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What does the customer want you to say in your proposal?

Tips for breaking it down and figuring it out

People make the mistake of thinking that proposals are about promotion. They promote in the way they see all around them. Advertisements are full of claims. But their purpose is to get the customer to enquire to find out what they need to know.

Proposals happen after the customer has expressed their interest. When the customer asks for a proposal, it’s the last step before they agree to sign a contract. They need all the information required to examine, consider, analyze, and decide whether to sign. If you approach your proposal like an ad on TV, you will be saying things the customer doesn’t want to hear and not providing what they are looking for.

Think about your proposal as a decision support tool instead of a promotional tool. What does the customer need to see in order to make their decision?

Should you tell the customer about your company?

See also:
Customer Perspective

The customer doesn't want you to tell them how great your company is. The customer wants to know what they will get, why what you are proposing is their best alternative, and whether you will deliver as promised. Your claims of greatness, qualification, RFP compliance, experience, etc. only get in the way of them finding what they are looking for. They will make their decision based on how well you prove your case and score against the RFP evaluation criteria. 

A claim is when you tell the customer what your capabilities are, how great you are, or what you’ll do. Do you want a salesperson to tell you how wonderful they are or do you want them to prove they have a better offering delivered in a better way that will bring better results? Do you want them to claim amazing results or provide the details that prove it? Do you want them to say what they’ll do, or why they’ll do it that way?

If it will be a formal evaluation, for example like you see in government contracting, the decision itself will be based on evaluation criteria and proposals will be scored against them. Will they consider your claims to strengths worthy of recognition in evaluation? Or will they simply be disregarded? Will the customer react the same way to your proof points? Will they compare your claims to those of your competitors or will they compare your proof points to your competitors? Which will affect your win probability? Which deserves the most page space? Which should your writing focus on?

Don’t tell the customer anything. Make a point that matters to the customer, and then prove it.

Do customers care more about your approach or the results it delivers?

When the customer asks what your approach is to something, they won’t be evaluating whether it’s a good approach. They’ll be assessing whether it’s the best approach. What would make it the best approach? People, process, or tools? Results? 

Do they merely need to conclude that your approach is adequate, standard, and just like everyone else’s approach? Or are they looking for the best approach?
What does the customer need to see in order to conclude that what they are reading is their best alternative? Will they focus on the details of what you do or will they focus on the results it produces?

The answer depends on what they are procuring. Are they procuring your approaches or are they procuring the results? If they are procuring your approaches, then what are their goals? Will they measure your performance by how well they accomplish those goals or by something else?

Does the customer care about you?

When the customer is buying a commodity, they can get the same thing from many vendors. Do they care which supplies it? 

When the customer is buying a solution or complex service, they know that they can’t get it from just anyone. They need to know that the vendor they select is capable of delivering what they need. They need to be able to trust the vendor.

But it in either case, it’s not the vendor that’s important to the customer. It’s getting what they need. Don’t be fooled when they ask you to describe yourself and your qualifications. They don’t care about you. They care about whether you’ll deliver as promised.

Accept the requirements or explain how you will fulfill them?

Does the customer want you to accept the RFP requirements or do they want you to provide your own response to them? The answer depends on what matters more based on what they are procuring under the circumstances they are procuring it. On a simple bridge contract being sole sourced to the incumbent, they may only need blanket acceptance of the SOW. But a services procurement can go either way. Do they want you to follow their process and procedures or do they want you to tell them how you’ll do the work? All RFPs say that you shouldn’t merely restate the requirements, but sometimes it's truer than others. 

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