Winning the Business

A Lesson in Customer-Focused Proposals

Not emphasizing the customer’s needs can leave you going home empty-handed

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Wording is very important when writing proposals. Naming the customer first and more often than your own company or product is one way to ensure your proposal is focused on the customer. And by touting the benefits the customer reaps from your product upfront, you can show your customers you care about their needs.

Check Yourself

To create more customer-focused proposals, review the opening sentences of each paragraph. Do many of them begin with “We,” “Our,” or your company’s name? If they do, you could very well be going—as in the “This Little Piggy” nursery rhyme—“we, we, we, all the way home,” because your proposal is not focused on the customer.

Another effective rule for customer-focused proposal writing is to name the customer as many or more times than yourself. Few people enjoy talking with others who only talk about themselves, and even fewer like to read over-glorified descriptions of others—or their companies. While writing a proposal, eliminate the tendency to focus too heavily on your company—by counting the number of mentions, including pronouns, you make of yourself. Reword any content or sections where your company is named more than the customer.

An entire proposal section on your company’s founding and years in the business does little to describe what has made it so successful and why it is the right fit for your potential customer.

But What If They Ask?

It’s easy to get tricked when the RFP asks you to describe your company. You may want to launch right into the history of your company because that’s what makes it exceptional and unique. What the customer really wants to know, however, is why your offer is credible and what makes it the best option. What differentiates you from others?

An entire proposal section on your company’s founding and years in the business does little to describe what has made it so successful and why it is the right fit for your potential customer. Instead, respond to this part of the RFP by emphasizing how your company’s background makes you more beneficial to the customer.

Benefits First

As you describe your company, focus on what you can do for the customer. How will the company benefit if it accepts your proposal? An easy way to do this is to never describe yourself. Don’t give some general spiel about your company’s history or a mundane, simple description of your product or service. Instead, describe what is important to the customer about your qualifications and approaches. Also, provide proof from past clients that quantify your qualifications and approaches.

When you state a feature of your solutions, first describe how this feature will benefit the customer. By stating the benefit first, you begin with what is most important to the customer: what the customer will gain, instead of what you can offer. This simple organizational tweak can ensure you are writing with the customer in mind.

Don’t Get Sent Home

Be sure that you are not overemphasizing your organization. A customer-focused proposal should highlight how accepting your proposal will help the customer reach its objectives. Having too much “we” in a proposal shifts the attention away from your customer and, ultimately, away from how you can fulfill the customer’s needs. Again, as the previously mentioned nursery rhyme foretells, doing this can send your proposal “all the way home.”


Brad Douglas is the president and CEO of Shipley Associates, a global proposal service provider. He can be reached at bjdouglas@shipleywins.com.

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