May 30, 2008

Showing the Impact

Does your business have any unresolved challenges? Any needs that aren’t being met? Any problems crying out for a solution. Of course. Every business does.

And will they all be addressed? Probably not. Most of the time we choose to just live with our problems or needs. We don’t intend to do anything about them. Why not? Because the time, money and effort involved just aren’t worth it. There’s not enough of a payback to bother doing anything.

You don’t want your client to decide that it’s “just not worth it” to do anything about the problems or needs your proposal is addressing. Our topic this time is how to

The fundamental difference between informing and persuading is that persuasion must motivate action. If a customer reads our proposal and is motivated to make a decision, it was persuasive. If the customer reads it, nods his or her head, acknowledges that what we’re saying makes sense, and then does nothing—the proposal failed.

We start our proposals and other persuasive messages by focusing on the customer’s needs or problems. If we identify their “pain” correctly, we get their attention. But to get their motivation to act, we must move beyond the pain and focus on their potential “gain”. We must show them that there are important, positive outcomes from dealing with these issues. They want to know: How will the organization benefit if they eliminate the problems or meet the needs we have identified? Where’s the bottom-line impact? Is it worth it?

Outcomes are the impact our services or solutions have on the customer’s organization, and for maximum effectiveness our proposal should address the client’s outcomes immediately after identifying their needs. This is somewhat counterintuitive. You might think that it would be more logical to present the problem and then immediately recommend a solution. Maybe that would be more logical, but it won’t be as persuasive. People want to use the “estimation heuristic”—the technique of looking at various courses of action and choosing the course of action that yields the highest rate of return. But if we don’t show them where the outcomes are, they may not be able to figure it out for themselves. And it the outcomes aren’t big enough, they won’t care about the solution.

Write your outcome statements so that they meet five criteria:

1. Focus on an outcome the customer actually desires

You can sing a song of quality all night long, but if the customer is looking for cost savings or increased market share, your message will fall flat. The outcomes must be client-centered.

2. They must be measurable or quantifiable

“Improved efficiency” is not an outcome, but “reducing system downtime by 20%” is. “Increased profitability” is not quantified; “reducing attrition by 20% among mid-level managers and saving $1,250,000 annually in recruiting fees” can be measured. Marketing fluff—grandiose claims of “state of the art” solutions built on “best of breed” products and similar nonsense—is neither measurable nor quantifiable. It’s just annoying.

3. They must be organizational in nature

Personal or political goals usually don’t’ work in a proposal. They are very hard to quantify and they have too narrow an impact. Just because your key contact will benefit—for example, by achieving a key performance goal—that doesn’t mean the rest of the company will see compelling value. Results and outcomes are relevant if they benefit many people across the organization, not merely one decision maker or one group of employees.

4. They must come as a direct consequence of the impact your services or solutions have on the customer’s business operations

In this regard, you have three possible options:

1. You can improve a process, system, or mechanism that is already in place.

2. You can fix something that isn’t working.

3. You can implement a capability that the customer does not have.

5. They must be proportional to the cost of the solution

The larger the amount you are charging, the bigger the outcomes must be. Most folks aren’t interested in spending a lot of money for a little bit of return.

Defining the outcomes the customer will achieve from taking action is an essential step in delivering a persuasive message. That’s why the Sant Suite of proposal and presentation tools includes components to help you identify and position outcomes effectively. We try to make sure all the important elements are built right in to the system. The outcomes for you and your company are higher win ratios from better proposals produced faster. Are those outcomes you might be seeking?

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