Asking the right questions is critical to the success of a proposal. But this implies that some questions are better to ask than others. Most questions can be formulated in different ways. Asking the wrong questions, or even the right questions asked in the wrong way, can take you and your proposal down the wrong path.
When I sit down to write a proposal, the first question I ask is often “What does the customer want?” I don’t ask “What am I trying to sell?” I strive to see it from the customer’s perspective. I try to explain how what I’m proposing will deliver what they want, instead of simply describing what it is I’m trying to sell.
- When the customer asks me to describe my qualifications, I ask “What does the customer need to know about me?” and “Why does it matter to them?” I don’t talk about myself. I tell them what they need to know and how it will help them get what it is they want.
- I don’t ask “What does the customer need to know about me?” and then describe myself. Instead I ask “What does the customer need to know in order to select the winner?” And then I give them what they need. It’s not about me. It’s about them. Even when I’m introducing or describing myself.
- I don’t ask “What do I need to say in my proposal?” Instead I ask “How are they going to make a decision?” And then I give them the information they need to decide. You don’t need to say anything in a proposal beyond that.
- I don’t ask “How can I fulfill the RFP requirements?” Instead I ask “What are they really trying to get or achieve?” And then I put my response to the requirements in the context of how we’ll enable them to achieve the results they are looking for.
- I don’t ask “How can I make this proposal easier for me to write?” Instead I ask “How can I make it easier to review?” And then I enjoy how often making things easier for the customer also makes it easier for me. And if it doesn’t, I enjoy knowing that the extra work is giving me a competitive advantage most of my competitors won’t bother with.
- I don’t ask “Why did they write such a bad RFP?” Instead I ask “How can I help them make their selection in spite of the way they have asked, while remaining compatible with their instructions?” And then, while following their instructions, I go beyond what they’ve asked for in order to deliver what they really need. If I offer them a real solution instead of a broken response to a broken RFP I stand a real chance of offering them something no one else will.
- I don’t ask “How can I do (or delivery) what they've asked for?” Instead I ask “What will amaze or delight them?” And then I become amazing and extraordinary in order to deliver it.
- I don’t ask “How can I be extraordinary?” or “How can I be better than my competitors?” Instead I ask "How can I give the customer more of what the really want than my competitors?"
- When I have a choice and I’m not sure which to offer the customer, I don’t ask, “Which should I give them?” Instead I ask “How can I give them both or let them choose after award?” If I can’t give them multiple options, then I’ll put a foundation in place so that they’ll have more and better choices in the future.
- I don’t ask “How can I ensure I have the lowest price?” Instead I ask “How can I call out the value in what I'm proposing?” Then I make sure they realize that the way I’m going to do things will be better, why it really matters, and how much it could be worth to them.
- When I’m not sure what to say or do, I don’t ask, “What?” Instead I ask “What matters (to the customer, to the evaluation, to doing the work, to achieving the results)?” Then I do what matters and tell them why.
Asking the right questions will make it easier to write a proposal that is based on the customer’s perspective instead of simply describing what you are trying to sell. Avoiding the wrong questions and asking the right ones will not only improve your proposal writing, it will greatly improve your chances of winning.
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