How to ensure your writing is meaningful to your client?
Previous tutorials have covered two elements of strategy: How to devise a more successful approach and writing a proposition. Both naturally touch upon writing, because writing is how we express ideas, and how we communicate with prospective customers and clients. Writing business proposals and marketing copy are inevitably much easier if the writer has clear direction and a point of view.
When it comes to writing a proposal, a considerable amount of water will already have flowed under the bridge. Your client will know some things about your business, and what you do. They are likely to have formed a view about you personally, and whether your business is in the running as a strong contender, or whether it is an also-runner.
Being asked to formalise your proposal and credentials in writing has become normal for most companies. It seems almost as though nothing can be awarded unless it is supported by a proposal, if for nothing more than Due Diligence’s-sake. But buyers in business, like consumers, are increasingly shopping around.
Therefore, like it or not, writing proposals is something your business is going to do a lot more of, and needs to be good at.
A proposal gives you the opportunity to clearly and concisely explain why you should be chosen to be a supplier. But in many cases, it won’t be one person making the decision. Most business leaders will ask for an opinion, or internal processes will require several managers to be involved in appointing a supplier.
Therefore, it is important to remember that the audience for your proposal is not one person (not just the person you know, even if ultimately they are the decision-maker.) Several people will need to be convinced. So you should make sure you understand who you are writing for and you understand what matters to them; and therefore what points need to be covered.
Having a clear idea of what is really important to the customer is crucial. Setting out the likely selection criteria to be used in assessing your proposal, and what is important to which participant in the decision-making process, will help you prioritise the points you write about.
It is also important to modify writing style, particularly when explaining technical matters. If you were asked to explain something to a class at school, you would naturally modify the language you use. However, proposal writers often assume that everyone at the client has the same level of understanding and knowledge that they do. They don’t recognise that a management team’s technical knowledge might vary considerably.
So an important step when writing proposals, as well as considering what needs to be covered, is to also think through whom you are writing for.
Since you cannot see into the minds of your client the best thing to do is to identify their role in the business. Not only does this give you a clue to their likely understanding of technicalities, but more importantly it will tell you what their professional interest will be. For example, the procurement function is different to the operational one, and if both roles will influence the final decision, you should make sure you have thought through what will help them choose your business.
The key message is: modify what you write to ensure everyone understands what you are writing about.
Even when it comes to e-tendering, this approach can help, because although answers to questions are often constrained, thinking about the source or reason for the question can be a big help in writing the best (and most succinct) answer.
Another common problem, when writing a proposal, arises when dealing with your perceived weaknesses. It isn’t unusual for an opportunity to cross your desk that is a bit of a challenge. Your business may well be competent and capable of delivering what is being asked for, but may not have the credentials to prove it. This is certainly the case for new businesses, challenger brands and newcomers to a particular market. The question is what to do about it when writing the proposal?
Good advice is to put yourself on the other side of the table and ask whether the gap (whatever it may be) is going to be obvious to the client, and whether it presents a considerable hurdle to your winning. If the answer is ‘yes’ to both questions then it is better to address this in your proposal, since, in any case, the client will likely see the gap and need to be reassured it can be overcome. It is better to deal with a problem up-front than run the risk of undoing all the good work later in the process, when the client spots the problem, and may think you have tried to pull the wool over their eyes.
Familiarity, they say can breed contempt. In relation to business writing, it breeds jargon and acronyms. Now of course acronyms are shorthand. Provided everyone knows what they mean, they are good. Using them frequently in a proposal is a risk – the risk being that the person reading your proposal will skip through it, and not understand what you are trying to say.
Business-speak and idioms are also something to watch out for too. The use of grandiose statements about your motivations and service are often unconvincing.
As well as the content, it is also important to get proposals properly proofread. Not only to make sure they read well, but also have been punctuated correctly and to chop overlong sentences. And it also makes sense to be consistent. Agree the terms and descriptions of your products and services, and stick to them consistently throughout your proposal.
One final thought (in relation to answering the question: how to ensure your writing is meaningful to the client?) would be to make sure you write from the right perspective. Is the proposal written from the client’s perspective? i.e. put into their shoes, does it explain to them what they need to know to select the proposer’s business? Or is the proposal too introspective?
From a client perspective, reading a proposal that extols the virtues of the supplier is all well and good. However, what matters is whether the proposal clearly demonstrates how past achievements, capabilities and qualities are going to benefit the client in the future.
Think about your audience when you write a proposal. What is the role of everyone involved in the decision? Understand the concerns they are likely to have, and make sure you answer them.
Consider weaknesses to your proposal, and whether you should tackle them head on
Make sure your writing style and content is accessible.
Avoid jargon etc.
Write from a client’s perspective, not your own. The document is, after all, is written for them! Therefore, test whether the proposals sets out your experience, knowledge and the proposition in terms of how this will benefit the client.