March 30, 2008

Entering Your Evidence

Evidence is crucial in a courtroom—it’s the basis on which the judge or jury makes a decision.

It’s just as important in your sales process and your proposal. The kinds of evidence you use and the way you present it can make a huge difference in whether the verdict goes in your favor or against you.

That’s our topic this time.

We’ve been talking about persuasive structure in our recent messages. We said that effective persuasion follows the NOSE pattern: Needs, Outcomes, Solutions, and Evidence. We start by restating the client’s needs because that gets their attention and reduces their anxiety. We then outline the potential outcomes the client will achieve by solving their problems or meeting their needs, because that creates the motivation to go forward. Third, we recommend a solution, but we do it in a way that’s client-centered rather than product-centered.

I hope that so far you’ve been gulping down the KoolAid and are in full agreement. Anyway, all remains is the final step, presenting our evidence.

What are you trying to prove with your evidence? Basically, you are trying to show that you can and will keep your promises. You are trying to show that you can deliver the solution you have proposed on time and on budget. You are trying to convince the decision maker that this is your area of expertise. You might even be trying to establish that your firm is financially stable, properly managed, and well prepared.

Providing evidence is usually the part of the persuasive job that most proposals handle pretty well. But there are two ways we can do the job better. First, we can be thoughtful in selecting our evidence, choosing items that are most likely to appeal to the specific decision maker and to be relevant to the opportunity. And second, we can present our evidence in the most effective way possible.

In future messages we’ll deal with the second issue, covering the best ways to write typical kinds of evidence, such as team member bios, case studies, company histories, and so forth. In this message I want to discuss briefly what kind of evidence to use.

The first rule is that just because you have a particular bit of evidence doesn’t mean you should throw it into a proposal. Just because you have a map of North America showing all 78 of your company’s office locations, don’t use it unless it’s relevant. If you’re trying to sell to a company that also has numerous locations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and they closely match your locations, then it’s relevant and helpful. If you’re selling to a prospect who only has one location, forget it.

The second rule about choosing evidence is to consider the source. There are three kinds of evidence—things you say about yourself, things your clients say about you, and things independent third parties say—and each has a different level of credibility.

Among the things you can say about yourself, you might include information about product features, about the members of your team, about your project management methodology, or about your quality control philosophy. Those things are relatively noncontroversial, and a prospective client could check for accuracy if he or she really wanted to. These forms of evidence help establish your competence. They answer a key question in the decision maker’s mind, namely, “Can these people really do what they claim?”

Another form of evidence you can offer about yourself—a type of evidence that helps minimize the client’s sense of risk or enhances their perception of the value of your offering—focuses on measurable performance indicators and special financial terms. For example, you might provide evidence relating to unique contractual terms that you are offering. Or you might outline a “gain sharing” or “risk sharing” program based on specific performance guarantees or service level agreements.

The second source of evidence is your previous clients. What they’re willing to say about you is often more convincing than what you say about yourself for the obvious reason that they presumably have nothing to gain from it. You can provide evidence to a new prospect from a prior client by including references in your proposal. Just make sure you check with the reference to make certain they’re still happy with you. Sometimes yesterday’s glowing reference becomes tomorrow’s flaming law suit and we didn’t even know it. You might also include testimonials, including images of letters of praise from previous clients. But one of the most convincing forms of evidence you can offer is the case study. As long as your case study is from a client similar in nature to your prospect, who had a similar problem, who had that problem alleviated by a solution similar to the one you’re proposing, and who achieved measurable positive results from your work—then you’re in great shape. However, if your case study just rehashes the history of some project in chronological fashion, forget it. That’s boring.

Finally, third-party evidence comes in the form of awards, rankings, recognition, articles, analyst reports, and so on. Although that form of evidence used to be the most convincing of all, the fact that so many analyst firms are willing to sell their “approval” to the highest bidder has made them somewhat suspect in recent years. All the same, if you were named the “best place to work” or an “industry innovator” or “Five Star Quality Award Winner” or some such thing, take advantage of it when you can. That’s still good stuff.

Sant Corporation has all kinds of evidence to back up our claims that we can save you time and increase your win ratio through our proposal automation systems and services. And we’d love to share that evidence with you! Give us a call and let us prove it.

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