When should you ignore the customer's vision?

This article is another in a series we've written on Doing Proposals The Wrong Way. They describe very powerful, but dangerous, techniques that turn the best practices on their heads.

The most powerful proposal writing aligns what you are offering with the customer’s vision. The customer’s vision for themselves is about what they want to become. It tells you how they want to change. If you get their vision wrong, then you could very well be suggesting that they change in a way that is not what they want. This is not a recipe for winning.

If you avoid the issue by not writing about how your offering relates to their vision of the future, then what you offer will not be compelling. It will not be a necessary part of that future. You will lose to a competitor who addresses that alignment.

So how do you write about the customer’s vision when you aren’t really sure what it is? You can get a glimpse from their website and by doing research, but unless you’re talking to them about it you’re probably not going to learn how they intend to change. It’s not the sort of thing people write down until they’ve turned it into a specific plan. Some customers may even have an internal consensus on their vision. The vision one person shares may be different from the vision the evaluator or decision maker has.

If you think you’ll lose to someone who can write about how their offering supports the customer’s vision, but you don’t know enough about that vision to write about it yourself, then one option is to do your proposal The Wrong Way.

If you don’t know the customer’s vision for themselves, then write about your vision for them. That’s right, ignore their vision and give them one of your own. If you paint a vision of their future that’s better than any alternatives they are considering, it will be extremely compelling and move your proposal to the top of the ones being considered.

It’s hard to do this and be realistic. But it can be done.

The reason it can work is that while sometimes the customer has recognized the need for change, they haven’t yet figured out how they should change. If you solve that problem for them, there’s a good chance they’ll select you to make it happen. Another reason it can work is Fear Of Missing Out. If your vision is that good and they can’t get it anywhere else, they’ll be missing out if they don’t select you. You can beat incumbents, larger companies, and better prepared competitors with this strategy. But it’s a long shot.

There’s a good chance that your vision won’t take everything into account that the customer is aware of. If it conflicts in any significant way with their other considerations, instead of moving you to the top, it will move you straight to the bottom. It's a very high risk strategy. But then again, if you have stronger competitors who know the customer’s vision better than you do, you probably weren’t going to win anyway.

This is not something you can do halfway, or water down. You either paint a bold, unique vision that’s only possible through your offering, or you describe how your offering best supports the customer’s vision. If you try to drop hints, allude to things without saying them directly, hedge your bet by offering them options or in any way make the vision appear optional, then it will be less compelling. Less compelling is no way to win, especially when someone else has the advantage.

Customers sometimes pick vendors more for their vision than their offering. In a commodity market or in services where everyone is hiring from the same labor pool, your vision may be your only real differentiator other than price. An ordinary vision is not compelling. If you are going to ignore the customer’s vision and give them one of your own, it better be extraordinary.


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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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