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Let’s be honest — proposals can be boring to read. To be fair, it’s not their job to entertain. Their job is to factually describe how you’ll solve a customer’s problem in a way that can become a binding contract. Even if we sprinkle them with win themes and use good bid writing practices, they’re hardly going to be a page-turner. Even executive summaries don’t always get it right. Full of hyperbole, corporate jargon and superlatives, they can be hard to warm to and trust.
So how can we bring to life what it’ll be like working together? How can we make an emotional connection with the customer that builds trust and rapport? Welcome to “A Day in the Life.”
“A Day in the Life” is a powerful technique that shows your understanding of the customer’s world, where they want to get to, how your solution will get them there and what it’ll be like working together. It depicts a future date when they’re being severely tested and describes how your solution and relationship help them prevail.
Focus on the customer
The art is to use your customer research to craft an authentic scenario with which they’ll empathize. The more you understand their organization, their people and their challenges, the more impact you’ll have. Be creative but resist the temptation to exaggerate or shape the scenario to suit you. To build empathy, this must be a realistic depiction of the customer’s world.
Build the story
Start with a hook — a single sentence that grabs your readers’ attention. Then construct the narrative in chronological order around the scenario, describing how your product or service made the problems disappear. Use references to how things were in the past to highlight the benefits of working with you and the difference you’ve made.
It’s 8 a.m. and the day has started normally.
It’s 11 a.m. and the first challenge is beginning to materialize.
It’s 7 p.m. and the challenge has been overcome as a result of working with DITL Ltd. This would have been a massive business risk in the past, but now it’s barely noticed thanks to DITL’s fault monitoring service.
It needn’t be a “day”; it can be a timeframe of your choosing. A week in the life, for example.
In an April 2014 HubSpot article, “The Psychology of Stories: The Storytelling Formula Our Brains Crave,” the author recommends, “You need to make sure that you present the traditional story structure so that the brain recognizes the pattern and can work its magic. That means framing your story with a clear beginning, middle, and end.” He also recommends adding little details that make it seem more authentic: “a story without personalized details fails to create context, and ultimately fails to make a connection.”
Is there something peculiar about the customer’s environment that you can use to give your story a personalized dimension such as never having enough parking spaces, meeting rooms that are always booked or long coffee queues? Use independent experts with customer insight to make sure you’ve got the scenario and language spot-on. As the customer is the focal point, you need to talk as they’d talk and use their terminology. Getting the small details wrong can undo all the good work.
Putting it into practice
Presented as a rich picture, “A Day in the Life” can be an innovative form of executive summary or used to supplement a more traditional approach. By telling a story, you can seed ideas and emotions that inspire your audience to make decisions beyond pure logic. In a sea of mediocre executive summaries, it’s remembered long after you’ve won the contract.
Jon Darby, CPP APMP, is the managing director at BidCraft. He’s served on the board of APMP UK for seven years in the roles of marketing director, vice chair, chair, past chair and awards director.