One upon a time, computers were all about function. They came enclosed in beige metal boxes, they were bulky and they were ugly, but they did what they were supposed to do, and for most computer companies, that was all that mattered. Then along came Apple with a new idea: why not make computers beautiful? While Apple did a lot of other things to make their Macs stand out, the idea of incorporating a strong aesthetic into a technical device is a big part of their philosophy. And the idea that presentation is as important as function has trickled to other corporations as well, from Nest (thermostats can be beautiful?) to Dyson (fans can be beautiful?), and yes, to other computer manufacturers too.
Presentation in devices is important because people use devices. Presentation in proposals is important because people read proposals. It took a long time for the industry to embrace this. For many years, writing a proposal consisted of throwing technical facts together, and trying to make it sound like once person (and not your finance guy, and IT guy, and accountant, etc.) wrote the whole thing. Now, companies are realising that a proposal or RFP response can’t just be free of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. It can’t just be technically accurate—it has to incorporate a cohesive and persuasive flow of language. It has to bring the reader on a mini-emotional journey based on smart word choice, crafted sentences and a subtle but persuasive marketing spin. If you pull this off right, the journey ends with a thoroughly convinced reader, or at the very least, one in a positive and optimistic frame of mind.
I’ve seen the proof of this from many of my clients. Where I was once asked to simply make a new RFP response read like the last one, now I’m asked to respect strict editorial guidelines and to “wordsmith” even the most technical sections of the document. On one occasion, I was given a yearlong mandate to rewrite a massive database of RFP responses based on the corporation’s new tone of voice. Sure, a big part of that project was to validate responses with subject matter experts, but the way the responses sounded was equally critical.
This new approach makes a lot of sense. After all, sales execs everywhere have always put a lot of effort into cover letters, agonizing over every word to make sure the letter as a whole comes off just right. Now, that same level of diligence and seriousness is being applied to the whole proposal response. Not that execs didn’t want to put any effort into the proposal itself, but now, the effort they are putting into it is significantly greater than before.
The way I see it, a proposal’s polish and language is exactly like your first impressions of someone. When we meet someone for a first time, like it or not, we immediately formulate an opinion of that person’s credibility based on how they present themselves. If that impression is negative, we probably won’t be motivated to dig further and find out more about them. If that impression is positive, we become more comfortable committing to investing time in them.
So the next time you write a proposal, or delegate a RFP response to a writer, think about polish and language. Think about the movement of the text and how it will make the reader feel and how it presents the facts. The better you get at that, the more success you’ll have selling your product or service.
Michel Semienchuk, is the founder of a content, marketing and media agency called Nexplica, Inc. and a proposal (RFP, RFQ, bid) consultant. To find out more, visit his LinkedIn profile or www.nexplica.com.