Stop ‘we-ing’ all over your reader

The other day I ran a bid writing workshop for an international professional services firm (no name, no pack drill). Suffice to say, in their field they’re a household name; everyone’s heard of their firm.

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Having split the delegates into groups, I asked them to list all the topics that a proposal should talk about. They came up with all the main ones: Services, Programme, Design Concept, Fees, Benefits, Understanding of Client & History, Client Brief, Approach, Team, Credentials, History of Firm, Deliverables, Terms & Conditions.

As some of these overlap or are subsets of others, they then grouped them into meaningful categories, so we ended up with this list:

  • Fees
  • Approach (methodology, services, programme, team, deliverables, benefits)
  • Client Brief (understanding of client needs/objectives; the firm’s history with them, if appropriate)
  • Design Concept (the proposed solution)
  • Credentials (track record, firm’s history, ie why the buyer should choose them)
  • Ts & Cs

Next, I asked them to rank these topics in order of importance to the client. They produced this list:

  1. Fees (=1st)
  2. Client Brief (=1st)
  3. Design Concept
  4. Credentials
  5. Ts & Cs

I then asked them the $64m question: “DO YOUR PROPOSALS REFLECT THAT ORDER OF IMPORTANCE?”

They had to admit they didn’t.

When they re-read their most recent submissions, almost without exception the first thing their bid documents talked about was themselves and their firm, not the client. The tell-tale sign was the preponderance of the words we, us, our and the name of their firm, and the absence of the words you, your and the name of the client. The contrast was stark.

I call this ‘we-ing’ all over the client, and it’s not very nice. In fact, it turns clients off, ‘cos it’s saying to them ‘We think we’re more important than you.’

Would you buy from someone who gave you that message?

Scott Keyser — aka The Writing Guy — shows professional services firms how to use language to connect with their reader and get the results they want, such as win a bid, sell an idea, attract investment or change someone’s mind.

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