September 15, 2008

Getting Out of the (Information) Dump

Even proposals that start with a great executive summary often lapse into the information dump mode when it comes to presenting the solution. How can we get out of the informative pattern so that our proposals are more effective in delivering a persuasive message?

The heart of the proposal is, of course, your solution. Your clients will be eager to hear your solution, if you have whetted their appetite by first discussing their needs and the probable outcomes of meeting those needs. But you can’t just lapse into the technical “info dump” style of writing that characterizes most solution write-ups.

Take a look at some old proposals, particularly the sections where you describe products or services. Do you see long lists of bullet points, the so-called “features” of your solution? If so, the solutions are informative, not persuasive, and most of your readers are probably skipping these parts.

To present your solution in a more customer-friendly, persuasive way, start by presenting your recommendations in two to three strong, focused paragraphs. You want to start by presenting the solution in general terms, focusing on business fit rather than details of execution. Emphasize why this solution is right for the client. Mention a couple of strong differentiators that set your solution apart and make your recommendations the right ones.

To focus on what matters in your solution, write from the customer’s point of view and move from general to specific:

Recommend the solution in a single sentence. Focus on functional impact, not operational or technical issues. In other words, in the first sentence, tell the customer what your solution will do for them. By the way, if you have a branded product or service, do not use the product name at this point. Product names are jargon and no one knows them outside your company (unless your product is as well known as the iPod or the ThinkPad). Tell the customer what they are getting and why it’s the right approach.

Explain the recommendation in another sentence. In the next couple of sentences, focus on at least one detail that relates to your intellectual capital, unique methodology, relevant expertise, or depth of experience. Focus on how you will do the work and what the results will be.

Differentiate your recommendation. Provide two sentences that state relevant differentiators that set your company apart from others who provide this kind of solution. Indicate why these differentiators add value for the client.

Present the features of your solution in the context of the customer’s needs or problems. Remember that customers do not automatically recognize that the solution you are proposing will give them the results they want. Particularly in a highly complex or technical environment, you must link the outcomes of what you are proposing to the elements of your solution. Imagine the client asking after each mention of a feature, “So what? Why should I care?” This means you should not mention a feature without linking it to the customer’s issues and to the benefits that feature will provide. (The benefits should also be linked to the customer’s issues, needs, or goals, of course.) Remember: a feature is a component of the solution, but a benefit is an impact on the client’s operations that the client will find desirable.

In fact, the details of your solution will be much more persuasive if you don’t focus on features at all. Instead, start by mentioning one of the customer’s key needs. Then mention the feature(s) of your solution that address that need. Point out the benefit the feature offers, and conclude with a brief proof statement showing how this feature of your product or service worked in another account (a mini case study).

Then start with another key need, link that to one or more features, show the benefit, and conclude with proof.

This pattern will make it easy for your customer to see instantly that what you are offering truly is a solution, because it’s presented in the context of the customer’s problems or needs.

After you’ve shown how the customer’s needs are being addressed, you can move into a more traditional description, going through the important details of your product or service in some logical order. Now if the customer starts to skim, we don’t mind because we’ve already made our point persuasively.

You can store persuasive descriptions of your products and services in the content library that comes with ProposalMaster and RFPMaster. That way you can pick and choose the right details to present at the right time and keep yourself from falling into the information dump.

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