When should you make your proposal into part of a conversation with the customer?

The proposal becomes part of the conversation when it responds to something the customer said, usually in the form of an RFP, and then gives them an opportunity to continue the conversation, usually by accepting your proposal. But there is more to it than that.

When making the proposal part of a conversation is part of your strategy, you have to be the company that the customer would most like to continue the conversation with. That means you have to put things on the table to discuss in a way that engages the customer and makes them want to participate and hear more.

The conversation that the proposal is usually a part of, is a conversation about what you and the customer can accomplish together and how to make it happen. The customer will want to continue that conversation if it involves great things that are feasible from someone who is credible.

Making a proposal part of a conversation is a bid strategy. It is a conscious choice to engage with the customer in a certain way because you think it will make them more likely to accept your proposal. It is a strategy that does not apply to every proposal. It is best suited for:

See also:
Customer perspective
  • Proposals to provide solutions, things that must be developed, or complex services
  • An RFP that provides goals instead of specifications or one that asks you to tell them what the best approach is
  • When you have questions that the RFP and/or customer can’t answer
  • When both you and the customer will have to puzzle through questions as part of doing the work proposed

In other words, when there are a lot of unknowns and the two of you really need to talk instead of exchange documents, turning the documents into a conversation is a way of demonstrating that you are a good pick for the customer to talk through the issues with.

To make the proposal part of a conversation you pick up from the last customer communication, possibly the RFP, and provide a framework for continuing the conversation. The project becomes part of the conversation, just like the proposal. But the conversation must involve discussion in both directions. You must both take turns speaking for it to be a conversation. You have to provide opportunities for the customer to have a voice.

Everything that goes into making a verbal conversation successful also applies to a written one. The key difference is that it is less interactive. It is similar to a discussion that takes place in email, but even less interactive. But just like there are things you can say in writing that encourage conversation, there are things you can say that discourage conversation. Personality counts as much in a written conversation as it does in a verbal one.

When you successfully position your proposal as part of an ongoing conversation, then from the customer’s perspective, they see that you’ve listened to them and responded with something interesting. You’ve shown that something special can be achieved if the two of you work together. You haven’t nailed down all the details, but you’ve shown how the two of you can work them out. You’ve backed up what you’ve said to make it credible.

When they look at the other proposals, they see plans and details, but they have no idea what the other vendors will be like to work with. And since the nature of the project involves some uncertainty, that’s a big deal. Who will the customer pick to work through the uncertainty with?

You might assume it’s the incumbent, but if the incumbent hasn’t been completely responsive, there’s an opening for someone who is demonstrating their responsiveness, as opposed to simply claiming it. If the incumbent submits a proposal that is not engaging, and you submit one that is engaging, credible, and feasible, you can steal it away from them.


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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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