When we write proposals, we often don’t know what the customer cares about. This is the main reason companies talk about how great they are. We write about things we assume the customer cares about or write fear they might care about, because in reality we don’t know. The result is a proposal that isn’t what the customer wants, written in a way the customer doesn’t want to read. The difference between winning and losing is often how you handle not knowing what the customer wants as well as you should.
Even when you have the best of intentions and put effort into discovering what the customer cares about, somehow when the proposal starts and people start writing, they end up having to write based on what they think instead of what the customer thinks. Companies often tell themselves they understand what the customer cares about, when they know just a few of the customer’s preferences. What about all the others? The following is just a small subset of things related to what the customer cares about that will impact the choices you make during proposal writing:
- Does the customer care who wins?
- What will actually annoy or offend the customer?
- Will the customer notice or care about a typo?
- Does the customer care about when you were founded or who owns the company?
- What will make the customer roll their eyes?
- What will the customer skip past and what will they read?
- What does the customer have to do with the information you are giving them?
- How will the customer react if you don’t follow their directions?
- Will the customer be inclined to believe your claims, or will they be skeptical?
- Will the customer be more impressed by your qualifications, or what they imply you can do for them?
- Does the customer care more about following procedures or results?
- What will the customer be willing to pay more to get?
- Does the customer care enough about its vendors to be loyal to them?
- Does the customer select a vendor and score to get who they want, or do they let the scoring do the selecting?
- How does the customer’s technical knowledge impact what they care about?
- What puts the customer to sleep?
- What wakes them up?
- Will the customer care more about finding key words, features, results, differences, details, proofs, price, trustworthiness, or something else?
- Does the customer care more about experience or capability?
- What will the customer ignore in what you’ve written?
- What does a stranger have to do to become a desired vendor?
When someone truly understands you, what did they write that made that happen? Is it because they share your pain, have the same goals, or share the same preferences? Is it because you care about the same things?
The real challenge is how to write a proposal when you can’t answer the questions above. If you are competing against someone who does know, your proposal is at risk of sounding bland and watered down, while they can write a proposal that aligns everything in ways that show they know what the customer cares about. And that will make the customer care about them. Luckily, they probably don’t know all the answers either.
Sometimes as people, we just want someone to care about us. They don’t have to know everything about us. They just have to show that they’re willing to put their own concerns aside and put enough effort into ours to show they care about us.
You can do this in your proposal. Instead of talking about yourself, you can show what you’ll do to find out their concerns, where in your approaches you’ll seek their input, and what you’ll do with it when you get it. You can show you care and that the result will better serve them. Instead of bragging about how great you are, you can demonstrate how great you’ll serve them. And all those qualifications and attributes about yourself can become evidence of your ability to deliver those results. To write a proposal that the customer cares about, you have to write a proposal that is about caring for the customer.
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
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