What is a proposition, and how do I write one?
The first tutorial covered some of the key points about writing a plan to develop business, founded on analysis and insight. The strategy helps to narrow the target area, which should also help sharpen what to say about you, your business, and the products and services it offers – which is the proposition.
The definition of what a proposition actually is can vary. So for the purposes of avoiding confusion, Pitch Factory considers a proposition as being: making a proposal that affirms something that is true and that is accepted by the organisation.
The purpose of defining the proposition as something that is true may seem obvious. But there is much more to this than simply whether the product or service offered exists. It is also important that the way you talk about what you do is truthful. One of the most over used words in business development is ‘unique.’ How many times do companies describe products and services everyone knows perfectly well can be bought from numerous suppliers as unique? Sometimes it seems the temptation to overstate is irresistible.
However, it isn’t only the grandest of claims that need to be avoided. Overstatements and unwarranted claims undermine genuinely good products and services, the company’s brand and your personal credibility.
It is also worth remembering that clients can often see straight through flannel, and if your proposition doesn’t have substance then it won’t be convincing, or maybe not even read.
So the value of the proposition is in being truthful, in expressing meaningful statements that are useful to the client. Statements that help them what you make and do, and the value you bring to them if they chose to work with you.
An obvious question the last paragraph should prompt is how does one identify what is of value to the client? Ironically this is the question that is most often forgotten. Of course, products and services are what they are. However, their value to a client will inevitably vary considerably, depending on the client’s circumstances. These circumstances are recognised through research and insight as the strategy is developed.
Also, it is so important to recognise the needs of a client, because they determine the likelihood of the client engaging with your business. After all which company buys things they don’t need? So although particular products and services may be excellent in their own right, their appeal and value will be multifaceted. What different customers derive from a product and service will be different; and is governed by the client’s circumstances – their needs.
The client’s circumstances ultimately determine (regardless of the value of your offer) whether they are in the market to buy a product. But it is a big mistake to assume all clients know what their needs are. Needs are driven by changing circumstances, some of them internally driven; others externally driven. By definition needs alter, and evolve. Therefore, a key part of marketing and business development activity should be focused on communicating the issues clients face or are likely to face, as well as making clear how your business can help address issues and solve problems.
So the key point here is to recognise when writing the proposition, is that there is more than one. All based on a core set of services and products; each one tailored to answer the needs of specific types of clients.
To write effectively requires the writer to understand the intended audience. This naturally determines the writing style, but it is far more important to pitch for business using ideas, concepts and language the intended audience understands – for obvious reasons. Jargon and terminology only work if the reader understands them, and focusing only on technical detail will mean little to the non-technical reader.
Therefore, good writing strikes a balance that reflects the diversity of understanding of the intended audience. It makes sure that the benefits of a proposal are clearly explained, as well as some of the technical details. It recognises that there is nothing clever shrouding meaning in so-called clever business-speak.
Developing a writing style, or a tone of voice, is good. However, the most important (and easy) step is to agree what words to use that best describe what you do, and then to use them consistently. Consistency isn’t a dirty word. It helps the reader grasp ideas and meaning. Asking readers to interpret several terms that largely mean the same thing runs the risk they will think each one means something different.
However, it isn’t enough to develop an approach for proposal documents without considering other marketing touch points. Take the website. How do your proposals stand up to comparison to what you say on the web? Do you describe your business entirely differently compared to proposals and literature? And if so, why? How does this help any prospective customer understand your proposition?
In summary, developing a proposition is a process. Guided by strategy and from an understanding of the needs of clients. It is written deliberately and clearly so it is accessible to the audience, it is consistent, and it is focused is on expressing the value you bring clients.
Be clear who you are intending to target, narrowed by and informed by strategy.
Consider the client in the round. Don’t assume the client has one facet. Remember all clients have a range and depth of understanding. Write for more than one audience.
Identify likely client needs and make sure they are part of the marketing and business development mix. Clients won’t always have a complete understanding of risks, changes and challenges; so make sure getting these messages out is part of your thinking and activity.
Develop a common language, and apply it across multiple touch points. Make sure what you write is clear and succinct. Be consistent and accessible – avoid clever business-speak and jargon.