Don't TELL it, rather SELL your solution
Writing to persuade is very different from writing to inform, just as telling is not the same as selling. People with sales experience seem to write better proposals. Unfortunately, many proposals fail to persuade because the authors focus on what rather than why. They focus on telling rather than selling.
Audience, Purpose & Structure
In his book “The Language of Success”, Tom Sant talks about adapting your business writing to suit the audience and choosing the right structure to achieve your purpose. For example, he argues that if you want to inform the readers of a newspaper then you start with the broadest most important facts and include more specific details later. He calls this the funnel structure.
Winning by a NOSE
If we want to persuade our target audience then Tom Sant suggests that we must match the psychology of decision-making. When making decisions, people ask themselves: am I getting what I want, can you do it, are you giving me value for money and why should I pick you? So in our proposals we need to provide the right information in the right order to win the deal. Start with Needs, then Outcomes before outlining your Solution and providing Evidence that you’re the right choice. Tom Sant calls this the persuasive structure or NOSE.
Aligned to Sales
The persuasive structure for proposals aligns well with popular sales methodologies. This alignment is important because the purpose of a proposal is to advance the sales process. And a good proposal is one that wins. We encourage sales folks to ask customers about the problems they are experiencing and what they hope to achieve by overcoming these problems. Only then does the good salesman show customers how our solution aligns with their goals before overcoming obstacles in their path to moving forward with us rather than the competition.
Does it work?
In our training we offer delegates several example of executive summaries to review. In my experience, about 80% of delegates prefer a persuasive structure written according to best practice principles. And that’s usually before we teach them anything. So I would definitely argue in favour of using the NOSE structure in your proposals. A customer survey conducted by Qvidian (formerly The Sant Corporation), way back when, concluded that people who use this structure win 30% more than those who try to inform.
I know that very few people enjoy writing proposals, or reading them for that matter. For me the joy in writing proposals springs from the fact that each one is different. What I am selling is different, the decision-makers vary, and the competition changes. I like to get under the skin of the people reading the proposal so that I can focus on what matters to them and give them some good reasons to pick what I’m selling rather than choosing an alternative. This art lies at the heart of a good proposal and makes it a joy to read.