Four Quick and Easy Ways to Make Proposals More Persuasive

Reality check: Proposal evaluators don’t care about your company. Really. They’re not mean, they’re just busy, so they don’t want to comb through pages and pages of content about you: your company history, experience, qualities, and products/service offerings. Instead, they want a simple, straightforward explanation of how those things will affect them. They care about benefits, not features, and they want to quickly find them in your document.

That makes sense, but you’re busy too. So you probably don’t have time to make sure every proposal is complete, compliant with the RFP, and wholly customized to the prospect’s desired outcomes. Right? We understand. That’s why this week we’re discussing four simple, easy-to-craft content areas that catch evaluators’ attention, highlight prospect benefits, and improve persuasion. Sound good? On to the list!

1. Value Summaries
Some of the best executive summaries we’ve seen start with a one- or two-sentence value summary—a concise explanation of how the bidder will help the prospect accomplish its objectives and improve its business. It clearly establishes the document’s overarching message up front, and can be extremely effective in setting a positive evaluator mindset. We recommend having your value summary stand out from the body text, perhaps by using a different font size, type, or color. Make it one of the first things readers’ eyes are drawn to.

But why stop there? In addition to including one in your executive summary, begin each major proposal section with a value summary, highlighting the key value and benefits conveyed in that section. For example, the value summary for a Project Team section may highlight the benefits of your team’s unique structure or qualifications and how they’ll reduce the risk of project delays, help identify efficiencies, etc. With one or two opening sentences, you’ve conditioned the evaluator to score the section high. Sweet!

Note: You include a customized executive summary in your proposals, right? Good, since the executive summary is often the only section read by every evaluator. We’re big believers that it should be the first section you craft, and then its messaging should be reinforced throughout the document in your value summaries, persuasive headings, callouts, and action captions. An effective executive summary is critical, so we’ll be diving into its structures and content in an upcoming entry.

2. Persuasive Subheadings
Headings are usually big and bold, and they’re one of the first things readers see. So why not use them to emphasize prospect benefits? For instance, let’s say your Project Team section has a subsection titled Project Team Communication. Not too inspiring, right? Readers might skim right by. But say you rewrite the subheading to Reducing XYZ Company’s Costs with Timely Communication and Issue Resolution. More persuasive? You bet.

Note: There are a few instances where persuasive headings should be avoided. First, avoid them for primary section headings (e.g., Executive Summary, Technical Approach). These headings should be purely navigational, so keep the persuasion to subheadings. Second, don’t alter headings when they’re dictated in the RFP document. There’s no use in crafting a persuasive heading if it may hinder navigation or tempt an evaluator to disqualify you for being noncompliant. No good.

3. Callouts
Perception matters. It’s amazing how many times we’ve seen win/loss feedback from a prospect where the winning bidder was praised for qualifications that were actually matched or exceeded by a losing bidder—all because the winner made them more explicit in their proposal. Ensure that evaluators register your key differentiators by placing them in an eye-catching box or sidebar. Remember: Evaluators care more about benefits, so make sure each callout includes both a differentiator and the key benefit it will provide the prospect.

Note: Depending on your proposal layout, we recommend placing callouts separate from the body copy in an enlarged left or right minor column. This lets the surrounding white space draw the reader to the callout text. And like value summaries, we recommend that callouts have a different font size, type, or color from your body copy. We also recommend no more than one callout per page. The more eye-catching, persuasive elements you have on a page, the weaker each becomes. Make sense? Awesome.

4. Action Captions
Everybody loves graphics. After all, we look before we read, so it’s natural for the eye to go to graphics before body text. So capitalize on that attention by adding action captions, sentences below each graphic that provide the key, persuasive message being illustrated—and how that message connects to a key prospect benefit. Action captions ensure that evaluators quickly understand the point of the graphic without having to dive into the surrounding text for context. And they’re nearly always read by those just skimming the page. Win and win.

Note: Like callouts and value summaries, we recommend that action captions have a different font size, type, or color from your body copy. And while you’re at it, be sure to include a figure number and name before each action caption. Figure numbers help with navigation, and figure names provide another opportunity to hit the reader with a short, persuasive phrase.

Still not sure where to place value statements, persuasive subheadings, callouts, and action captions in your proposal? Take a look at this page layout template for some ideas on placement!

Extra Tip: When you finish each proposal draft, begin your review process by reading just your executive summary, value summaries, headings, callouts, and action captions. Check to make sure they present a clear, consistent value proposition. This review is important because it mirrors the way many evaluators read. Most skim and jump around while looking for specific information, so in many sections they end up reading only the areas we discussed today. Make them concise, consistent, and persuasive, and you’ll be amazed by the impression they make. Woohoo!

Shameless Plug Alert: A great way to ensure you have persuasive proposals is by hiring a professional proposal writer, editor, or trainer. You know, like the ones at Freestyle Editorial Services. Contact us today to discuss how we can make your company stand apart from the competition.

3 thoughts on “Four Quick and Easy Ways to Make Proposals More Persuasive

  1. Pingback: Favorite Five: May 2013 | Outlook Blog

  2. Nice gidelines… Think is a good way to summaize what the people would like to found in some new product/service introduction

  3. These are all good tips. I have been doing all of them for many years. Another good tip is to have a Table of Contents with page numbers, not just a list of sections. This helps the reader locate the specific information that interests him/her.

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