20 September 2006

Getting the proposal right

One of the things that make writing a proposal difficult is that the client rarely shares everything at the first meeting. It can happen, but it's typically at about the same frequency as total solar eclipses where I live.

I was with a psychologist yesterday, tallking about tools for getting information. Everyone knows that interviews are very poor at getting at information, but what's the alternative? I was surprised by 2 things:
  • the range of tools available
  • their simplicity and power
Now I'm not going to suggest that the first meeting with the potential client should be an opportunity to really uncover what they are looking for in the proposal by applying a range of psychological tools - not surprisingly, the first proposal will do that all by itself. In a very real sense, the first proposal is a test of the relationship. The client wants to know:
  • did you listen carefully to what you were told
  • did you invest thinking time on developing the proposal
  • were you creative in your response to the problem
The fact that the proposal is invalid because of some key information which was withheld isn't seen as a problem. You took the problem seriously? Fine, I need to tell you something else that slipped my mind last time. The relationship has moved on, we are closer to winning the work and the first proposal is just part of the cost of sale.

Why can't we leap straight to the second proposal? Well, we can sometimes - but the next client like that isn't due in the door for another few years. In the mean time we are dealing with clients who want to learn more about us and the way we think. They want to trust us and going through this slow waltz seems to be one of the mechanisms that helps the process along.


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