Proposals–Where to Focus

Let’s talk about what to focus on in proposals. Should the focus be on your products and services? Should it be on your reasonable fees? On your client satisfaction rates? On your expertise in the industry? On your uniqueness?

The answer to all the questions above is NO. Your focus should be on YOUR READER–that is, YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMER.

Today I led a writing class for a group of smart, sophisticated program managers in a small, successful high-tech firm. Their basic goal was to write proposals faster and more efficiently. As a group, we listed the questions their readers would be asking when reading the company’s proposals. The group thought their readers would ask questions like these:

  • What do you offer me?
  • How can you help me?
  • How will your product affect me and my customers?
  • Is your product easy for me to use?

I added questions like these:

  • Do you understand my problems, opportunities, and challenges?
  • How can you help me solve my problems, build on my opportunities, and meet my challenges?

Once we listed a lot of questions the readers would be asking, we read excerpts from the group’s proposals. We found that although the clients would be interested in me, the proposals were all about us. There was a clear disconnect between what their clients would be asking and what they had included in their proposals.

Luckily, it is not difficult to shift the focus from yourself to your reader. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Describe the client’s (reader’s) problem, situation, challenge, or opportunity. Show that you understand it.
  2. For every product or service you propose, tie it to your client’s problem, situation, challenge, or opportunity. Without that tie-in, your product or service has no value.
  3. When you must write a proposal without a clear understanding of the client’s specific problem, challenge, etc., write about the problems and challenges of the client’s industry.
  4. Use the client’s company name. Use you. Instead of saying "Our product allows the user to . . . " say "Our product allows you to . . . ."
  5. Offer insights and information that have value beyond the proposal. This information illustrates the value you bring to the client.

When you write to a potential client, remember WIIFM–What’s in it for me? That should be the focus of your proposal.

Note: The June-July issue of my free newsletter, Better Writing at Work, is about adding zing to your writing. Subscribe here. If you write proposals and sales documents, you may also like this article, "Don’t Sell a Thing–Sell a Vision."

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