What does your customer really want in a proposal?

Customers ask for descriptions, even though that is not what they really want. They are not being sneaky, they just don’t know what to put in their RFPs, so they ask you to describe things they think are relevant to what they are trying to do. If you understand the decision they have to make, then you can address what they really need to know when you respond to what they asked for.

When they say:

See also:
Customer Perspective
  • Describe your company. They mean, “What can you do for me?” They also mean, “Can I trust that your company is able to do what I need?”
  • Describe your qualifications. They mean, “Can I trust that you know what you’re doing and will you be able to deliver on your promises?”
  • What is your transition plan? They mean, “Will you be ready on time and will you meet our deadlines?” They also mean, “Can I trust that there won’t be any disruption and that I won’t be worse off by selecting you?”
  • What is your approach? They mean, “What am I going to get if I select you?” They also want to know if they can trust that you know what you are doing. They also mean, “Why should I pick you? What will I get that’s better than if I pick someone else?”
  • What is your experience? They are thinking, “Maybe if you’ve done it before I can feel confident that you’ll be able to do it again.” But what they really mean is, “Can I trust you to deliver on your promises?” They do not want your experience. They want to know what they will get out of it.
  • Describe your understanding. They are wondering, “Do you know what I mean, as opposed to what I’ve said?” They are concerned about whether you know what they need better than they were able to explain it. They want to know if your interpretation of their requirements reflects what they really want. They want to know if they can trust you to do things the way they would like them done. They also want to be sure that you know what matters to them and have good judgment.
  • Describe your management approach. They want to know if they can trust you to actually deliver the results you’ve promised. They want to know if your experts will stay focused on delivering the right results. They want to know if they’ll have all the support, resources, and processes needed for them to receive the results you’ve promised.
  • Describe your staff approach. Regardless of what you’ve promised, they want to know that the people who will be doing the actual work can be trusted to deliver the results they need.
  • Describe your quality approach. They want to know what you’ll do to prevent mistakes and whether they can trust you to catch them when they occur.
  • Describe your approach to risk mitigation. They know that things go wrong. They want to be able to trust you to deliver anyway. They are not looking for empty promises about some abstract concept of risk or lame examples. They want to know what they can trust you to prevent and what you will do to fix things when they go bad.
  • Provide proof of insurance and a performance bond. They’ve had bad experiences with vendors they thought they could trust. They need more than just empty promises to be convinced.

Did you notice that every example of what the customer really means has the word “trust” in it?. Every one. Maybe you should stop loading your proposal up with sales slogans and unsubstantiated claims. Maybe instead you should focus on being trustworthy, and the things you do that impact it.

And just maybe, instead of describing yourself you should give them what they really want.


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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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