Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Win With Tailored Appeals

Cloudlancer Writing Services (http://www.cloudlancerwriting.com) writes or edits dozens of business proposals, grant narratives and business plans each year. Presumably, people hire me to craft those documents with the goal of succeeding in winning the contract, grant, investor or loan they are pursuing. So why do they sabotage their own chances of winning?

Time after time, clients present me with boilerplate they have submitted previously, with an admonition to “be sure the document contains this approved language”.  I have had clients send me files with “board-approved language”, “marketing department talking points” or even text copied from a proposal submitted by a competitor.
Some things are redundant for any business. Obviously, your core mission, product or service can only be described uniquely so many times. Your identifying information probably doesn’t change much, unless your physical address or contact names change.

What changes is the audience. Even if you have approached the funding entity or customer in the past, surely there is something new and fresh you can include. Did you expand a product line, improve a process, or reach out to new target populations? Is the information in the document so new that it differs from that on your website?

Nonprofits are particularly prone to recycling content. They restate their core mission and offer the same descriptive copy repeatedly. Once, when working as a grant reviewer, I was handed a proposal with a handwritten sticky note saying, “Just check for mathematical accuracy-they submit the same proposal every year”. The problem was that the foundation had changed its focus emphasis, so the old worn-out proposal didn’t match the new focus. The proposal was rejected for incompatibility with the new focus, as well as for citing stale results.

People and focuses within an organization change. Perhaps last year, the foundation board was comprised of people whose personal interests revolved around scholarships, while this year, a majority of the board is backing social impact goals in the housing sector. You might want to emphasize how your education-based nonprofit can increase the ability of the home buyer to understand contracts or to secure good jobs to pay for better housing. If your old “board-approved language” fails to stay current with the donor’s goals, it may not receive even a cursory review. Addressing the proposal to someone who hasn't been with the organization for three years isn't a good idea either. 

Business proposals are also likely to ignore the basic premise of successful sales. You always want to answer the question “Why is my product or service better for YOU?” If all your proposals contain a long-winded company history, the same list of users of your product/service from 20 years ago, and the same dry cost figures, and stretches out to 800 pages, don’t be surprised if your prospect’s eyes glaze over and they go elsewhere. 

Exclusive of technical items such as engineering, architectural or mechanical drawings and the verbal descriptions of same, if you can’t tell the prospect why your product will solve THEIR problem in 50 pages, you are probably just padding the proposal with meaningless fluff. This is NOT the place to include every sales brochure and sales award your company ever received. Restate the customer’s problem, and as succinctly as possible, show them how you will solve it. Believe it or not, in their eyes, it’s about them and their needs, not your company history. One Gantt chart can take the place of ten pages of prose to illustrate your installation or construction timeline.

The purpose of responding to Request for Proposals (RFP's) is to win the requesting party's support. Make it about them and their needs or goals, and you are already way ahead of the game.

©2012 Rebecca Lee Baisch     All rights reserved

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