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9 proposal writing techniques that help you write from the customer’s perspective

Here's how to make the shift to writing about the customer

Your proposal should not be about you. Compare these two approaches to proposal writing:

  • Our approach is to do this and then we do that. We can do this well because we are so qualified. 
  • You will get all this and as a result things will be much better for you and it will be easier for you to do so much more.

If you’re talking to a salesperson about something you need, which approach do you want to hear? What does the customer really want?

How should you say things in a proposal so that it's written from the customer's perspective?

Here are some techniques you can use to transform your proposal writing from being all about you to being about something the customer wants to have:

See also:
Customer Perspective
  1. Make it all about what the customer will get. The only reason the customer reads your proposal is to find out what they are going to get, and then what they have to do to get it. So make the proposal about what the customer will get and how good it will be for them when they have it. When writing, instead of asking “how will I do this” ask “what will the customer get from what I do?”
  2. Minimize “We” or “Our,” and the use of your company name. You use “We,” “Our,” and your company name too much in your proposals. Pick a page at random. Highlight them. See just how many there are. Look closer and you’ll see that every action is taken by one of them. Worse, you’ll see that your own qualifications, attributes, and actions are usually the result of what you do. This means the proposal is about you and not about the customer. You do this too much for editing to fix. Try to get ahead of the problem. Think twice before ever writing them again.  
  3. Get conversational. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who only talked about themselves? Did they barely acknowledge when you spoke and then start talking about themselves again? Did you feel like you didn’t even need to be there? If you can have a conversation where you give the other person a chance to be the focus, then try doing that in writing. Even though the other person is not physically present, you can still put the focus on them when writing. You’ll need a little empathy, but you can write as if you're having a conversation about things that matter to them. Like a good friend, discuss what they are trying to accomplish, how to improve it, and how great things will be for them when they get there.
  4. Dare to use the word “You.” In copywriting, it’s considered a best practice to talk directly to the reader and say how “you” will benefit from the product or service. In proposal writing, people suddenly become afraid of being informal. But if it measurably makes copywriting more effective, why shouldn’t it work in proposals? Its effectiveness will depend on the customer’s culture and your relationship with them. But using the word “you” and talking directly to the customer is so rare it’s practically a differentiator. Your proposal will read differently from the other proposals. You will stand out. You must stand out if you want to win consistently, so instead of being afraid of it, try embracing it. 
  5. Use the customer's name to force you to talk to them instead of about yourself. You have so much to tell them about what you can do and how you do it that it’s easy to forget that it’s really about the customer. So if you can’t use “you” then use their name. Use their name more than your own. But don’t just name drop. Use their name with purpose. Use their name as the focus of what each sentence is about. Use their name instead of your own to trick yourself into making the proposal about them.
  6. If you can’t talk about the customer, then talk about results that matter to the customer. This is easier, and while it’s not as effective as talking directly about the customer and what they will get, it’s better than talking about yourself. And if you are writing about something that doesn’t have a significant result or deliverable, then write about why you do it that way and what matters about it. The customer cares about the things that matter. If you want your proposal to matter to the customer, then you must write about what matters.
  7. Avoid passive voice. Passive voice hides who does the action in a sentence by making the subject of the sentence receive the action instead of performing it.  Here’s an example: “The project will be performed according to the management plan.”  Who is performing the action? Who is the sentence about? Passive voice not only hides that you are doing the good things you are proposing, it makes it harder to talk about the customer. Here’s a much better example of proposal writing, “Our project team will be guided by the resource allocation, procedures, and schedule documented in our project management plan so that the fulfillment of every one of your requirements is fully accountable and so that you receive all of the benefits.” 
  8. Make the customer the focus in each sentence. Make the customer the noun that receives the action and not something neutral. Make the customer the reason why you do things. Don’t make your qualifications about you. Make your qualifications about what the customer will get. Don’t talk about how you have experience, talk about how the customer will be better off as a result of your experience or why your experience matters.
  9. Reverse your roles. Most companies would not accept their own proposals. To test this, instead of playing the role of the proposal writer, play the role of the proposal evaluator. Don’t accept all those claims to greatness just because your company made them. Pretend to be a cynical customer who has been burned in the past and expects vendors to prove their claims. Read what you see in your proposal and ask yourself if that’s really an organization you’d like to work with, when you have so many others to choose from.
     
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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.

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

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