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16 things to make your proposal about

Taking your features and benefits to the next level

One way to approach proposal messaging is to make it about something. It helps to focus your thoughts. And it can give you something to stand for. Instead of simply positioning against the competition and everything else, you position to matter about something. This helps the customer perceive your value.

When the competing proposals aren’t very different from each other, this kind of subtlety can determine who wins, because it shows better insight, understanding, and even value.

The list below is also a good tool for learning to think about things from the customer’s perspective. You shouldn’t just focus on what you’d like to make your proposal about. You should make your proposal about what matters to the customer. 

16 things to consider making your proposal about:

  1. You. It’s usually a mistake to make the proposal about yourself. But most companies do. It’s kind of like trying to get a date by talking only about yourself. Likewise, if you are the buyer, do you want “pick me!” to be a constant refrain? You can make the proposal about your being the customer’s best alternative, but this works best when you take it a step further and make it about what the customer will get by selecting you, instead of simply being about why to select you.
  2. The customer. All proposals are about the customer, whether you write them that way or not. Recognizing this explicitly and writing from their perspective is very powerful.
  3. Your offering. While you need to describe your offering, that’s not what your proposal should be about. Your proposal should usually be about why your offering is the best alternative for the customer. It’s always about the customer.
  4. Fulfilling the customer’s needs. Making your proposal about fulfilling your customer’s needs is one way to bring focus to making your proposal about the customer. Just be careful to make it about the customer getting their needs fulfilled and not about you as the one who will fulfill them. Don’t cross the line and make it about you by accident. And don’t make it about the fact that the customer has needs because that awareness of that fact doesn’t deliver any value. Instead make it about the fulfillment of those needs. 
  5. A solution. While you’re offering a solution, what the customer is really interested in is why that solution is the customer’s best alternative. What the customer will get out of your solution and what makes it the best alternative may matter more than the solution itself.
  6. Giving the customer what they asked for. When the customer tells you exactly what they want and expects your proposal to be about that, it’s still about them. It’s about why your way of delivering exactly what they asked for will give them the best results or benefits. It’s about them getting what they asked for with the most value added. Even if price is the only value they are concerned with. And keep in mind that everyone else will be proposing at least what the customer asked for. Being about something doesn't have to cost any money and can make the difference.
  7. Getting results. It’s not the offering that customers usually want, it’s the results that offering delivers. Or more accurately, it’s about how much better off they’ll be because of those results. It’s always about the customer. The results of a procurement are often just a means to an end. When this is the case, the results that best facilitate achieving that end will have the most appeal.
  8. A recommendation. If you want the customer to take action, you can make a recommendation. You can recommend that the customer select you, but that’s the same as making the proposal about you. If the customer isn’t sure about what they want, or if they don’t realize the implications of what they’ve asked for, you can make recommendations that will achieve better results. If this deviates too far from their expectations and evaluation process, this can be risky. But if you deliver what they asked for, and can give them better options while staying within the structure of the RFP, you can offer a value that is highly differentiated. If the customer lacks expertise or has difficulty deciding what to do, you can make your proposal about your willingness and ability to make recommendations and enable the customer to make better informed decisions. 
  9. Informing and teaching. Sometimes the customer just doesn’t know what they are doing. Maybe they’re just not good at writing RFPs. If you can avoid patronizing and offending them, you can deliver a proposal that is informative and teaches them what they need to know, and along the way you can show them that you are their best alternative. Even a well written RFP will require trade-offs, and your rationale in resolving them can matter. When you make your proposal about informing and teaching, you demonstrate the value of your expertise. Demonstrations trump declarations.
  10. Preventing a problem. When a key feature of an offering is that it prevents problems, you can make your proposal about that. The trick is to make it about the benefits of the resolution, and not about the problem itself, because your value is the resolution and not the problem. Focusing too much on the problem is just selling fear. 
  11. Reducing risk. Reducing risk is similar to preventing problems, but with more uncertainty. With risk it’s not a feature in your offering that prevents a problem, but your techniques for identifying and mitigating risks that matters. You might not even know what the risks are at the beginning. For example, in systems development there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Your ability to prevent, monitor, and respond when they happen may matter to a risk averse customer. 
  12. Making an improvement. Do you know a better way? Can you help the customer become better, more capable, faster, or more efficient? Just remember to make it about the customer and how much better their improved future will be instead of the improvement itself. And make sure you address any reluctance they may have in changing the status quo.
  13. Return on investment. Does the customer consider what you are proposing to be an expense or an investment? What they need from a vendor is different between the two. How does the customer perceive the procurement? You can prove it is worth it to spend as much as possible if your proposal nets a high return on investment, but if they view your proposal as an expense you need to reduce costs. If your proposal is about return on investment, make sure you prove your case. When a customer talks about obtaining the best value, it means they may be willing to invest in a better return but that their ability to do so may be limited. 
  14. Answering the customer’s questions. If the customer is full of questions, your proposal can be about providing answers. But don’t just simply provide answers. Your proposal is really about generating sufficient confidence for the customer to move forward with what you propose.
  15. A destination. Where will the customer end up if they accept your proposal? How wonderful will it be? You can go beyond features and benefits and make your proposal about where they’ll end up as a result. Just make sure that’s where they want to end up.
  16. A differentiator. Customers look for the differences between proposals to determine which is better. If you are not actively identifying differentiators and featuring them in your proposal, you’re not trying to win. If you are, you can take it a step further and make your proposal about your differentiators. If you do so, make sure you make it about how the customer will be impacted by those differentiators and not the features that are different themselves.  Features that differentiate get noticed, but it’s their impact that determines whether you win.

Because many of these are related, you might be able to employ a couple at a time. But even though many will resonate with you, you can’t use them all at the same time and still have a proposal that is about something.

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