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The liar test for identifying proposal strengths

Don't believe everything you read. Or write.

Some people write like they are proposal narcissists. Their proposals are all about how great they are. They claim this. They claim that. They describe themselves in such grandiose terms. When they explain their approaches they say  “We will…” after “We will…” after “We will…” as opposed to focusing on what the customer will get.

But your customer doesn’t believe that noise. So why are you even writing it? You wouldn’t represent yourself in person with someone you just met. But when we don’t know what to write, we fall back on what we know. It’s easy to write about yourself. And because you’ve been exposed to millions of commercials, you think that’s how you’re supposed to sell.

But that’s all wrong for selling in writing

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Customer Perspective

Selling in writing is about helping the customer make a decision, and not trying to hypnotize them with your amazing branding magic. They will parse what you write into what they need to decide. If they have written evaluation criteria, they will compare what you’ve put in writing with how it stacks up. An easy model that a lot of proposal evaluations follow is to compare strengths and weaknesses. 

All of those unsubstantiated claims to greatness that you feel present your company as the one who should win are not going to be considered strengths. And that makes them just noise.

Proposal writers often get confused about what the customer will consider a “strength” to be. So they just write, hoping that their greatness will somehow resonate with the customer and they’ll pick the strengths out of the text. The reality is the customer is rolling their eyes at the pretentiousness of it and skipping large pieces of it when their eyes glaze over. 

The remedy

Here is a simple technique for writing strengths that the customer will find compelling:

Pretend to be a cynical customer who believes all vendors are liars who are out to get you. Then identify the points you can use to prove them wrong and win them over.

Each of those points is a potential strength that the customer will pay attention to. It’s a great way to focus your proposal on what matters. 

This is not the same as providing proof points for your approaches. Proof points are a very good thing. But this technique is a bit more aggressive. It requires you to challenge yourself. And to do a really good job of it, you’ll have to change what you’re offering to be more accountable.

If you show up with an offering that can be implemented transparently, with measurable progress and outcomes, and a history of measurable performance to support your ability to deliver as promised, you are ready to write a proposal that is full of strengths. But if you are showing up unprepared (which happens), then try to think about what will make a cynical customer believe you will do all the right things and deliver as promised. Modify your approach so that they can see with their own eyes that what you’re saying is reliable.

The more narcissistic your proposal is, the harder this will be to do. So simply drop all that noise. Make no claims. As in zero. Instead provide a proposal that is 100% self-validating. Each validation is a potential strength. 

Don’t just do things or have an approach. Instead have a way of knowing if things were done correctly, have a way for workers to self-assess whether they were done correctly, have specific oversight or external validation to ensure the self-assessment was correct, and then provide transparency so that the customer can see this in operation at any moment rather than having to take it on faith. Turn this into performance metrics that you can track over time, both to prove to this customer that you did it and to prove to future customers that you do it reliably.

In each proposal section, at each step or feature, the customer will see not only compliance but also assurance. It is the assurance that will become most of your strengths. But because the assurance is there, many of your features that would otherwise get ignored may now become cited as strengths.

The reason is simple. Compared to what other vendors offer to do, your proposal is credible. Claims are not strengths, no matter how grand. Credibility equals strength. Try being a little cynical and you’ll see what I mean.

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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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