There is one thing that if mastered will enable you to win every proposal, no matter what.
The good news is that it is a simple thing. The bad news is that the implications are deep and achieving it can be challenging.
The one thing you need to do is to get the customer to want you to win more than any competing priority.
Keep in mind that it’s just a proposal.
Your customer is not going to go to jail or lose their job just so you can win. They have other priorities that matter more to them than whether you win. They also have alternatives that might better match their priorities.
There is no such thing as magic words that win proposals. You can’t hypnotize them into going against their other priorities.
Understanding the implications
This means that winning proposals is about positioning what you offer to be more supportive of the customer’s priorities than any other alternative. Understanding this is the secret to winning. The implications of it tell you what you should do in order to win.
For starters, your chances of winning drop dramatically if you don’t understand the customer’s priorities. And you must understand the reality of their priorities, and not just their aspirations about them. Will they place a literal interpretation of their procurement process ahead of how you’d like them to consider your offering? Will they talk value but act on price? Is their priority to follow the RFP or is the RFP just a step along the way to a higher priority?
When you sit down to write a proposal, everything is about positioning. Every single sentence makes a point, even if you don’t think about it. So what should the point of every single sentence be? Should it be “pick us?” “We’re the best?” “We’ll deliver the best value?” “We comply with everything in the RFP?” “Our strengths match your evaluation criteria?” You can’t answer what points to make unless you understand the customer’s priorities.
What is the point?
When you don’t know what points to make, you have three choices:
1. Guess and take a chance at being wrong
2. Water down your points so they can’t be wrong
3. Try to be everything to everybody
None of those will win you every proposal. In fact, watering down your points and being everything to everybody is a great way to lose proposals.
What most companies do to try to be the customer’s best alternative is to pile on the positive attributes. In reality, they usually pile on positive sounding claims that don’t pass the “So what?” test in the hope that something will stick. Their goal is to have more “positives” (whatever that is) than their competitors.
If you list all the reasons why you think the customer should accept your proposal, you’ll find that some of them matter more than others. What you think matters doesn’t. It’s what the customer thinks that matters. So how would they weight them? Which ones are strengths, which ones will get ignored, and which will detract?
You can guess. You can pile on, and hope some signal makes it through all that noise.
Or you can write a proposal that reflects the customer’s priorities.
When you get to the proposal, it’s probably too late to discover the customer’s priorities. But it’s not too late to think about them. Which do you think has the best chances of winning?
- Guessing about their priorities and writing a proposal based on that in order to show the customer why they should want your offering
- Piling on beneficial sounding fluff to somehow add up to the customer wanting your offering. Or not.
It's not about you
Great proposal writing is not about you. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Learn to write your proposals from the customer's perspective.
- Is a proposal similar to your priorities, or at least one that shows attention to them, with a few awkward spots the best?
- Or is looking through a list of sales slogans and finding a few gems the best?
Do you read it all or do you skim? And if you skim, won’t the parts that grab your attention be the ones that reflect your priorities? And what about your boss and other stakeholders? Does it reflect their priorities?
The real problem with a strategy of piling on beneficial sounding fluff (even if you don’t think your fluff is fluff) is that it is quite literally pointless. From one section/paragraph/sentence to the next, the point is opportunistic (that’s a nicer word than “random”). Basing your proposal on random, opportunistic points hurts your credibility and can make the customer question whether they can trust you, since it appears your priority is being self-promoting and you’re willing to say anything to win.
When you base your proposal on making points that reflect the customer’s priorities, you create a more meaningful proposal in the eyes of the customer. Your points matter. They add up to more than a list of beneficial sounding fluff because they have meaning. Not only that, but you appear considerate. It shows you considered the customer in more than just a casual way, which makes you appear more trustworthy than vendors who didn’t.
Can you discover them? Can you guess them? Can you be honest about them? Being honest about the customer’s priorities is perhaps the most challenging. How can you be honest about them, when the customer is often not honest to themselves about their priorities? When people think about and discuss their priorities, they often reflect their aspirations, and you can base your bid strategies on your customer's aspirations. But when people act, they do so based on their real priorities. Understand these and you will know what must be done to win every proposal.
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.
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.
Carl can be reached at email@example.com
To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.
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