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Emotional intelligence is a critical component of both personal and professional success. Also known as emotional quotient, or EQ, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions and the emotions of others, and to manage them in a productive and empathetic manner. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., the science journalist and psychologist who wrote the best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” divided EQ into five categories: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, motivation and empathy.
When it comes to bids and proposals, empathy allows us to visualize the customer’s experience to better understand needs, goals and hot buttons, and it helps us develop quality proposals that tell a story, showing we understand their challenges and can provide the best solution. If we struggle to communicate a clear understanding of the clients’ problems, our solution will not be seen as valuable.
In his 2012 book “Persuasive Business Proposals,” APMP Fellow Tom Sant includes a quote from seasoned proposal professional and APMP Fellow Tom Amrhein that says, “You can be 100 percent compliant to the RFP and 100 percent wrong because you don’t know the real reasons it was issued.” In the book, Sant further describes a survey conducted by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, where more than 400 senior executives claimed that in order to be willing to listen to a salesperson, the salesperson must demonstrate knowledge of the executive’s business. In another example, Sant discusses the research of Antonio Damasio, head of the University of Southern California Brain and Creativity Institute, which shows that emotions underpin decision-making.
By speaking your customers’ language, you win their trust, and by showing that you care and that you’ve listened to and understood them, you help them feel confident that what you propose will be appropriate for them, beyond pricing considerations.
Where to Start: Q&A Session
A first step to emotionally connecting with potential clients as soon as the RFP lands on your desk is participating in a Q&A session. Sant quotes philosopher Cicero, who once said: “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.” Therefore, a Q&A session can help bring the right prompts into your proposal, while taking into account the emotional aspect.
According to Sant, one way to understand clients’ needs is to ask them open-ended questions, such as these he includes in his book:
- What problems or gaps in capability are impeding the organization’s success?
- What makes this problem worth solving?
- Who is experiencing pain from this problem?
- Have you tried anything before to solve the problem? How did that work for you?
- What are your key objectives or initiatives?
You must listen to each answer carefully and then use techniques such as the “5 Whys” of Six Sigma to get to the core issue. When writing the proposal, you can use words and evidence that came up during the session. In my company, it’s highly recommended to hold a Q&A before starting to write a proposal because it can help customize the document with the hints we collect. For example, a potential client talked to us about three main issues he was facing, which consequently became the three chapters of our document, where we included our insights and highlighted our solutions, using words, facts and examples brought up by the client. The proposal was highly appreciated because we showed we carefully listened to and connected with him, gaining his trust and eventually persuading him that the value we would have brought to his company went beyond price.
When creating a connection with the client, try to understand the personality of the person you’re talking to or the person who will read your proposal. What can you glean about your decision-maker by talking with them or through simple observation? Sant suggests considering the following: What is the person’s manner of speaking? Curt? Detailed? Emotional? Looking at their office — how is it decorated? Are there schematics of jet engines, pictures of children, golf trophies? What matters to this person?
Sant also recommends discussing the possible answers by using a valid personality test, specifically the Myers-Briggs approach. The test indicates four pairs of opposing personality tendencies that you can catch by simply talking to a person:
- Introversion/extroversion: How do people prefer to interact with the world? Would they rather work with a large group or alone?
- Sensing/intuitive: How do people prefer to gather data? Do they prefer details or the big picture?
- Thinking/feeling: How do people prefer to make decisions? Do they prefer logic, facts and technical details or consensus and harmony?
- Judging/perceiving: How do people prefer to organize their time? Do they prefer punctuality, structure and order or spontaneity and flexibility?
Based on these personality tendencies, consider two variables: how they prefer to gather data and how they prefer to make decisions. For example, if you’re dealing with a pragmatic person, you can guess that they will prefer brevity, information that includes more graphics than words and concise messaging without any marketing fluff. By delivering the right messages in the right format, you have a better chance of your proposal being considered.
All too often, teams jump into writing a proposal without knowing what the client actually wants or without trying to understand what kind of person the evaluator/decision-maker is. If we tap into EQ, our proposals will become more valuable because the story we tell won’t be about ourselves — it will be about the customer and their challenges, what they will get by working with us and why our organization is their best option. In this way, you will be able to move the decision-maker’s focus away from price and toward measures that differentiate you from the competitors.
Rossella Vietri, CF APMP, is a bid coordinator who graduated in business administration and has almost six years of professional experience. In her current role, she coordinates resources belonging to her organization’s Italy bid team, tracks data, manages bid content, implements bid best practices, and leads the bid process to win new contracts and retain clients.