked us to…”
  • Our Solution – we add a specific description of what we are going to do for them. This includes references to product reviews and how the customer will benefit. As I mentioned in the hotel proposal, we referred to how happy guests will be with fast Internet, including color pictures of smiling laptop users (aren’t Google Images great?)
  • Responsibilities – include a list of the client’s responsibilities (access to their facility, assigning a key contact, paying invoices on time) and ours (assigning a project manager, providing certified technicians, completing the project on time.)
  • Our Company – we provide just a couple overview paragraphs of our history, team, recognitions, and certifications. Our proposals highlight our CompTIA Security TrustMark accreditation as well, showing that we practice what we preach when it comes to industry standards.
  • Acceptance Criteria – this is simple (but often forgotten) and the cause of contention, project scope creep and payment delays. Here’s a quote from our hotel wireless proposal: The implementation project will be considered complete once the wireless access points have been installed and configured, with connectivity tests performed from up to 6 locations selected by (client name.)
  • Add a signature line – and then you’re done!

Writing a proposal is really easy. Just remember that the focus of the proposal is about the customer’s goals, not your products or services.