Marketing and proposal staff help to create bridges that connect many business divides.
Some of these gaps are obvious, like the divide between what your company’s SMEs and a customer’s technical staff view as critical components of their operations. Then there’s the gap in priorities between a customer’s operational staff and non-technical business leaders who weigh in strongly when it is time to decide whether to accept your proposal.
There is also a natural divide between your company’s SMEs who are concerned with the application of a solution, and your sales and business leaders who are concerned with winning against the competition. Haven’t we all heard in a proposal strategy meeting, “Let’s just win this thing and solve the problem of how to make it all work later”?
When developing a response to a customer’s RFx, one way that proposal managers and writers can help to bridge some of these gaps is by helping SMEs, sales, and business managers to shift their focus to align with their customer’s needs and goals. This shift is not about having a detailed understanding of the customer’s technical landscape, or comprehending project objectives as they are described in an RFx. The shift happens when a team becomes able to see things from the customer’s point of view and hear the customer’s goals and concerns (both stated and unexpressed). A level beyond that – experiencing what the customer feels about a proposed project – is even better.
There’s an old saying that is applicable here: you can’t fully understand where someone is coming from until you walk a mile in their shoes. Shifting to be customer-focused means, rather than simply highlighting the features and diversity of our company’s products and services, we talk about how they will benefit the customer; how a customer’s business will be transformed, and how the result will be not only different but better.
Focusing on the customer in this way also supports how we differentiate ourselves from our competition. Metrics and testimonials are standard proof points for messaging on how a company’s solution is superior to a competitor’s. Employing proof points is important, but we also differentiate from the competition by how closely we align with what matters most to the customer. The field of positive psychology declares that acknowledgment and appreciation play a vital role in building trust and maintaining good relationships, and trust is a motivator for buying products and services that align with people’s personal values, goals, or identity. Shouldn’t we then clearly acknowledge and appreciate a customer’s perspective to promote trust and a strong relationship with the customer?
As logical as this is, making the shift to see a project through the customer’s eyes isn’t a natural transition for everyone. This shift can be challenging for technical team members who are accustomed to focusing on how to solve a problem, not understanding how someone else thinks or feels about a problem. But even if it doesn’t come naturally, SMEs and business leaders are willing and able to make this shift if they perceive the value in it. When a team brings this focus on a customer’s perspective to an RFx response, something magical happens. Monologue becomes dialogue; and instead of focusing on the ‘what, when, and how’ of a solution, the content answers ‘why?’. For most high-level decision-makers, this is the question that matters most. Why?
So how does a proposal manager and support team help their SMEs, executives, and sales professionals shift to perceiving a project through the eyes of their customer and answer the ‘why’?
Here are a few tips and techniques that proposal staff can use to promote the shift:
- Hold a win strategy session with or after the proposal kick-off.
Guide the conversation to be all about the customer’s goals – not your team’s. Do your homework before the session to learn as much as you can about the customer and the ‘why?’ behind the project.
- Invite team members who have had direct contact with the customer to kick-offs and win strategy meetings.
This is important even if they won’t be involved in writing content. Ask them questions that encourage them to share their customer knowledge, and create a safe, respectful environment for sharing.
- During the win strategy meeting or in another meeting soon after, engage the team in a brief creative exercise.
The proposal manager adopts the role of a representative of your company and interviews the sales and operational team members as they play the part of the customer.
To play this role, they will need to imagine they are part of the customer’s organization, so they have the same goals and challenges as their customer. They should view the RFx project through the eyes of the customer. With this technique, the entire proposal team can gain a greater appreciation for what the customer wants to achieve.
Some example questions are:
- What are the changes you want to see in your organization once this project is completed?
- What kind of relationship are you hoping to have with the provider you select to deliver this project?
- What are the most important qualities the provider’s team must exhibit to deliver the project to your standards?
- How have your past experiences with our team or other providers impacted your vision for selecting the right provider for this project?
- Are there specific challenges that are essential to address in our RFx response, and do you have plans or ideas on how to overcome these challenges?
Bridging the divide between your team’s objectives and the customer’s in a proposal goes a long way to helping your customer connect with your team’s solution. Closing that gap may just be the bridge that gets your team to a win.