October 30, 2017

How proposals demonstrate respect (or lack of respect)

Ken Cook

Do you use boilerplate language in proposals? My guess is most of you reading this do use it in some capacity. Boilerplate language is efficient and even important. It communicates with consistency what we want to say. It also assures the language is vetted for accuracy, messages are clear, and liabilities are avoided.

The challenge is when boilerplate language crosses over to fill-in-the-blank mode. Fill-in-the-blank is an easy response when there is a deadline to meet. Too much to do with too little time opens the door to expediency. "Just cut and paste from the proposal we did last week. It will fit and save us a lot of time."

When this level of laziness creeps in, the uniqueness of a client and their situation, and the relationship with that client, get lost in the process.

I recently assisted a client in sourcing a vendor for a new website. We spent considerable time going over options, design considerations, marketing needs, platforms on which to build the site, ease of use, functionality, etc. In other words, we did a lot of homework with a lot of upfront effort.

After assembling all of this information, the client had clarity on what she wanted. We sat down with three vendors we knew. We vetted the vendors through existing relationships and conversations with other people who had worked with them.

We invested time with each of the vendors. We took them through our research and laid out what we wanted. We explained our concerns, prioritized our goals, and explored budgets and how much flexibility the client had on the financial side of the equation.

Our expectations were we would get responses that were specific. We hoped each vendor would focus on the goals and desires of the client, bringing to the table recommendations addressing in detail how they could help in reaching those goals.

What we got were vendors who mailed it in. Each vendor fit the client into their solutions instead of adapting their solutions to the client. The proposals looked to be more than 80-percent boilerplate. The boilerplate addressed the areas of a website the client needed, but the proposal did not speak to the specifics of the situation.

It was as if previous conversations and meetings with the vendors never took place. There were no reiterations of goals, priorities, options and concerns the client had explained. The vendors did not personalize the proposal to the client's situation.

The three vendors chosen I'm sure do not represent how all web design companies operate (at least I hope so). Some of you out there are saying right now you wished my client had come to you. Frankly, she does too.

The point here is to recognize the uniqueness and importance of each client situation. Clients invest time and effort when seeking vendors and partners to help them. The clients are full of anxiety because not finding solutions usually costs them money.

To pay respect to the client's situation, vendors need to listen well. Assure the client they are heard; be specific with a response addressing their situation. Point-by-point, demonstrate to the client how their goals are met, risk reduced and anxiety eased.

Vendors can gain efficiencies from their experience. These efficiencies can equal greater profit, and no one should begrudge that profit. Vendors earn it through experience and expertise.

Bottom Line: Don't let efficiencies dominate client interactions. Each client is unique, and they deserve to be listened to and engaged in a unique way. Feel free to use boilerplate. Just insure you're specifically addressing your client's needs.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, a program on how to build strong relationships and how to build business through those relationships. Learn more at www.howtowho.com.


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