60000_to_160,000 = a rough ballpark* for the number of words a customer will read when reviewing four to six contractors’ sales proposals.

1 = the number of contractors a customer will select as their final choice in a bid process.

Of course other factors go into customers’ selections. However, the bulk of the details they’ll receive are in proposal documents.

Are 60,000 words a lot for customers?

Like everyone else, customers are busy. Selecting a contractor, while important, is time consuming and requires a ton of extra reading. Consider this, there are:

  • 4,543 words in The U.S. Constitution
  • 7,500 words, or less in a typical short story
  • 60,000 to 80,000 in a typical mystery novel
  • 418,053 words in “Gone with the Wind”
  • 770,000+ words in The King James Bible

There are a lot of words swimming around in customers’ heads when trying to select a contractor. Excel, though great for comparing numbers on pricing and staffing, doesn’t capture text nuances well.

What’s it mean for selling service contracts?

Contractors’ sales proposals must do the heavy lifting. It’s the place to communicate their unique service value.

Winning a bid isn’t based on using the fewest words or the most. Inundating customers with 1,000s of wasted words, bludgeoning them with data, sends readers skipping to the pricing page in an attempt to stay awake.

The answer is balance

There are two parts to this kind of balance in sales proposal development.

First, there is balance needed in providing RFP answers in as concise and reader-friendly manner as possible – respecting customers’ 60,000 word reading load.

Second, there is balance needed in presenting your solution consistently in answers to customers’ RFP questions.

#1 Concise & reader-friendly sales proposals

The oft-quoted “less is more” wisdom is rarely followed. It takes confidence in your sales people to believe you truly  understand customers’ service pains and business issues.

When sales people are in doubt, in goes the kitchen sink.

Relevant, schmelevant. Any and all proposal content is jammed into the Word document, resulting in proposals running needlessly to 20,000 words, or more.

Even when you’re confident you understand the customer’s situation, your proposal needs to be reader friendly.

This means breaking up long text paragraphs into smaller, digestible bites, by using headings, bullets and tables. Simple flowcharts and process maps quickly and more effectively communicate information than pages of dense text.

#2 Answering various RFP questions with a unified solution

This is a sophisticated balancing act, but one that pays hugely when done. There’s an opportunity for contractors to consistently present their service solution when answering RFP questions.

While contractors must always answer the question, it can be done in a way that repeatedly presents a unified, though-out solution, one that gains traction in customers’ memories.

Not all RFP questions are the same, there are two types: Qualification and Application.

Qualification Questions

These questions ask for generic data about the contractor bidder, such as:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many employees to you have?
  • What was your last 3 years’ revenue? etc.

Contractor answers are simple and straightforward. The answers are what they are, and the info should be readily at hand.

As you can imagine, qualification questions are rarely the determining factor in contractor selection. If a contractor is being allowed to bid, it’s hoped they’ve been pre-qualified, which isn’t always the case.

Application Questions

Customers ask these questions to learn how a contractor will work for them, specifically how that contractor will be structured, their processes, measurements, tools and delivery.

In short, customers are asking “tell me how you plan to do what you do, but for me, here at my sites!”

To persuasively answer application questions, contractors must have designed their solution for that particular customer situation.

This means, contractors must:

  • Lastly, answer the application RFP questions by referencing their unique service solution for that customer, but before that, contractors must…
  • Design their unique service solution for that customer (like a blueprint), but before that, contractors must…
  • Analyze that customer’s service pains & business situation, but before that, contractors must…

You can see that your sales people must be gathering the real information before the RFP comes out and Procurement drops the cone-of-silence over customer contacts.

Inherent obstacle presenting a complex solution

The last obstacle, and perhaps the largest, is to present a relatively complex solution in the proposal document. There are many moving parts in a service solution, and those customer-asked for details can quickly lose customers – remember their 60,000 word reading load.

Overcoming this obstacle is the final key to successful proposal development, and we’ll take a look at it in our next blog.

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* Based on a quick, informal survey I made of the word count in a number of contractors’ proposals to RFPs. On average these proposals contained between 10,000 to 15,000 words.

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Chris Arlen
President, Revenue IQ

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