Bids and proposals

Is your bid presentation pushing prospects into the cold?

4 minute read

There is a common piece of advice among hardy outdoor types that it’s much easier to stay warm than to get warm. If you’re stepping out into the freezing cold, they say, you’re far better off putting on a coat before opening the door than wrapping up ten minutes later, when you’re already chilled to the bone.

This advice applies to writing bids and proposals too. It’s far better to keep your prospects warm than let them go cold and try to warm them up later.


First impressions

What do I mean by this? Well, imagine this scenario. You’ve put weeks of work into a bid and you’re feeling proud of it. You then pull everything together into a slide deck and head off to present it to the client.

The bid starts with an introduction to you and your company. But, as you really want to convince them of how great you are, that introduction ends up running to ten slides.

Now imagine how that’s going to sit with your prospective clients.

From their point of view, this is how it looks. You walk in, smile and shake their hands. So far so good. Then, maybe, you exchange a little preliminary banter – they might ask how your journey was or discuss the weather. This may seem trivial, but it’s important. You’re establishing a human connection and they’re probably feeling fairly well disposed towards you at this stage.

And then you fire up PowerPoint, which begins with an introduction to you and your company.


Me, me, me!

What happens over the next ten slides is that your gently warmed-up clients start to cool down – rapidly. That’s because they have no context for that level of detail. They don’t know what to do with it. So they quickly become disengaged.

Worse, every slide that’s about you implies that your offer is not about them. Putting yourself before them implies that you are actually the priority. It’s not that you’re alienating them as such. It’s just that there’s nothing there to keep them warm. They are far more interested in themselves and their problems than in learning about you – at this stage at least.

Of course, logically they may need the detail. But at this point, they’re more interested in solving the problem – and how to do it.

This also has a sound basis in science. You may have heard of a phenomenon called confirmation bias, which is our tendency to seek out information that confirms what we already believe. In fact, neuroscientists have recently discovered the brain mechanism behind this. The brain has a structure that diverts neural resources towards a decision that it makes very early on – often long before we’re even aware we’ve made that decision.

So, while you think you’re impressing the prospect with how great you are as a company, you could well be allowing them to cool down, then confirming that you’re wrong for them. They will start to see all the flaws in your argument and all the reasons not to do business with you. They may even go checking for more evidence that confirms that they’re right in that decision.

As a result, you’re likely to have an uphill battle. And by the time you get to slide 11 and finally talk about their issues, the bid is largely lost.


Keep them warm

How do you overcome this? Simple: keep them warm. Start with something that they already know, such as their ambitions for growth. Then move on to the challenges you know they face. Not only are they not going to disagree with that, but it will cause them to develop further positive feelings towards you as a supplier. It will show that you understand them and have their interests at heart (rather than your own), because you’re positioning yourself to help them (not you).

Even simple techniques can really help here. A perfect example is presenting the bid in their corporate colours. (The eyedropper tool in PowerPoint’s colour palette can help you match those exactly.) Just that simple act can start to generate the feeling that you are already part of their team.

When you do this, you use confirmation bias to your advantage. You send the signal very early on that you may well be the right supplier for them, prompting their brains to prioritise evidence that confirms that. You demonstrate that you’re there to work with them, to help them, not just to close a deal.

You change the default position from being one of feeling they need to check you out a bit more, because they’re really not sure you’re right, to a real sense that you could be the best supplier. In doing so, they are far more likely to actively look for information that reinforces you as the preferred bidder.

Rather than facing an uphill battle, it becomes far easier to persuade them to do business with you.

So the next time you write a bid, take advantage of this effect. Wrap a big, fluffy duvet around your client right at the start. Make them feel secure, by showing that you have their interests at heart. And, above all else, keep them warm.


Want more hands-on help with your bidding? Have a look at our bid consultancy services or bid-writing training and get in touch if you’d like to chat about options.

Image credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen / Unsplash


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Rob Ashton is the founder of Emphasis and posts mainly about writing and the brain – a topic he's been researching for seven years. You can read more of his work in Writing Matters – our weekly bulletin of career-building writing advice backed by science.

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