Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win More Customers, Clients, and Contracts

By Tom Sant | Go to book overview

3 Why the Inuit Hunt Whales
and Other Secrets of Customer
Behavior

A specific practice group within one of the world's largest consulting firms hired me some years ago to look at their proposals. They were mystified why they weren't winning more. They were always one of a final two or three vendors. But for some reason, they almost never won the deal. They wanted some tips that would push them over the finish line.

When I looked at the dozen or so sample proposals they sent, I wasn't really surprised they were losing. I was actually surprised they were making it to the final. The proposals were all very technical. They were written in an informative style, as though they were white papers or journal articles. In addition, the tone tended to be condescending or patronizing toward the client. They contained no specific evidence of recent, relevant experience, provided no cost justification or value proposition, and sometimes did not follow the customer's instructions in the original RFP. So it didn't seem too surprising that they were losing. What appeared to be happening was that they were making it to the final cut based on name recognition alone, but when the decision maker moved to a more advanced kind of evaluation, they were losing out.

The defining moment in any sales process is the customer's decision. From the moment we first find a lead and qualify it as a real opportunity, through all the meetings, presentations, conversations, and communications between salesperson and prospect, our focus is on getting the customer to make a decision in our favor.

Obviously, understanding how people make decisions will help us sell more effectively. With insight into the customer's decision process, we can deliver the right message in the right way at the right time.


The Myths of Decision Making

For centuries, the assumption has been that people make decisions in a rational, careful, and thorough manner. Certainly since the triumph of rationalism after Descartes, the model for human thinking has been highly analytical and structured.

For example, Benjamin Franklin claimed in a letter he wrote to the British chemist Joseph Priestley that when confronted with a significant decision, he would divide a sheet of paper into two columns, label them Pro and Con, and then list all the evidence he could think of on each side.

-21-

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