A blank page can be intimidating. You have a blank page at the start of each proposal. And then another at the start of each section. Most people go through a "warm up" process while they try to figure out what to say. They start off with something traditional and easy. Here are some examples:
- Our company is pleased to submit this proposal to…
- Founded in 1901, our company is an industry-leading firm that…
- Our company is located in Somewhere, USA and specializes in…
- Our company provides…
It's easy to describe yourself, but it's the wrong way to start your proposal. Proposal writing is very much like having a dialogue with the reader. You are a salesperson and the reader is the customer. How would you like it if you visited a store, and after you told him what you are interested in, he started his response with one of the openers above? What if a competing salesperson approached you and instead started off by talking about how he could deliver something that fulfills your needs and has a number of other benefits? Who would get your attention?
Your introduction should be about the customer — not about you. The customer has two crucial questions:
- How you are going to fulfill their needs?
- What benefits they will derive from doing business with you?
So when you are faced with a blank page, you should start by telling them how you can fulfill their needs. Even better is to say what benefits you will deliver while fulfilling their needs. And even better still is to deliver benefits while fulfilling their needs in a way that discriminates you from the competition.
Here is the formula:
- Tell them that you will fulfill their needs or deliver what they want.
- Tell then that you will do it in a way that will provide benefits that are important to them.
- Introduce yourself by showing that you have the right qualifications to fulfill their needs.
- Then, explain why you are better positioned than anyone else to deliver the benefits you described.
How you continue from this point depends on what is most important to the customer. You can discuss:
- Fulfilling individual requirements
- Features of your solution
- Anticipated results
- Implementation process
- Project schedule
For every item you discuss, be sure to describe:
- How it relates to their needs
- How it will benefit the customer
- How capable or qualified you are in that area
- How it relates to their evaluation criteria
- The answers to any questions the customer might have
If you have a written RFP, be sure to follow any instructions regarding the outline for the proposal, and to tailor your proposal to any evaluation criteria presented in the RFP.
Once your dialogue has the reader's attention, then you get a chance to tell your story. The story is what makes them want to select you. The formula above will work only if your story is compelling. If there is a formal evaluation process, then you must score well to win. It is much easier to do that when the customer wants you. That is why it is important to tell a story that makes the customer want you.
It is not sufficient to merely fulfill their requirements or respond with what they asked for. In a competitive environment with a written RFP, you should assume that everyone will do that. It is not even sufficient to merely describe the benefits that you will bring to the customer. The benefits must add up to something that matters to the client. How you articulate this is your story. The question is: Can you articulate it?
So going back to the blank page in front of you... Instead of writing until you stumble across your story, take a few moments to articulate the main points to yourself. Then follow the formula above, making sure the elements add up to your story. While most of your competitors will deliver a traditional descriptive proposal that puts the reader to sleep, yours will engage them in a dialog about the thing that matters most to them — themselves.