Monday, March 2, 2009

Persuasive writing in your business proposal

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

Too often we write what is easy in our business proposals and sales documents, because we have a product or service that we are very familiar with. It’s easy to say what we can do, how we do it and how much it costs.

We try and sell the features of our solution that are close to use and require little or no effort to obtain.

This is particularly true when dealing with people who typically are inward facing within an organisation or who when outward facing tend to be in a more ‘fact-providing’ role such as project managers, technicians, engineers, software designers. In fact the more technical the person, the more likely it is that their contribution to a proposal writing is going to be driven by detail rather than persuasion. So much that sometimes only someone with the same level of technical expertise can decipher the content.

That’s not to say that in your proposal, there shouldn’t be a place for technical writing. Your solution may be a technical one – for instance, a complex computer system – and this section of the proposal is usually reviewed by qualified technical personnel. But remember that there are other people from a non-technical background reading the proposal too and you need to explain to them what might be self-explanatory to the expert.

Providing factual information is very important in proposals and tender responses to define what it is the client will get. However, in a sales document or proposal we are trying to convince and persuade the client that our proposal is better for them – how does it solve their business need?

In your solution structure think about how best to persuade. Tom Sant has written an excellent book (See the Learn to Write Proposals Bookshop) called ‘Persuasive Business Proposals’ and many people are familiar with consultancy sales training models such as SPIN (situation, problem, implications, needs-payoff questions) that look into the problems and needs of buyers.

In fact, the original research into the SPIN selling model proved that the more successful salespeople were the ones who asked questions about problems and the implications if the problem wasn’t solved.

You aren’t going to ask questions in our bid or proposal – but hopefully you have had a chance to engage with the client before the proposal submission about their needs and problems.

So in your proposal show that you know the customer’s situation, what they need to solve it and (if you know their business well enough) the implications if they don’t. This can be done in a section of the proposal – “Understanding of your requirement”.

Next comes the solution. This is where you are almost certainly going to need the contributions from the factual contributors – often the people who will be delivering the project.

Anyone who writes in a technical or factual manner can make their writing persuasive by adding one small phrase:

 “This will benefit you because…”

The proposal must be about the client, rather than about you.

The important word is because. It’s giving a reason for all the factual information that’s gone before it. It may be you that re-writes these content sections to explicitly outline the benefits to the customer of your solution or it may be you providing the content. Either way think about how you can make it easy for the client to be convinced that your solution will work for them.

So you can explain the solution and give the benefits of that solution. But how do you make the client believe us? You need to demonstrate our credibility. This is where giving examples of past projects, previous clients and testimonials show the client you've done it before which leads them to think that you can do it again. This is providing credibility to your proposed solution - you are providing evidence of your capability.

The last persuader is value. Even if you have the best solution, you still have to demonstrate that it's cost-effective and going to have a positive impact for the client. Even if your product is expensive you need to demonstrate value. To do so, just ask yourself this question:

Is the client better off with your product, or the money that it costs to buy it?

If the answer is the money, you're in trouble! Think about this of the commonest reasons for not winning a contract is price (too expensive), but very rarely does anyone win because they were cheap. They win because they offered the best value. There's more on customer value in our proposal guide.

This is not just selling the features of a solution, but selling the
benefits; then persuading the client by providing a solution and backing it
up with evidence that you can deliver and being credible in your price as
well as reputation.

Persuasion is what will win you the work, so ensure that you have these key elements in your executive summary too.

Solution + credibility + value = persuasion.