Using Storytelling in Proposals - APMP Houston


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Presented by Courtney Pemberton at the APMP Houston Chapter's August Luncheon 2013 - Aug. 7 in Houston, TX

Everyone loves a good story. They spark emotion, they inspire, and they often unlock ideas that we never dreamt possible. Now imagine if storytelling were applied to your proposal development process. They are no longer textbooks full of facts and figures. It becomes a compelling narrative with thought-provoking visuals, making the buyer the hero.

This presentation discusses how to change your perspective and start writing stories that buyers will want to read.

You will learn:

1. Character development in proposals and how this leads to stronger business relationships

2. Research techniques and tools to help you truly understand your buyer’s needs and pain, and begin developing a valuable proposal plot

3. How to incorporate the 4 elements of a great story to create an even better proposal

4. Real examples of how to incorporate visual storytelling within each stage of your capture planning and development process.

Published in: Business, Technology, Education
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  • Introduce your role as Business Development Manager Introduce what Schipul does Introduce the types of proposals we write
  • Discuss Harry Potter and How to Win Friends and Influence People Ask everyone to put a business card in bowl for the Dale Carnegie book drawing What are some things you hope to gain out of this session? What industry are you typically writing proposals for? How many of you feel limited on adding anything outside of the box and/or creative elements to your proposals? How many people participate in the prospecting process? Meaning, you attended the initial meeting, you follow up etc. How many simply take the information from marketing and/or business development and write your proposals from there? *I believe we can all learn something from each other today so please feel free to share your stories in proposal writing
  • *Today I want to discuss why you should be incorporating ;‘story’ into your proposals and effective ways to do so. But why should you even care? The 4 things you should know before you even begin – Who is your hero, 4 elements of a story, research, questions you should ask What to do when formality overrules creativity (focus on the content) Stories take a long time to write…tips for saving you time
  • [Read quote] At Schipul we used to send these really short electronic proposals. Efficency was key, but to be honest, content was not. When I moved into the Sales Associate role, I really wanted to take a look at our proposals and see how we can close more deals by making our proposals better. When we switched from electronic to PDF, incorporating storyteling of course, our close ratio when from about 49% Closed Won, to over 60% Closed Won. Our proposals were reinterating our initial conversations, our brand, our companies story. We were continuing to build trust even through our proposals. How can someone buy from you, if they don’t remember you?
  • We are biologically programmed to utilize storytelling as a memory enhancing technique – Andy Goodman, Free Range Journal Do you all have some kind of emotion attached to Snow White? What about your favorite book? My guilty pleasure since I was in 5th grade, is the Harry Potter series (hold up book).... 1. Snow White a. Do you all have some kind of emotion attached to Snow White? What about your favorite book? My guilty pleasure since I was in 5th grade, is the Harry Potter series (hold up book).... b. We all have an emotion attached to a story…your customers make buying decisions emotionally – THIS IS WHY IT MATTERS TO YOU!
  • a. Before you begin writing your proposals, you must put strategic pieces in place to truly develop a story worth reading, but the first thing you must always remember as you develop the parts of the story…IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP!
  • What is important to your reader!? Even though it’s a proposal, stories are all about the relationship. People inherently want to work with people they like. You read a book because you like the story…it’s giving you something you did not have before. When you incorporate storytelling, visual stories, etc. into your proposals…you taking a genuine interest in the reader. Think of it this can I make my proposal build that relationship? It’s possible, and it’s done through storytelling.
  • Let’s go over the 3 most important things you should do before you even begin...
  • The first is to identify “Why?” Why are you writing this proposal, what needs to be accomplished? You need to have a firm idea as to why you are writing the proposal in the first place. The obvious is you are hoping be a chosen vendor for a project.
  • What makes you pick a book off of the bookshelf over another? What is your Unique Selling Proposition? You not only need to address your USP, you need to address your company’s value specific to each character (person) involved in the buying process… How can you address their pain and make it better based on your solution
  • You must determine who your reader is. What are there interests, what are their buying habits, what do they value… Authors know who their end reader will be without even meeting them. They write directly to that person in an effort to make a connection between their story and their reader. Your proposal should be no different. You must take the time for character development if you are to truly address each buyer’s needs. [Discuss more about incorporating content specific to your “characters” later in the presentation] Even taking it a step further...who is the customer’s target audience...who is the customer’s customer?
  • Know all of the characters – you may not have met them all Identify what is important to each character – your solution will be meeting different needs based on that person’s role in the company Who makes the final decision?
  • We work with a lot of nonprofits and going through each proposal, I identify each character and what is important to them. Let’s look at an example of characters when I am going through the proposal process.
  • The internet is a beautiful thing – use it to your advantage to get an in-depth overview of who your buyers are: LinkedIn Profile Search Website and bio Are they using social media? Simply search their name in Google Social Mention – pulls real time feeds across social networks and blogs based on keyword CRMs – are you using a CRM to track your conversations with your buyer?
  • How many in here rely on someone else to tell them the proposed solution? Speak to other team members who would be involved Get down to the root of why they are seeking your services
  • Remember, stories are emotional. Have you identified the need, the real pain of their situation. If you can do this, and address it in your proposal you will set yourself apart from all other vendors.
  • Identify your value proposition specific to the buyer’s objectives and specifically to their pain – i.e. your customer service, writing style, your process, your people & company culture, your customer base
  • Imputed value – people form an opinion about a product or company based on the signals that it conveys. You may have the best product, best people, best process etc. but if you present them in a way that in sloppy, unorganized or confusing, your company and product will be perceived in the same way. Your proposals should directly reflect your ideals and your story. You must identify why someone is buying from you and reinforce that in your story (proposal).
  • Now let’s start composing our story
  • Review the elements of a story – setting, characters, plot, conflict and theme Summary of how these equate to a proposal
  • The Setting
  • Don’t leave your buyer guessing as to what your solution is going to be.
  • You must set yourself apart right away. Let’s look at an example of 2, similar in context, sales books. The Sales Bible 3D Negotation
  • You must set yourself apart from your competition right away. If you consider your reader and respect their time, your buyer will remember you above the others. You are adding value before you even begin working together.
  • Without reading one word, you are letting the prospect know that you envision a partnership together. Engage your prospect/reader right away Weave a story of their current challenges and how your agency is going to meet their goals. Make sure you are talking about them and how you would like to partner with them. An Executive Summary is like the Prologue (introduction) – you are establishing the setting and background…why you should partner together and why your solution will directly meet their objectives
  • Let them know you understand their values and objectives from a high level. It’s ok to use words like “love,” “partnership,” and “collaboration” if you truly mean it.
  • Now let's go back to the Characters and address to how to actually weave them into a narrative..
  • Do you recall the example of “characters” I addressed earlier? Let’s talk about how to go about meeting each of their objectives within your proposal…
  • Specifically address objectives Use content formats the buyer is accustomed to Highlight meaningful examples - Reference the things you spoke about in initial meetings or phone calls Itemize costs Educate and share knowledge Acknowledge a specific concern
  • The Plot - the events that make up your story How many of you jump right from the Executive Summary into any research you have done? How many of you begin discussing the solution? Why not weave your research into your solution?
  • Remember, apply your imputed value. The content should continue to reflect your personality, tone, etc. that was portrayed & discussed in original conversations. Similar to the feeling you get when you are reading a book by your favorite author. Clearly outline the scope of work in language that they would understand.. James Patterson novel *2 Designs Example* In initial sales meetings, I always explain our process. In the proposal, I re-address this process but have now applied it to their needs within the scope of work discussed. There are no surprises and the buyer knows what to expect.
  • DO NOT just list out service lines and functionality. Example - “Take online registrations so you [as the Event Coordinator] can save time registering attendees at your monthly luncheons.” Make sure your proposal is satisfying a need or pain, not selling your product or service. Remember, it’s about them, not you. – we discussed identifying your characters in the very beginning. The characters [the buyer] should be incorporated throughout the entire proposal. Also, your scope of work should be CLEAR! Know what you are talking about and have confidence that your scope of work is the best solution for their needs.
  • The Conflict
  • So how can you tell a story with dollar amounts? Or even legal terms for that matter?! This is one of the best examples that I have seen as far as continuing to make your proposals personable and continuing to develop that relationship. [Explain the resource Docracy]. Text like this allows your seemingly your “scary legal terms” not so scary anymore. Well what if you do if you are constrained by your legal team? Simply ask to include introductory text like the above example. You are being incredibly thoughtful of your reader (the prospect) by displaying an effort to maintain interest. This goes a LONG way in not only setting you apart from your competition, but receiving payment with a smile.
  • The content [or the theme] is really your opportunity to put everything we discussed together. It is what your entire proposal should be based around.
  • It’s all about your content. Catch their attention immediately and has a consistent theme. It must be compelling, engaging and simple. Would you read a story that did not keep your attention or was difficult to read, etc.? Think of your proposals in the same way. As I go through each item, I would love for volunteers to share an example of how they “catch a buyer’s attention,” “keep their content simple,”paint a picture,” “ensures that it’s personable,” and “affirms credibility.”
  • In this particular example that I pulled, in our original conversations, the buyer was a bit hesitant on the value of landing pages. I referenced Seth Godin in our discussions and did so again in the proposal. Custom and branded cover letters Use words like partnership, love, etc.. Highlight key points within your test in a summary graphic Use visuals
  • Clearly defined “Chapters” – straight forward language that is not filled with unnecessary jargon. Use bulleted lists, headings, and consistent numbering
  • When you are reading a fiction novel, do you often times imagine what that setting is, what the characters look like, possibly what the ending will be? You want to have your buyers read your proposal and begin to imagine the future partnership with your company. What will the process be like? What deliverables can they expect?
  • You must be PERSONABLE - Dale Carnegie sums this “personable” thought up quite nicely – “Talk to people about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.”
  • This is your opportunity to really let the prospect know that you heard their needs. How will your solution benefit their needs? Example, how Keyword Research will benefit Simple Fit - “Data such as this will play a pivotal role in determining specific nice terms that target this ‘connected consumer’ and increase product sales for your company
  • There is a lot of power in third party validation. This is why authors often times highlight awesome reviews, or make sure that you are aware that previous work has been deemed as a “bestseller.” Show example work, case studies. Show that you have completed similar projects that were successful.
  • You want to be a seen as a “New York Times Bestseller” – think about how books do that (testimonials, reviews, author bios) Now is the time to talk about your company’s background, qualifications, include testimonials. I consider this the part of the proposal [or story] that your buyer will read when they have extra time. If it came down to you and another vendor, this is the time to literally show-off you as a credible company for the job.
  • Highlight the people in the company (screenshot of our proposal) – people ultimately work with people they like
  • How many of you have creative freedom to a certain extent when writing proposals? Meaning, you can easily add a graphic here or a statistic there without a rigorous approval process. How many of you must stick to strong guidelines – how strong are they? Can someone share?
  • Request for Proposals typically have quite a bit of restrictions and guidelines. We tend to simply follow them without question. Have you ever thought that this could present your solution in a negative light? I always try to schedule a phone call with the buyer to introduce myself, but to also see the kind of flexibility I have in submitting the final proposal. It is ok to propose something different so they can truly understand the scope of work.
  • The pre-proposal, proposal could almost be useful in the section “Before you even begin.” However, it is only appropriate in some cases, formalities being one. If you feel restrained by your proposal process, meaning not being able to add visuals, or making the content simpler. Before writing your proposal, send your buyer a document outlining specific ideas for the project. This let’s them know that you are truly invested and not approaching the project from just a template. I have sent over mock-ups, links, etc. before so they can truly visualize our proposed scope of work, understand our vocabulary and have a better idea of what the final proposal is really outlining. This document enables both parties to agree and the final proposal becomes just that, a formality.
  • It’s almost impossible to fit everything you truly want in your proposal. You have to be smart, and edit. I always looks for ways send supplementary material when sending over my final proposal. A few examples that I use are: Webinars that would be useful for their objective - positions you as a thought leader Fact Sheets for your product Are you having an open event that you could invite the buyer to? Resources online that you can link them to. I personally love sending over reports that validate a certain topic we addressed in the proposal (example: visual storytelling)
  • Invest the time in creating a template – don’t feel the need to start your story from scratch every time. Even break down templates by industry. For example, we have a template specific for corporations and another for non-profits and associations
  • But remember to write your story for the buyer each time
  • Using Storytelling in Proposals - APMP Houston

    1. 1. Using Storytelling in Your Proposals to Make your Buyers the Hero and Win More Deals Presented By: Courtney Pemberton @cpembyrun||
    2. 2. Let’s Chat
    3. 3. What we will talk about today 1. Before you even begin writing 1. Effectively incorporating the elements of a story… and then some 2. What to do when formality overrules creativity
    4. 4. Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind, in an attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story…Stories are how we remember. -Bronwyn Fryer, Storytelling That Moves People, Harvard Business Review
    5. 5. We are biology programmed to utilize storytelling as a memory enhancing technique. -Andy Goodman, Storytelling as a Best Practice
    6. 6. Before You Even Begin
    7. 7. It’s all about the relationship
    8. 8. 1.Why? 2.Get to know your Characters 3.Pain & Value
    9. 9. 1. Why
    10. 10. Why are you the better choice?
    11. 11. 2. Know Your Characters
    12. 12. 1.Know ALL the characters – you may not have met them all What is important to each character? Who makes the final decision? Character Development
    13. 13. Character Wants/Values Executive Director *Decision Maker Advancing the overall mission and growth of the organization -Previously serving Planned Giving and educational institutions -On multiple Boards and highly involved in the community Marketing & PR Manager *Initial Contact Mobilize community outreach and participation Donor/Grants Coordinator Increasing donations and expanding fundraising programs Financial Officer Developing payment installments that fall in line with the organization’s cash flow Business Development Team Engage community partners and foster long-term relationships Board of Directors *Decision Maker and Majority Vote Meets the policies and standards of the organization
    14. 14. Tools for Character Development 1. LinkedIn Profile 2. Website (Bios) 3. Social Media 4. Google Search 5. Social Mention - 6. CRM – Salesforce, InsideView
    15. 15. 3. Pain & Value
    16. 16. 16
    17. 17. What is your value?
    18. 18. Imputed Value: people form an opinion about your product, service or company based on the signals that it conveys Make it Consistent
    19. 19. Weaving Your Narrative
    20. 20. Elements of a Story 1.Setting 2.Characters 3.Plot 4.Theme 5.Conflict 1.Executive Summary 2.Buyers 3.Scope of Work 4.Content 5.Budget
    21. 21. Executive Summary
    22. 22. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. -Kurt Vonnegut, 8 Rules for Writing a Short Story
    23. 23. Judging a book by it’s cover…
    24. 24. Add value before you even begin working together. I choose the Sales Bible!
    25. 25. Setting Executive Summary
    26. 26. The Characters
    27. 27. Character Wants/Values Executive Director *Decision Maker Advancing the overall mission and growth of the organization -Previously serving Planned Giving and educational institutions -On multiple Boards and highly involved in the community Marketing & PR Manager *Initial Contact Mobilize community outreach and participation -Will be using the product [website] the most Donor/Grants Coordinator Increasing donations and expanding fundraising programs Financial Officer Developing payment installments that fall in line with the organization’s cash flow Business Development Team Engage community partners and foster long-term relationships Board of Directors *Decision Maker and Majority Vote Meets the policies and standards of the organization
    28. 28. Characters Buyers 1. Specifically address objectives per character within your written content 2. Use content formats and language the buyer is accustom too 3. Highlight meaningful examples 4. Itemize costs 5. Educate, knowledge share & be transparent 6. Acknowledge a specific concern
    29. 29. Scope of Work
    30. 30. Plot Scope of Work
    31. 31. Make your buyer the HERO!
    32. 32. Budget = Conflict
    33. 33. “As we are sure you’ll want to stay friends, you agree to stick tight to the following payment schedule…” Legal Doesn’t Mean Lame
    34. 34. The Content
    35. 35. Content Theme 1.Catches their attention 2.Simple, easy to read 3.Paints a picture 4.Personable 5.Affirms credibility
    36. 36. Catches their attention Let your buyer know you heard them...the impact is HUGE!
    37. 37. Simple 1. Clearly defined Section Titles 2. Consistent branding and tone 3. Use sub-headers 4. Bulleted Lists and Numbering 5. Not filled with unnecessary jargon
    38. 38. Paints a Picture 1. Use visuals to explain a process 2. Utilize first-person words like “you” or “your team” 3. Explain how you will work together, listing out responsibilities When we take in visual information alongside verbal information, our brain’s ability to encode it to long term memory is significantly enhanced...showing visuals with text increases learning by 89% -University of Cambridge, Visual Storytelling
    39. 39. Talk to people about themselves and they’ll listen for hours. -Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
    40. 40. Personable The Feature: Keyword Research The Benefit: “Data such as this will play a pivotal role in determining specific niche terms that target this ‘connected consumer’ and increase product sales for [your company]”
    41. 41. Affirm Credibility - Prove it
    42. 42. Affirm Credibility
    43. 43. Highlight Your People & Continue to Foster the Relationship
    44. 44. Pesky Formalities
    45. 45. Request for Proposal Have you ever proposed something different?
    46. 46. Pre-Prosposal, Proposal The pre-proposal, proposal allows both parties to exchange ideas and agree on a scope that is truly a win/win. The document then enables the formal proposal to become just that, a formality.
    47. 47. Step outside the proposal 1. Unique Proposal Delivery 2. Webinars and training 3. Fact Sheets 4. Free [Useful] ‘Swag’
    48. 48. Time
    49. 49. Tips to Save you Time 1. Create Templates 2. Reuse Graphics 3. Proposal Generator Software a. Quote Roller – b. Tinder Box – c. Qorus - d. seProposals - e. SAVO - f. Proposal Software -
    50. 50. Immediate Take-aways 1. Do your research - know your characters, make the buyer the hero 2. Paint a picture - use visuals 3. Think outside the proposal 4. Make templates
    51. 51. Courtney Pemberton Business Development 281.497.6567 x537 Schipul – The Web Marketing Company Find these presentations slides at, Thank you! Questions?