Writing Persuasively in Your Business Bids and Proposals

By Neil Cobb, Charlie Divine

Part of Writing Business Bids & Proposals For Dummies Cheat Sheet

A business proposal is a written argument — an appeal to gain a reader’s agreement. When you write a proposal, you’re telling a story and you’re trying to convince your customer that you understand its story — its industry issues and specific problems — and that you have the best solution. Above all, to successfully persuade, you must know your customer so you can use the right techniques to match its point of view.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you plan and write your argument:

  • Be specific. Even if you solved a similar problem for someone else, you still have to show how that success will translate to this particular customer’s unique environment and situation. Do your homework to make sure your solution really fits. Don’t spare the details: Use real scenarios and precise statistics and measures to prove your solution is right.
  • Make it personal. Discover what keeps your customer up at night and speculate on the corporate and personal repercussions of not acting or acting incorrectly. The best way to build urgency in a proposal is to make your solution an alternative to real, personal pain.
  • Find common values. To create empathy, make your readers see that you care about the same things they do. People like people who are similar to themselves, so work to understand their corporate and personal stances on business, social, and environmental issues to see if you have common ground.
  • Establish the validity of your proposal with logic. In proposals, you state claims and provide proofs to support them. This is the most intellectually satisfying of persuasive techniques. The more objective your proofs, the more compelling your arguments.
  • Appeal to the emotions of your audience. People make decisions as much on emotion as they do on logic. A time-tested persuasive technique is to express how inaction or the wrong action can jeopardize your reader’s well-being. Telling a story about what may cause an outage or interruption to your reader’s business is a great way to bring an acute awareness to a problem and its potential consequences — and a way to bring urgency, another key to persuasion.
  • Use concrete words instead of abstract terms. Language is vivid when it conjures an image in people’s minds. Concrete words (carpenter, endocrinologist) are faster to read and easier to understand than abstract equivalents (worker, doctor). As a writer, you may have vivid images in your head as you describe the workings of a process, but if you don’t use words that accurately describe what you see, your readers won’t see things as you do.
  • Anticipate your readers’ questions so you can remove reasons for rejection. Some proposals are rejected because the writer makes it easy for the reader to say no. Your job as a persuasive writer is to take all the roadblocks to yes out of the way. You can do this by anticipating every point at which your reader may become uncomfortable, skeptical, or fearful. To do that, you have to ask yourself the same questions your reader will ask you.
  • Use graphics to demonstrate the potential of your solution. Graphics are powerful tools for persuading audiences. People equate visual design with professionalism. Readers recall information more readily when presented with images. Images trigger emotional responses better than words.