Conversation versus presentation

A proposal is really just a conversation with a customer, albeit one where you have to fill in both sides.

Most of us would much rather talk to a customer than submit a proposal, because verbal conversations offer a feedback loop that written presentations (like proposals) do not.

In a conversation, you can get started with just a general idea of what you want to achieve. Then you can go where the conversation takes you.

Provided that you are tuned in to the customer’s reactions, it is easy to pick up when your ideas have landed and when they haven’t. It is no problem to float new ideas and try out options. The customer’s body language, tone of voice and questions will also help you to find and correct any gaps and misunderstandings.

On the other hand, in a presentation, like a proposal, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve and be well prepared before you start.

In the absence of verbal and non-verbal feedback, you will need to outline what has already been agreed, or put forward a range of well thought-out options and alternatives. And with no room for gaps and misunderstandings, your offer will need to be complete - and absolutely clear - to have any chance of being well received.

With so much on the line, it’s no wonder you would prefer to have a conversation!

So when a proposal is the only option - like when you are bidding for a competitive tender - here are three ways to make your proposal feel more like a conversation, and less like a presentation.

  1. Less boasting. Going on and on about every project you have ever done isn’t only unnecessary, it also comes across like you are catcalling at the customer from a moving car. You’ve already got their attention. Use it to engage them in their favourite topic - themselves. 
  2. Less begging. Feeling insecure? You shouldn’t be. Just because the customer has the money, doesn’t mean they have all the answers. They want or need something, and you can deliver it. Treat your proposal as a conversation of equals, and ban subservient and conditional language (like ‘would’ and ‘could’).
  3. More sharing. In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson set out a solid base of research proving that customers value suppliers who challenge the way they think about how they can compete better or do business better. Although they may appreciate you confirming what they already know, Dixon and Adamson’s research found that there is vastly greater value in delivering insight that changes or builds on the customer’s knowledge in ways they could not have discovered on their own. You and your team are smart people and you know a lot that your customers don’t know. Impress them by sharing how you can help.