Writing proposals dangerously

It's a very powerful strategy. And very risky.

The best way to win a proposal is to write about what matters to the customer. But there is another, even more powerful way to win. Unfortunately, it’s dangerous. It can also guarantee that you lose.

While writing about what matters to the customer is what everyone aspires to, it is at best the second most powerful form of proposal writing. The most powerful form is writing about what should matter to the customer. Writing about what should matter enables you to sell a story about what is possible for the customer, that they might not even realize themselves. Writing about what should matter means writing about what’s possible, and how the customer can fulfill their destiny.

It also means that you can alienate the customer, get their goals all wrong, and appear completely out of touch. That’s why it’s dangerous.

The thing is, sometimes you’ve got nothing to lose:

See also:
Customer perspective
  • If you are not the incumbent, and you think the incumbent has all the advantages, don’t position yourself as the same but a little better or cheaper. Try positioning yourself as delivering something that should really matter to them, that the incumbent will never provide.
  • If you don’t know what matters to the customer, you can play it safe, but it’s hard to be the best alternative that way. Another option is instead of talking about what matters to the customer (because you don’t know what that is), try talking about what should matter. You might get it wrong. But if you get it right, you’re very likely to be the best alternative.
  • If you are a small company competing against much larger competitors you can take risks that they never will. In a big company it’s acceptable to lose with a proposal that looks like every other proposal. You can always blame the loss on price. Big companies can’t bring themselves to take a chance on getting it wrong by proposing what should matter to the customer. Even if they tried, their internal proposal reviewers would all yell at them for proposing something that “might offend” the customer. They just can’t do it. But you can. You can offer the customer something they never will. Something that really, really, matters. At least it should.

 

When you write about what should matter, you can’t think small. It’s not about being a little better. It’s about painting a picture of the future that’s extraordinarily better. It’s not about bringing improvements to the customer. It’s about enabling them to exceed what they thought their maximum potential was. It’s about greatness, pure and simple. When you write about what should matter, write about something great. Greatness has appeal, even when it’s not your flavor. Greatness will get the customer’s attention. Greatness will make the customer want to select you, even if you got some things wrong.

It’s entirely possible that you’ll paint a picture of greatness that just doesn’t reflect the customer’s priorities (even though you thought it should), or takes them in a direction they don’t want to go. You may lose because of it. It’s dangerous.

When Apple was tiny next to Microsoft, Steve Jobs designed computers around what he thought should matter. He didn’t even ask his customers. But what Apple said should matter about computers resonated with a large share of the market. It also turned some people off. And the things they got wrong (Apple Lisa, the Newton) their customers didn’t hold against them because they weren’t part of what mattered. Had Apple chosen a strategy that didn’t push away some customers, they would never have become great. But it was a dangerous approach. For every Steve Jobs, how many failed visionaries are there?

Ultimately, your win rate will be the highest when you discover what matters to the customer and base your proposals on that. But if you don’t know, can’t find out, and have to beat someone who does, you can always take a chance and play dangerously.


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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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