Writing Proposals – Getting Your Tone & Language Right
When writing proposals it is critical that you adopt a tone and use proposal language that will appeal to your readers.
We are all different – persuasive business proposals recognize those differences. The things that turn one person on will turn another off – so it is critical to choose your words carefully when writing proposals you want to have communicate with your readers effectively.
Clients Unconsciously Tell You What They Want to Hear
Here’s the good news – everyone tells you everything you need to know to sell to them, service them, live with them, or simply just get through to them. They are communicating this valuable information to us all the time – telling us what they expect us to do when writing proposals for them, but most of us just don’t speak the language they use to communicate this wealth of information.
By the time you finish this module of the course you will not only have mastered a little practical sales psychology – you have an approach that will allow you to communicate with everyone you meet in the future much more successfully, but you will also know how to go about writing proposals that your clients and prospects will find much more compelling.
Just as importantly you will also have analyzed yourself using a behavioral tool that gives you a clearer understanding of those things that make you uniquely you.
A critical element in understanding how to communicate with others is understanding ourselves first.
Let’s start there…
Who are you?
Take out a pen and let’s now look at you and the way in which you are likely to be perceived by those around you. Look at Figure 1 below: it has two ranges, running from Outgoing to Reserved and from People-Oriented to Task-Oriented.
In practice all people are a complex mixture of these attributes.
Figure 1: Behavioral Attributes
Outgoing or Reserved? …
First consider where you fall on the first range that runs from Outgoing to Reserved.
The person with more of the Outgoing attribute in them tends to relish the idea of entering a room full of strangers, viewing it as an opportunity to meet more new people – something that they love.
They find it easier than most to walk straight up to new people, introduce themselves quickly and integrate into an already established huddle. When they express their opinions they are forthright and stubborn – holding their views strongly and refusing to back down – even at times when they know they are wrong.
At the other end of the spectrum is the person for whom the room full of strangers holds no attraction whatever. If it’s his/her job to meet the people in that room then, of course, they’ll get stuck in – but it’s not their idea of heaven!.
These people subscribe to the view that everyone is entitled to their opinions, even if they differ from their own – and feel no need to have the last word in driving home their particular viewpoint.
Figure 2: Who Are You?
Now, you’re probably thinking that on some days you are more towards one end or another, and on others you behave differently. But which end are you closer to?
The scale runs from 0 to 10. Draw a band ten units wide that you feel represents the balance of these two traits in your own behavior.
In Figure 2 you can see that my band runs from about 7 on the Outgoing end of the scale to 3 on the Reserved end – I’m generally about twice as outgoing as reserved.
Cool or Warm?
Now, do the same for the range that runs from “ Cool” to “Warm” . Those at the “Warm” end of the range are those people who upon first meeting appear particular open and friendly – it’s obvious to all around them that they place great emphasis on the value of relationships.
If they manage people then they get their results by building compelling relationships that make those people want to do what’s needed of them. They will also tend to be impulsive by nature – if you were the first in your circle of friends to buy the latest new gadget first time you came across it in a store, for example, even though you knew you really couldn’t afford it you are likely closer to the more impulsive right-hand (Warm) side.
Those at the “ Cool” end of the range take a little bit longer to get to know you; they need time to build up trust and are not easily impressed by glib personalities. They are generally more controlled than impulsive, and like to take a careful systematic approach to getting things done.
They also tend to have good systems that govern the way in which everything is done – and it is through applying these systems that they achieve their results.
Which end is more typical of you? Again, map yourself on the grid in Figure 1.
In Figure 2 you can see that I am typically more impulsive than controlled, and that a systematic approach to things is less characteristic of me.
Figure 3: You’re a Square!
When you’ve mapped yourself on these two ranges then draw a square around the boundaries of your bands – in the way I did in Figure 3.
Anyone else doing this exercise would also have a square the same size as yours – but there are many thousands of different possible combinations of these attributes that ensure that it is unlikely that any two people you know will fall in exactly the same place on the map.
And it is the placement on the map that can tell you so much about your own behavioral traits- about what others observe as your ‘personality’.
Figure 4: What Drives Your Behavior?
You’re a Square!
Notice that your square, like mine shown in Figure 4, consists of four smaller rectangles that are bordered by the four possible combinations of the ” Outgoing”, “ Reserved“, “Cool” and “Warm” attributes.
Each of these rectangles represents a key behavioral trait that determines the way in which you interact with those around you.
Some of these rectangles are bigger than others, so that these traits govern more of your day-to-day behavior, more of your preferences and normal behaviors – what others experience as your personality.
Look at the relative size of the four rectangles that make up your square. The bigger the area covered by a rectangle the larger the impact on your day-to-day behavior.
The largest one tends to have most impact on the way you relate to those around you, while the smallest has least impact.
Which is largest / smallest in your map?
Although we are all a complex mixture of all four of these traits (and then some) the one which will tend to have most impact on our day to day communication and business dealings will be the larger one – and that’s why we will focus upon that one most when we talk about using this information in crafting winning proposals.
Let’s look at these four traits in more detail, and then consider their implications when writing proposals.
Look at the rectangle bordered by the Assertiveness and Task-Oriented attributes. This trait is frequently referred to as “Dominance” , and it is a measure of how you react to problems or challenges.
Those whose largest rectangle is in the Dominance area tend to take a very direct, assertive, results-oriented approach to meeting challenges and achieving results.
Very highly Dominance people can often be observed as having a Machiavellian “end justifies the means” attitude to getting results – disregarding the impact on anyone or anything around them of their actions. People with a high D score love a fast pace and make quick decisions.
Dealing With a High D
To get your point across to a high D person you must be brief and to the point.
They prefer logical, non-emotional approaches to problem solving, and they value brevity. When you set out to sell them something you bore them with detail at your peril.
When writing their proposals cut out the chitchat, unnecessary data and all excessive facts, and give them the highlights. These are “now” people. They want action.
To convince a High D you must behave in a manner that makes them comfortable – you must assimilate some of their High D behavior.
Be brief, direct and when writing proposals always use language that emphasizes results.
Look where this attribute comes from – it is the combination of an Outgoing/Assertive nature with a Warm, People-Oriented approach.
This Influence attribute is what most people associate with salespeople (what people mean when they talk about a ‘sales personality’).
The High I is a socially comfortable lover of people, who relishes the opportunity to interact with people. They tend to be motivating speakers, whose enthusiasm for anything and everything they talk about is easily communicated to those around them.
Look at anyone you know that speak quickly and loudly and makes liberal use of their hands and get their points across in an animated fashion – chances are they are a High I.
They like people – and as importantly, they like people to like them.
These people are like their High D cousins – they also love a fast pace and quick decisions – but they like to become everyone’s best friend along the way (psychologists often refer to the extreme versions of this as a ‘puppy dog personality‘).
Dealing with a High I
In writing proposals for High Is you must become a High I. Unlike the High D they like some small talk and social chitchat before getting down to business – so build in time for this when you arrange to meet with them.
Ask for their opinions; involve them in the creative process.
Use proposal language that will appeal to their sense of image – sell them on how what you’re proposing will make them look an awful lot better, will enhance their image, and will make them more of a success with their colleagues.
Be friendly, positive, and enthusiastic.
The name says it all – this attribute is born from a combination of the People-Orientation of the High I with a much less assertive nature. This combination makes these folk unique.
Dealing with a high S
When writing proposals for High S readers assimilate the S approach. When you want to sell an S on a product, service or idea allow lots of time for patient, deliberate discussion.
Show them the benefits of any proposed changes, show them how you will help them to avoid the risk inherent in any change, and allow them as much time as possible to come to terms with any proposed change.
When writing proposals for these folk be patient and deliberate and you’ll bring the High S around to your way of thinking.
The High S has a similar interest in people as her High I cousin – but they prefer proposal language suggesting a more deliberate pace that allows them time to think through all possible issues before they make any decision.
These are the systems people, the people who have a place for everything and want everything in its place.
Their natures are driven by their more reserved, non people-oriented attributes. Compliance is all about respect for authority, rules and procedures.
These High C people favour a pace similar to their High S compatriots – after all it takes time to review all possible details before making a decision.
However, these people are not weighted down by consideration of others’ feelings – they stick to the facts and make their decisions on the basis of those facts alone – and not on whether they like or dislike you.
Dealing with a High C
Writing proposals for High Cs is easy – simply emphasize logic, detail and quality.
Never make statements without backing them up with sufficient data to ensure that they are credible.
Don’t bother with small talk or socializing – they’re just not interested. Where possible stick to tried and tested approaches to solving problems – they don’t value “the latest approach” unless it has been categorically proven to work as well, or even better that, more traditional approaches.
When writing proposals for these people remember that it doesn’t matter how much data or proof material you pile upon them you won’t bore them – your proposal language cannot be too technical. They want all of the information that they see as necessary to make a “correct” decision.
They’ll never want to run with a gut feeling so don’t expect them to do what you want to do unless the case for it is watertight.
Stick to the plain facts, provide lots of detail, keep the pace deliberate, and don’t try to mix business with pleasure – they just don’t buy it.
So how do I apply this to writing proposals?
Now that you’ve got a little sales psychology that helps you to accurately describe how all around you behave, what turns them on and off, and effectively predicts how they will behave in given situations, how do you use this valuable tool in writing proposals that really appeal to your readers?
First, look to yourself
Look at where your own scores fall and be very aware that your personality, the behaviors you have identified in yourself, will find their expression in the way you react to just about every situation, in how you deal with situations and handle problems, and in how you communicate through the spoken or written word.
Don’t doubt this.
Look at any previous proposal you’ve ever written or any presentation you have ever prepared – look at the tone, word choice and expressions used. Become aware of your own default proposal language.
For example, if you’re a High D then you’ll see that when writing proposals your language tends to be very action-oriented, result-driven, to the point, low on ‘unnecessary detail’, direct and to the point. Your whole tone will communicate the need for action – now! Your focus is always on outcomes and results.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this – if you’re communicating with someone who is just like you, a similarly high D.
But what if your target reader is a High C? That person will want you to lay out all of what you think of as ‘unnecessary detail’ in excruciating detail, and will resent your attempt to move things at a pace that is any faster than that which allows for examination of all aspects of the proposed solution in great detail.
When writing proposals that reflect only your ‘voice’, pace, tone and normal proposal language it is obvious that you will always miscommunicate to some extent when the people you are writing for are not exactly like you.
So proposal language and tone that would impress someone just like you would alienate someone quite different – your strengths suddenly become weaknesses.
What’s clear is that, if you wish to communicate effectively in your proposals, you must, before you begin writing proposals, consider your key audiences, and adapt your proposal language, word choice, tone and pace to suit those audiences - otherwise you will write proposals that appeal only to others just like you.
How Do I Analyze My Readers?
Persuasive business proposals are written in proposal language specifically designed to appeal to the reader – not the writer. This is sales psychology at its most practical.
Every time you meet those for whom you are writing proposals, and every time you talk with them, become alert to the clues that they give off about what type of people they are.
Using the tool you just used to analyze yourself continually ask yourself where they fall on those two axes – are they more Outgoing/Assertive or more Passive/Reserved? Are they more Warm/People oriented or Cool/Task Oriented?
Listen to the language they use; look at their body language; asses their written communications – you’ll find that their personalities, like yours, are written in large print just waiting for you to read. Compare your observations with those of your colleagues who have also met these people.
Then go through the same exercise with the grids for those contacts as you did for yourself – map them out and look at what that analysis tells you about your target audience.
Will you be perfectly accurate? Probably not – but you will be more attuned to your target readers than before you did the exercise, and it will make you think more carefully when writing proposals – choosing your words, expressions, suggestions, and pace consciously to suit your readers.
How to write for each type…
If you adapt your language to your readers you give your proposal a decided edge – they’ll find the content more agreeable and interesting than if you write it for your own consumption.
Here are some tips for writing for each type:
Writing Proposals for High D Readers
- Keep your text direct, brief as possible and stick to the point
- Write positively and confidently
- Emphasize clearly quantified business results
- Use logical arguments – forget sentiment or emotional appeals
- Emphasize win-win approaches
- Demonstrate your expertise
- Do not over use data – skip the deep detail
- Be respectful and not too familiar – respect & defer to their authority
- Look for and emphasize any ‘prestige’ dimension in your solution
- Leave out the small talk
Writing Proposals for High I Readers
- Adopt a friendly, optimistic and less formal tone
- Use lots of examples, illustrations, analogies
- Share the opinions of other opinion leaders – use testimonials and references
- Stress any potential for recognition
- Share details of your other high profile clients
- Quote their words back to them, showing respect for their ideas
- Keep the detail to the minimum necessary to make your point
- Avoid technical talk
Writing Proposals for High S Readers
- Emphasize security – tried and tested solutions
- Provide adequate time for implementation – and for making a decision
- Adopt a sincere and agreeable tone
- Show interest in them as people
- Be sure that any changes are presented non-threateningly – minimize risk
- Assure them of your ongoing support
- Clearly define roles – yours and theirs – in any project
- Emphasize stability and predictability
- Protect desirable aspects of the status quo – make change appear gradual
Writing Proposals for High C Readers
- Be thorough – detail everything
- Use graphs and accurate data
- Ensure any proposed change is gradual and carefully planned, step-by-step
- Show appropriate respect for the status quo
- Stress your high standards
- Reassure them of collective responsibility for outcomes
- Emphasize project control and risk management
- Do not flatter or patronize
- Defer to their expertise
- Do not be overly familiar – keep it formal
- Provide step-by-step details for achieving goals
Become a Proposal Chameleon…
First, be aware that when writing proposals you will always tend to write in your default style – as if all others were just like you. They are not.
Accept that such a ‘one size fits all’ approach is bound to alienate some reader at some time, and make the decision that you will adapt the tone, language and pace of your proposals to match those that will resonate best with your target readers.
You will not always have a perfect snapshot of all of your readers’ personalities and what they demand in the proposal – but if you have managed to reflect the specific requirements of your readership even slightly better than your competition then you have won yourself a critical edge – and even that single edge could be the difference between writing proposals that win the business and writing proposals that lose the business.
Getting Into More Detail…
When ‘Winning Business Proposals‘ becomes available in eBook form (shortly) you’ll find a lot more information on how to apply this approach to your proposals.
Each reader type is examined in more detail – and you’ll find a list of words and phrases designed to be used when writing proposals for each reader type – it even talks about how to deal with the situation where you have multiple reader types in your decision making group.
If you’d like to be alerted when the book becomes available and get a first-come discount just drop me your details using the contact form at the foot of this page.
OK, What Now?
So, now that you know the need to clear identify the target reader before you begin writing proposals you are ready to start writing your business proposals.
Module 8 of the FREE Business Proposal Course will show you how to construct and write your business proposals in the most compelling and efficient manner possible.
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