Technology has made creating proposal documents quicker and easier, but has it made for better proposals? I fear it has not in many cases. Let me describe the problem as I see it and offer some solutions.
You are not talking the customers language
There are some horror stories about the misuse of cut and paste in documents. Apparently JP Morgan lost $6.2 million in 2012 at least in part because of careless cutting and pasting in Excel documents and there are cases of contracts, legal documents and even patient records where cut and paste has led to medical disasters. But what I want to talk about is the proposal document that makes the prospect feel that they are reading something prepared for any customer but not for them.
If you copy from a proposal that was written for another customer, or even use generic descriptions of your solution, it won’t sound like a proposal specifically written to meet your customers needs. Worse still it might have formatting errors, out of date prices, old terms and conditions or even another customers name in the text somewhere if it hasn’t been very carefully checked.
Reading some of these documents is like hearing one of those call centre agents on the phone just trotting out the sentences they have been taught to say to everyone.
You’re not even talking in the Sales Persons voice
If proposal writing is not done by Sales People themselves, it won’t read as though it was written by them. And because the Sales Person has developed a relationship with the prospect it will sound false and insincere. Personally I think I can spot every bit of copy that has been taken from another document and I’m sure I am not the only person who can.
The problem becomes worse when it comes to a presentation. If you have written every word of the proposal presentation you know it inside out and you believe in it. If it’s been cut and pasted from another document you won’t be as passionate about it. Worse still you might not even understand it properly.
Don’t forget that at the moment the customer reads it – that document is your brand. It’s not about the logo or the typeface, the reality of a brand is that it is made up of the the thoughts and feelings people come away with after an interaction with you. That is the reality of your brand. If they think – copy and paste, incoherent and not on my wavelength – that’s your brand.
Why do people cut and paste?
I am not against the technology I am worried about careless use and over use of rehashed text. I understand that everyone wants to save time, but the time spent on a document full of copy and paste is actually wasted time.
Then there are organisations who want to ensure a minimum standard of writing so they provide generic templates for everyone to use. Or they have people whose job is just to write proposal documents. Either way, I believe the advantages of maintaining a minimum standard of writing are outweighed by the loss of customer-specific language and thinking. The only person who understands how the customer thinks and talks about their needs is the Sales Person.
Short-term fix. Long-term problem
Perhaps the biggest problem that results from taking proposal writing away from Sales People or allowing them to cut and paste chunks from other proposals is that they becoming de-skilled. Far too many Sales People cannot write well or have got out of the habit of writing. You only get better at writing with practice.
Ways to use cut and paste well
I don’t say you should never use cut and paste, just take care. All your documents should be tailored to each customer and each opportunity with that customer. With that in mind, you can do the following
- Project Planning. Proposals are becoming longer and more complex requiring content from more and more people. Make sure you task people to supply their content in good time so you have time to edit and check it.
- Opportunity Roadmap. Use an Opportunity Roadmap and a Deal One-Pager to brief everyone involved in writing a proposal and to get them singing from the same hymn sheet.
- Templates. You can have templates for some standard copy, like a Health and Safety policy for instance. These should be stored in a database that someone is tasked to keep up to date. Don’t copy and paste from an old document as the policy may have changed.
- Formatting. Nothing flags up that a document has been thrown together without much care than inconsistent formatting. If you use Windows copying text into Notepad and out again removes all formatting and Apple has formatting tools.
- Checking. Leave time for checking. Use ‘one thing at a time’ checking where you read through once for spelling for instance then another time for sense. If you can get another person to check your document that can help.
- How do you make sure your presentation documents are written in the customers’ language?
- Do you check every document thoroughly?
- Are you proud of the documents you send out?
- Do customers say that the content of your documents is relevant?