When the customer receives your proposal, what will they think? Nearly all the proposals I review are written about the company submitting the proposal. Is that what the customer wants to see?
I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent discussing whether proposals should use words like “will” or “ensure.” Does the customer even notice? Are there things that matter more to the customer?
The trick to figuring out how to say things in your proposal is to be able to see your proposal like your customer sees it. The following questions will help guide you through looking at various aspects of proposal writing. While first impressions count, try going deeper. Ponder each question. Not all customers are the same. So a question might have more than one answer. Knowing what to say in your proposals depends on knowing the answers for that particular proposal to that particular customer. It’s worth pondering.
When you are the customer:
- Do you read the first sentence, or start in the middle?
- If you read the first sentence and it says something perfunctory that’s not useful to you, how do you react?
- Do you care which vendor wins? Do you always have a preference? How strong is that preference? Do you feel any loyalty to your current vendors?
- What does it take for you to make a switch?
- What does a stranger have to do for you to give them a chance?
- Do you read the proposal cover to cover? Do you read it in order?
- What do you see that annoys or offends you?
- Do you notice or care about typos? Do you care enough for it to impact your selection?
- Do you care about when the vendor was founded or who owns the company?
- What do you care about?
- What's the difference in writing between something being believable and not being believable?
- What makes you roll your eyes?
- Do you accept what they say or do you seek proof?
- How much detail satisfies you? At what point does it become overwhelming or get skipped?
- What do you seek out to read?
- What do you ignore?
- How do you separate the vendors?
- How do you react when vendors don't follow directions?
- How do you justify your preferences to your boss?
- What impresses you more, a vendor's qualifications or what they're going to do for you?
- What will you pay more for?
- If you have to point score and fill out evaluation forms, do you figure out who you want and then score them, or do you let the scoring do the selecting?
- When you don't know the technical subject matter, how does that impact whose proposal you like more?
- Do you look for words, features, results, differences, details, proof, price, trustworthiness, or something else?
- Do any particular words like “will” or “ensure” bother you or do you not even notice them?
- Are most of the proposals you receive written better or worse than the documents produced inside your own organization?
- What puts you to sleep?
- What wakes you up?
- When a vendor truly understands you, what did they write that made that happen?
- When a vendor claims a bunch of experience, does that impress you or does it take something else?
- Do you try to imagine what the vendor is going to be like to work with over the life of the project, or do you just pick the best of what's in front of you?
- Is it different when you are helping someone else make a selection than it is when you are picking a vendor for yourself?
- What does it take for a vendor to prove they've fixed a problem?
After answering by pretending to be the customer making the decision, what did you learn that might apply to your next customer?
How should that impact what you put in writing when you are preparing your next proposal? The way we make decisions in writing is different from how we make other decisions. How we read a proposal is also different from the way we read other documents. The best way to understand how to win a proposal is to understand how the written word impacts the evaluator. And the best way to figure that out is to understand, empathize with, and see things from the customer’s perspective when they are reading what you put on paper.
Can you break out of old habits like describing yourself? Can you write things from the evaluator’s perspective instead of your own?
Winning proposals isn't about what you think you should say about yourself. Winning proposals anticipate what the customer wants to see. To win your proposals, being able to read a proposal like your customer is a more important skill than being able to write with style.
Style is not the icing on the cake. It’s more like the sprinkles on top of the icing. You can make a great cake without any sprinkles. A proposal can win if the customer sees what they want, and doesn't notice or overlooks the rough spots. It’s not even about substance over style. It’s about what the reader wants to have instead of what the chef wants to make. The words you put in your proposal should be based on what you think the reader wants to see instead of what you think sounds impressive.
Let your competitors sound impressive to themselves. It’s better to win than it is to brag. The way to write winning proposals is to write them from the customer's perspective instead of your own.
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
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