The challenge of comprehension

To be successful in competitive tenders, we need to skillfully communicate a message that goes only one way. So comprehension is the first hurdle. Does the buyer get it? Can they explain it? Could they sell it to someone else if they had to? The barriers we face here are surprisingly high.

Reading skills are foundational to the comprehension of long documents like proposals.

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Centre, nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. The University of Copenhagan suggests that multi-tasking with technology, like checking email while watching TV, is rewiring our brains and shortening attention spans – and 80% of us do this regularly. Add to this Australia’s significant problem with literacy and numeracy - - the 2006/7 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey found that 46%- 70% of us have “poor” or “very poor” skills in prose literacy, document literacy and problem-solving – and you’ve got a recipe for misunderstanding and disinterest.

Our proposal will end up on a pile with many others. Reading every one of these is a daunting, difficult job – made even more difficult if reading isn’t the buyer’s strong suit. The way we write proposals doesn’t help either. If we are not yet sold on what we’re offering, proposals can come off sounding stilted, awkward and full of incomprehensible jargon.

One of my favourite clients has a wonderful expression for incomprehensible proposal writing – he calls it “guff”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, guff means “foolish nonsense”. Harsh. But true. (Want to know if guff is poisoning your company’s proposals? Check out Bullfighter – a Word-compatible program that gives documents a Bull score based on how much jargon is in them.)

What happens when you combine a buyer who isn’t a great reader, with an offer that isn’t a great read? No deal. Comprehension is the first test of a winning offer. Get it focused, make it clear, and you’re on your way to getting it sold.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.