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7 ways to get the customer’s attention in a proposal and keep it

Plus 4 ways to hold their attention and 3 things to avoid so you don’t lose it

The more proposals the customer has to read, the harder it will be to get their attention and keep it. This is especially true when the customer defines the outline and has a page limit so tight you can’t use layout design.

How to get the customer's attention in a proposal

See also:
Proposal Writing
  1. Give them a path to get their goals fulfilled (instead of your own). When the customer reacts with “That’s what I want,” you’ve got their attention. But complex proposals require more than just saying something beneficial sounding. What the customer wants is not simple. If it’s sufficiently complex, they may not know how to achieve what they want. They are looking for something more than what they asked for, often because they didn’t know how to ask.
  2. Provide graphics that show insight and a better way to get what they want. Graphics speak louder than text. They deliver more detail and are easier to understand. If something is difficult to illustrate, it’s probably even more difficult to understand by reading about it. If you have a great solution and you want to get the customer’s attention, show it to them. Don’t tell them about it.
  3. Show insight. This means providing graphics that literally open their eyes to new realizations. But it also means saying things they hadn’t considered that prove you know what you’re talking about and are the kind of company they’d like to work with. The more difficult it is to find tangible differentiators, the more important it becomes to show insight.
  4. Help them understand their alternatives. What makes you their best alternative? What makes all other alternatives worse? Go beyond claims and provide an analysis that proves your case. Give them the reasons why you considered but intentionally didn’t select those other alternatives. If you show insight while doing this, the analysis will hold their attention.
  5. Use a layout design that directs their attention to the good stuff. Layout design can be very effective to lead the eye. This unfortunately doesn’t work so well when the customer specifies a page limit so tight that you have to suck all the whitespace out of the proposal.
  6. Matter. What matters to the customer? What matters about what you are proposing? What else should matter to them? If you don’t write about what matters, then you don’t matter. If what you write matters to them, it will grab their attention.
  7. Be foolproof. A cynical reader will be cataloging their objections to everything you write. But if you show no weaknesses, and cover every contingency and risk, you might just win their respect. Along the way, their attention will be yours to lose.

How to keep the customer's attention once you’ve got it

  1. Proof over claims. Proof points and analysis will hold the reader’s attention. Simple claims won’t. Proof points get scored. Claims don’t.
  2. Why. When you show insight or are discussing what matters, the reasons why matter. Why are you offering that? Why will it work? Why is it reliable? Why should the customer care? 
  3. Easy evaluation. Proposals are often scored and not read. If it’s easy to score, then they’ll be able to find what they are looking for. If it’s not easy to score, they may not try very hard.
  4. Consistency. If they see that every section and even every paragraph starts off with an insightful point that matters, you’ll be able to hold their attention while they go from one to the next. If they reach a lengthy section where this isn’t true, they may zone out. Don’t just follow the seven tips above as things randomly occur to you. Build a structure so that they are consistently addressed to hold the reader’s attention.

3 things to avoid so you don’t lose the customer’s attention

  1. Don’t make claims. Everyone knows unsubstantiated claims do more harm than good in proposals (except for the people who still write them). But really it’s all claims that are bad. The best you can hope for is that the customer will not get offended when you sound like a TV commercial and will ignore your claims. That’s not the impression you want to make, especially if you're trying to get and keep their attention. Don’t make a claim and then try to prove it. Simply replace every claim with the proof statement. 
  2. Don’t build to the finish. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to finish on a high note, or end with an impressive conclusion like they taught you in school. You’ll lose the customer’s attention before they get there and they may end up skipping over your impressive conclusion. So put it first and then prove it. Don’t make it a claim, but do make it the point of what they are reading. This will give them a reason to read and the proof points will give them a reason to keep reading.
  3. Don’t ignore the customer’s perspective. Quit talking about yourself. The proposal is not about you. It’s about whether the customer will get what they want. Make your proposals about the customer and not about yourself.
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More information about "Carl Dickson"

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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