The Development Source

Find Common Ground with your Customers to Create Winning Proposals

In a recent issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Daniel Pink, the author of To Sell Is Human:  The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (2012), discussed what he found in his research about fundraising.  Although Pink’s book is directed toward nonprofit organizations, what he had to say equally applies to proposals because his focus is on what motivates people to take action.

His advice is refreshingly clear and straightforward.  I will summarize his basic principles and apply them to making your proposals sell.

Rethink your notion of selling

Successful sales are about how to find common ground with your customer.  “Selling is helping people to do what they’re already inclined to do, says Pink.”

See things from the customer’s perspective

What are the customer’s interests?  We must get “out of the anchor of our own position” and see the world from other people’s points of view.  To do this, you often have to take a lower profile and listen and ask questions rather than make statements.

Listening is really important

Most people do not know how to listen very well, but you can only understand your customer by carefully listening and actively following what they are saying.

Address your problems through a narrative

Customers respond to stories because they are engaging.  The bigger the contract, the more important it is to begin and sustain a conversation and appeal to people through stories that convey a sense of purpose.

Proposals should convey a sense of buoyance!

Anyone doing proposals is going to be rejected often.  You must get used to hearing the word “no.”  To survive the word “no” and get to a “yes,” you should be buoyant in your proposals – optimistic, forward-looking, and demonstrate competence.

According to Pink, selling and fundraising are about finding common ground.  In business development, proposals also are about finding common ground with your customers.  Find this often elusive common ground, and your proposals are likely to be more persuasive.


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