No No No Yes Yes Yes

Style guides: Every proposal editor loves them, every proposal writer ignores them.

So. What to do?

Pick a few things you want the writers to do, or not to do, and give away the rest. “What are the few?” you ask. These are the first four that I ask for:

  • Active voice not passive
  • Future tense not present
  • First person not third
  • Benefits at the front, not at the end

But I’ve learned not to ask writers the same way I might ask another editor. Now I ask writers like this . . .



Term: Style Guide

A set of instructions for writers (and possibly for editors) specifying anything from formatting to punctuation to use of active versus passive voice and other stylistic elements.

Intended to efficiently increase the professionalism of the document; often used in conjunction with a terminology list specific to the opportunity.

Term: Stand-ups

Meetings of the proposal team, intended to be quick status checks and efficient communication mechanisms.

People literally stand up around a table or room or open area, or call in on a speakerphone if they’re off-site.

Held daily, semi-weekly, weekly, or as needed, depending on the size, duration, and stage of the proposal.


And just for something a little different, a story that illustrates the point, but from my first book . . .


Why and how to hold regular team meetings

Production Land versus Proposal Land

In Production Land clever people design and make a product or service and then task someone with selling it. In marketing jargon, this someone first identifies the features of the product/service — the characteristics that describe it objectively — and then tries to identify the benefit each confers on a client/user — the things that turn clients/users into buyers by making them willing to spend their money.

A product with the feature of being rugged has the benefit of low replacement cost due to less breakage. A service with the feature of being consistent has the benefit of reliable or predictable outputs/outcomes. A process with the feature of being efficient has the benefit of allowing a project to be finished on schedule  — usually good in itself and often a cost reducer as well. A piece of equipment that conserves fuel has the benefit of lower operating cost.

Proposal Land flips the relationship between features and benefits. First we identify what benefit the client wants — reliability, low-cost, availability, ease of use, 24/7 coverage, to name a few — and then we design a service or product or piece of equipment with the features necessary to deliver those benefits.

It takes marketers and marketing writers in Production Land a while to learn that benefits are not obvious: that they do not necessarily follow from the feature without saying. In a similar way, it takes workers in Proposal Land a while to learn that they should start with the benefits: with what the client really wants. When done correctly, it makes the marketing communication task much easier. No longer is a hapless writer trying to intuit, guess, and otherwise make up a benefit to correlate with every product/service feature: As the basis for the proposal, they just sorta jump out at you.