It was early in my consulting career and I was putting proposals together for the first time.
After reading my proposal a prospective client gave me some feedback that changed the course of what I do.
She said, “You don’t practice what you preach.”
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You see this client had loved my seminar on the application of behavioural economics to business, but when it came to my proposal, didn’t see me demonstrating those same techniques.
And she was right. When it came to outlining my offer I had reverted to the same logic-driven, rational, boring pulp that any consultant could put forward.
I’d been so focused on using behavioural economics to influence her customers I’d forgotten to use it to influence her.
Sure, adopting the status quo method of putting a proposal together felt safe, but clearly wasn’t the path to success.
And it’s a mistake I see a lot amongst those who have to pitch for business – advertising agencies, research agencies, recruitment agencies included – service providers in the B2B space who have to influence the decision-maker to buy their expertise.
They’ve assumed decision-makers are influenced by rationality when, just like consumers, the truth is decisions are reached through filters of cognitive and behavioural biases and heuristics. Just because your buyer has a fancy title doesn’t mean they are not subject to these same mental short-cuts.
In fact, two thirds of senior decision-makers who claim to be ‘data or empirically driven’ confess to trusting their intuition when it comes to making a decision. When asked what they would do when data contradicted their gut feeling, 57% said they’d re-analyse the data and 30% would collect more. (More on this here) In other words, decision-makers decide first with their intuition (System 1), and then seek to support it with facts (System 2).
So what do I do differently as a result?
My proposals are now in a completely different format, written to engage System 1 ‘gut feel’ while covering off System 2 detail. More specifically, I present my proposals as a story based on my understanding of the problem from the client’s point of view, use a lot of visuals and break-outs to capture System 1 attention, mitigate points of negative tension (loss aversion) through anchored pricing, credibility and authority cues (social norms), while using positive tension (loss aversion again) to compel my client to proceed.
The same goes with pitches – for myself or when helping clients with their pitches I build a story like a three act play using points of tension and resolution rather than a dull, unsurprising rational deck of slides. The result? It engages the buyer, making them feel and thus appealing to where decisions really get made.
Tips for you
- Humans are naturally receptive to stories, so construct your proposal with a beginning (the problem, the promise and what’s at stake), middle (how the journey will unfold) and end (how you resolve it)
- Ask your buyer to do you a small favour – it will make them think they like you more
- Utilise positive tension and mitigate negative tension throughout your pitch (more on that here)
- Dull Word documents that are all text will rarely engage the brain, and once System 1 is disinterested you’ve lost the game
- When it comes to pricing, contextualise, contextualise, contextualise. Don’t just stick a number on a line by itself without talking about value.
Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.