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What does it mean to write a proposal that makes you the customer’s best alternative?

In proposal writing, being the best is not as simple as being the best

The goal of writing a proposal is to persuade the customer that you are their best alternative, so that they will accept your proposal. Being the best alternative means taking into consideration all of the factors that impact whether the customer selects your proposal. Even if your proposal is the only one under consideration, the customer may decide to do nothing. In fact, the customer deciding not to do anything can be your greatest competitor. 

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Who decides what the customer’s best alternative is?
So you think that your offering is the best. Of course you do. So does each of your competitors. But frankly neither your opinion nor any of their opinions matter. The only opinion that matters is the customer making the decision

You might think that your offering is superior in some pretty objective and compelling ways. You might even be correct in that assessment. However, those might not be the only factors involved in the customer's determination of what alternative is best for them in that moment. In addition, whether your proposal speaks to how the customer goes about making their decision can determine whether or not the customer perceives your offering as superior when compared to their other alternatives.

So how do customers decide?
Some choose what they want, and others follow detailed proposal submission instructions with written evaluation criteria that tell them what they are going to get. Some customers make a selection and other customers follow procedures and complete forms.

Before you try to influence their decision, have you asked the most important question?

Have you asked them what they think their best alternative will look like? 

You might also consider asking what concerns them, what they are hoping the outcome will be, and what their preferences are.

If you don’t, all you can do is guess at the best way to influence their decision.

What can you do to influence that decision?
If the customer is following a formal process with detailed proposal submission instructions and written evaluation criteria, then you must achieve the top score in order for the customer to accept your proposal. You get the top score by presenting what the customer wants in a way that makes it easy to give it the top score. This means that you must accomplish two separate goals. Having an offering that the customer considers their best alternative and writing to achieve the top score. Doing both requires insight and execution in order for your proposal to truly become the customer’s best alternative. If you understand their process you can make educated guesses that drive your score up, but you will not maximize your win rate unless you are making your decisions with insight into the customer's hopes, concerns, and preferences.

If the customer interprets their evaluation criteria as humans tend to do, or if the customer has no written evaluation criteria or decision making process, they will make their decisions as fallible humans do, with as many approaches to that as there are humans. If your customer is like this and you have not spoken to them, you can’t make an educated guess. You can still make a guess. But you are gambling and not being strategic. Your win rate will be much lower than someone with insight.

The trick is to change how you think about becoming the customer’s best alternative

Becoming the customer’s best alternative does not come from trying really hard to be the best. It comes from figuring out what the customer needs to see in order to reach a decision in your favor. Once you realize that, you also quickly discover that research into understanding your customers is as important as proposal writing, and proposal writing is as important as having the best offering. You must become the best at all three of those in order to consistently become the customer’s best alternative.

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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, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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