Context vs content - using your proposal to fill in both sides of the sales conversation

When you speak to a buyer in person, you can tell by their body language and expression whether or not your message has actually landed.  In a proposal, you can’t – and that’s pretty scary. Like it or not, a large part of the sales relationship is transacted through formal RFTs these days, without the opportunity for a feedback loop.  This means your proposal needs to work extra hard to fill in both sides of the conversation – just as if the buyer were in the room asking questions and getting information from you.

Content is what you say in your proposal; it’s your message.  Context is what gives meaning to your message.  Content without context is easily misunderstood.

For example, let’s say you have arrived back in your office after two days on the road presenting new construction techniques to a major client.  Your boss buzzes you and says abruptly “Steve, come and see me right now.”  As you hang up you think “The client called, they hated my presentation, and I’m going to get my butt kicked.”

But imagine if your boss had instead said “Welcome back Steve!  ABC Developments called, and they loved your presentation. Their engineers have raised some questions about the logistics of the new concrete panels.  It’s not a big deal but we need to work it out and get back to them by the end of the week.  Please come and see me now so we can throw around some options.”

What a difference this would make.  Instead of thinking you’re about to get hauled over the coals, you’re straight away thinking about how to answer the client's questions.

Presenting content without context in a proposal is a bit like walking up to an attractive stranger at a party and talking about yourself for 15 minutes without pausing for breath. It's not a great way to start a relationship.

As the expert, you have all this knowledge in your head that the customer doesn't have access to. The buyer doesn’t know what you know; you have to explain it to them. Think of context as a carry-bag for content – context holds your content together and helps it make sense. Part of the work of writing a proposal is to anticipate the questions you are raising for the buyer, and make sure your proposal answers them.