So you want to tell a story in your proposal. You’ve heard that a great way to win is to tell a story that is worth repeating, captures the evaluators' attention, is memorable, and leads them to the conclusion or action you want them to take. That sounds great! But how do you do that in a proposal? How do you respond to customer requirements in such a way that you tell a story? Here are some common ways to tell a story that can be applied to proposal writing:
- The Case Study. Instead of telling your story about the customer, tell it about another customer with similar requirements. Case studies are a good approach to use when you don’t know the new customer well enough to speak specifically to their needs.
- Anecdotes and Examples. If you can’t describe an end-to-end case study, you can still share anecdotes and examples. Instead of making the story about a specific case, make it about a number of examples that feature elements that are relevant to the new customer.
- Tell Their Future. Make the story about what things will be like after you are done working with the customer or at some other point in the future. Make it about how much better things will be. You don’t have to describe the currently environment in detail, but you do have to describe the benefits of your offering from the customer’s perspective. What will it be like to be on the receiving end of your offering? How will the customer’s work environment change for the better?
- Before and After. When you do know about the customer’s current environment, you can tell a story that is a series of before and after comparisons and contrasts. Just make sure you don’t patronize or insult the customer about their current state.
- A Hypothetical Story. If you want to tell a case study or a before and after story, but you don’t have one that is sufficiently relevant, then just make it up. That’s what a hypothetical case is. Don’t present it as a story about a previous customer, just present it as a story about a typical customer or the kind of circumstance that’s relevant. Hypothetical stories are often used when describing contingencies (if this happens, then…).
- A Manifesto. A manifesto is a bold declaration of your principles and intentions. It should be compelling and inspiring. But a manifesto also tends to be about the author and not about the customer. In a bid where the odds are stacked against you, a manifesto can clearly set you apart from the competition. A manifesto is inherently polarizing — instead of promising everything to everybody, it promises something specific and may repel those who disagree. For proposals that’s a high risk strategy. But when the odds are already stacked against you, it’s just the sort of thing that can take your slim chance and turn it into a win.
- A Tutorial. When the customer is looking to you to provide expertise that they don’t have, you may have to teach them how to evaluate your proposal. Your story shows what’s important and explains its significance. The trick is to present it as a demonstration of your competence without patronizing the customer.
- The Proof. Make your case. Prove that the customer should select you.
- An Adventure. Is it about the destination or about the trip? On some projects, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out because part of the project is figuring that out. So how are you to work with? What kind of experience will the customer have? Will it be fun and exciting? Dangerous but under control? Boring but reliable? The calm in the middle of the storm? What kind of adventure will you have with the customer?
- A Mystery. Help the customer solve the problem by becoming a detective. What kind of detective are you? Are you Sherlock Holmes or are you Columbo? (I’m showing my age but you can find him on YouTube.) Make your story about how you will solve the case.
- A Comedy. Humor is risky. Nearly all proposals try to avoid it. That makes it a great way to differentiate yourself. If you can manage the risk.
Here are some more articles to help you figure out what should go into telling your story: