The customer who is reading your proposal has many demands on their time and attention. Your proposal must entice them in, make the journey interesting, and ultimately convince them that what you are offering has real merit.
These days, it’s pretty hard to get people to read long documents. A recent study by The Pew Research Center confirmed that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.
It doesn’t really matter whether we are reading for business or for pleasure – the barriers are the same.
Improving the evidence that supports your claims is an important first step towards making your proposal more readable and more convincing.
For example, in a tender evaluation, the people sitting on the evaluation panel have to give your proposal a score. What sets apart the proposals that achieve high scores is the quality of the evidence that they provide.
Tender evaluators use a score sheet that has a built-in process for scoring the quality of evidence you provide in each part of your submission. To get a top score of 10/10 or 8/10, your evaluator will have to justify that ‘all claims are fully supported’ in the part of your proposal that they are reviewing.
If your proposal has even ‘minor shortcomings in scope and detail’ – and this is very easy to do if you make claims without substantiating them with evidence – the maximum you can score on an answer is 6/10. In a very competitive tender, even one score this low could put you well out of contention.
Evidence is often the first thing that suffers when your writing is challenged by competing demands from your day job, tight deadlines and even tighter word limits. Here’s an example of what I mean:
XYZ Road Maintenance is Australia’s leading provider of road cleaning equipment to municipal authorities and private cleaning contractors.
Our highly experienced, results-driven research and development team has drawn on world’s best practice to develop our Road Maintenance Widgets, which are considered the most reliable on the market today.
This short proposal extract alone has five unsubstantiated claims. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. So how do we fix the problem?
For example, let’s look at the claim of “reliability”. Here is a better way to convince the customer that this claim actually has some merit. The first sentence makes the claim, and the rest provides the evidence.
Reliability is an important indicator of widget quality, as reliable widgets have a longer lifespan, better up-time and lower overall costs of ownership.
XYZ Co. offers a ten-year guarantee on the operational performance of our widgets, double that of most other widget suppliers.
We supply more than one million widgets each year to 87 contract customers, including almost half of Australia's municipal authorities and eight of the country’s top 10 private cleaning contractors,. Our standard supply contract promises 98.5% up-time for each individual widget; however, we have consistently exceeded this benchmark, achieving 99.3% up-time over the past three years across all 87 contracts.
Reliable widgets require replacement less frequently, reducing costs. Broken Hill City Council saved $50,000 on its annual road maintenance bill by using our widgets and private contractor Alphabet Cleaning Services has more than doubled the useful life of its existing road maintenance vehicles by replacing Acme widgets with ours.
A proposal without evidence is like a fairytale; ultimately, it's very hard to believe. Unlike a fairytale, though, reading such a proposal doesn't even have the benefit of being entertaining. It's disorienting, exhausting and the reader will most probably cast it aside without ever finishing it.
So stop cutting and pasting your proposals.
Slow down, really think about the message you want the reader to see, hear and feel, and find evidence to support every claim you want to make. You will find that you’re even more convinced about your offer as a result – and this conviction will lead to better results and more sales.