Friday, February 13, 2009

Anatomy of a proposal...our understanding of your requirement

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

Why do we need to explain back to the client what the requirement is? Surely the customer knows all there is to know about their problem? Why do we need to tell them?

Well, yes they do know their problem and there will always be some background to the opportunity in the tender documentation. However, if you want them to think that you have a unique capability to deliver this project then you need to demonstrate you understand the problem, the client and their industry.

Remember the tip when answering questions in a presentation? Well the idea is to repeat a question back to the client - not only does it give you a little more time to think, but it verifies that you are answering the right question. OK - in a proposal it doesn't give you any more time and you aren't in the same direct dialogue with the client, but it does give you a chance to show them you understand their needs and can help you solidify your approach to the response.

Hopefully, you will have been in dialogue with the client prior to the RFP or tender and have discussed their business and context of the opportunity. If you haven’t, try and get a meeting with the client as soon as the RFP is issued and engage them in dialogue straight away. Your goal is to understand the deeper business needs and context as well as build a relationship.

There is always an immediate need – that which is described in the tender documentation. But remember that there is always a deeper background cause that has resulted in the immediate opportunity. You may have come across various sales training approaches – such as SPIN Selling or Professional Selling Skills (PSS). SPIN describes this as ‘implication’ – in PSS, it’s described as the ‘need behind the need’.

Once the real business need is known, it is easy to extrapolate the solution and your win themes – that your solution can not only meet the specification, but solve your customer’s business problems.

Tom Sant in his excellent book “Persuasive Business Proposals” (at Learn to Write Proposals we recommend this book so much that we will give a copy to every new lifetime member) uses a quotation from the Roman statesman Cicero:

“If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts feel my feelings and speak my words.”

This really sums up understanding a client’s requirement – it’s reflecting back to the client how they feel about this problem and its context to them.

Importantly, this statement also says use their language. Know who your customer is and know who is reading this proposal. Use their language - don’t be overly technical if it will be read by the Sales Director. Use the language and terminology that they use in the RFP.

Use some of your thoughts and ideas on the client and their requirements from your Bid Capture Plan document.

Scope of required work

This could be a section on its own or it could be included in the solution section of your proposal – remember that you need to structure your document in order to make it as appropriate for your client as you can.

This section is the “singing off the same hymn sheet” part. Following from the understanding of the requirement, you need to reflect specific work outputs that will be delivered in order to get the problem solved. It's not how you are going to deliver those work outputs - that comes later in the specification response. What it does do is ring-fence the expectation of what the client will receive.

The vital part is to match their requirement. If you truly understand the buyer and the context of the opportunity you will be able to match the input of effort required to the desired output. For instance, if the buyer needs a cost-saving solution with a specific budget, then a luxury all bells and whistles solution doesn’t reflect what they want. Even if it solves their problem(s) is it best value?

Be clear on what the client needs, what they are going to get and it gives you room to build your value proposition and manage expectations. The bells and whistles can always follow. to present your solution.