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7 Ways That Selling In Writing Is Different From Selling In Person

A proposal is a selling document. But people often assume that all they need are the right words in a proposal for it to sell. They assume they need to bring the written version of a salesperson to close the deal. What they don’t realize is that selling in writing is different from selling in person, and it’s often not the magic words you use, but what you do before you start writing that determines whether you win.
  1. Proposals are not interactive. Watch a salesperson in action: they ask questions and try different approaches based on the answers. You can’t do that in writing. In person, how you present yourself often counts more than what you actually say. In proposals, it is the opposite. However, just like people, every proposal evaluation is different. There are no rules that tell you what to do. In person, you can explore and discover. In writing, you must anticipate.
  2. Proposals only provide information in one direction. In a proposal, you can’t ask questions and modify your response based on what the customer tells you. You have to research the answers to your questions, and anticipate the customer's questions before you start writing. All you can do is provide information. But the information has to be what they want to get, and not just what you want to provide. Proposals are a lot like trying to have a discussion, when you can’t hear the other party. Or like a performance with no audience response. To keep the other party engaged, you have to take their interests into consideration and anticipate their response.
  3. Doing your homework is critical. You have to get the answers to your questions ahead of time. When you sit down to write the proposal and find you have questions about the customer's preferences, you may just have to guess.  Educated guesses are better.  Not having to guess at all is best.
  4. Perspective is critical. You must to learn to see the world from the customer’s perspective. They are not there to tell you how they see things. When they read what you wrote, they won’t hear your voice, your inflection, or your interpretation. They will see your proposal through their own eyes. To reach them and persuade them, everything you write must revolve around the customer, what they are trying to do, what they need to reach a decision, what they need to be motivated, and what they want.
  5. Mistakes are permanent. Never mind typos. If you misinterpret the customer, misunderstand what they want, or fail to write from their perspective, they will be constantly reminded of it every time they look at your proposal. When you make a mistake in person, you can recover. When you do it in a proposal, it’s there forever.
  6. Decisions are made differently. When you try to persuade someone in person, they often make their decision on the spot. When you try to persuade someone in writing, they take their time deliberating. They think more about how they should decide and what criteria should guide them. They try to be more logical. They compare, often line by line, in a way that can’t be done with the spoken word. To influence someone’s decision in writing, you should take how they will reach their decision into account, make sure they have the information they need to reach their decision, and if possible guide them through it.
  7. Trust is earned differently. In a face-to-face meeting, trust is earned through body language, questions and answers, challenges and responses, and interaction. People decide to trust each other based on their reactions. In writing, people decide whether to trust someone primarily by consistency, accuracy, transparency, and thoroughness. In writing, you need to show that you are careful, considerate, and reliable. People only buy from people they trust.
The best way to win in writing is to combine the two approaches. The proposal should follow the in-person discussion. But the proposal is not a follow-up to what happened in person, it is the extension of the discussion into another media.

If you are sending a proposal to a person you do not have a relationship with, have not met, or have not even had a discussion with, you must be able to see things through the eyes of a stranger. If the customer releases an RFP, your ability to win with a written proposal depends on your being able to see things from their perspective better than anyone else and to do it in writing. If they already have a relationship with someone else, you are at a huge disadvantage. If the decision will be made exclusively on the strength of the proposal, your only chance is to write a better proposal. This does not mean that you pick better words. This means that you do a better job of writing from the customer’s perspective. You can steal the opportunity away if the other company submits a generic proposal and you submit a proposal that correctly reflects the customer’s perspective. Very few people have empathy strong enough to write from a stranger’s perspective. The ones who do we call “winners.”


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  • Get ready to win before the RFP is even released
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By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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