Persuasion is Part Anticipation
The most important thing you can do to win your proposal is to anticipate how the evaluator will reach their decision. Finding this out will probably require research. Sometimes you can just ask them. But sometimes what people tell you and how they actually reach a decision are two different things. Researching their decision making history and trends can help.
Sometimes you have to guess. However, make sure your guess is based as much as possible on the evaluator’s perspective, instead of your own. Not all evaluators are the same. Different people have different priorities. For example, consider this list:
- Customer satisfaction
- Public welfare
- Competitive positioning
- Personal goals
- Corporate goals
If you ask people to rank them by priority, you’ll find that everyone will put them in a different sequence. If you ask them to write them down or tell you their priorities, you’ll also find a difference between what they say and what they actually do. It’s human nature. You must accept it and dig a little deeper if you want to be able to anticipate how they will make their decision.
If you want to win, you should build every aspect of your proposal around how the evaluator will reach their decision. The problem is that you have to find that out before you can build your proposal around it. Your ability to anticipate is one of the most important factors in writing a successful proposal.
Persuasion is Part Strategy
What are the things you are going to do to have the best proposal? Will you have the best recommendation? The best presentation? The most cost-effective? The quickest? Or something else?
Once you know what you intend to do to win, then you need be able to articulate it, to provide the evaluator with the reasons they should accept your proposal. The things you say to win your proposal are called "themes."
Your best chances of winning come from having a winning strategy that is well articulated, and that reflects how the evaluators will make their decision.
Persuasion is Part Positioning
Is your proposal competing against other proposals? How will your proposal compare? Will it be stronger, faster, cheaper, better, more technical, or something else? When a proposal is competitive, it’s not enough to have a strong proposal — you need to give the evaluator a reason to select your proposal instead of theirs. By intentionally positioning yourself, you give them that reason.
Even if your proposal is not competing against other proposals, it will still be compared to other alternatives, approaches, or solutions. You should position your proposal amongst these alternatives to frame the discussion, instead of letting it happen randomly.
Persuasion is Part Motivation
An evaluator can get all the answers they need and still not accept your proposal. Accepting a proposal means effort. It means spending money. It means taking action. It means change. The evaluator needs to be motivated to accept your proposal. Maybe your reasons will motivate them. Or maybe you’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse. In addition to anticipating the questions the evaluator needs answered, you should also anticipate what it will take to motivate them.
Persuasion is Part Copy Writing and Presentation
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking about how they want to present their proposal first. They worry about how it will look. Or they jump head first into writing as if all it takes are the right words to hypnotize the evaluator into doing whatever you want. Unfortunately, you can’t create magical copy without an effective strategy and without the right positioning. Only after you’ve thought through your strategies and positioning, and have some idea how to motivate the proposal evaluator, are you ready to think about copy writing and presentation. Effective copy gets attention and sets the stage. A good presentation will create the right impression. But without strategies, positioning, and methods for motivation, it’s all just illusion.
Once you’ve done your homework, copy writing and presentation are about effectively delivering your message to the proposal evaluator. You can appeal on an emotional level or on a rational one. Or even both. What is going to work depends on who the evaluator is and what the evaluator’s expectations are.
This brings us back to anticipation. You must anticipate what matters most to the evaluator, how they go about making decisions, and what they expect to see in a proposal. Will a fancy proposal impress them or offend them? Will copy based on fear motivate them or make them oppositional? Do they need to see all the technical details or will their eyes glaze over? Ultimately, strategies, positioning, copy writing, and presentation are all integrated. Their effectiveness depends on your ability to anticipate.