I was invited to give a class with Dr. Robert Frey, author of Successful Proposal Strategies for Small Businesses, at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). During our class, Dr. Frey said that, when possible, he always asks future clients a very specific question (the wording is important):
“How would you paint a picture of success on this task/project/program now and going forward?”
It is an insightful question that, according to Dr. Frey, uncovers a spectrum of critical information. I couldn’t agree more. The following are four reasons this question must always be asked:
- Asking the future client to “paint a picture” encourages them to visualize the solution. In doing so, emotions are heightened and there is a more profound understanding and communication of their goals and challenges. The future client’s deepest hopes (benefits) and biggest fears (risks) are often shared.
- The future client gives backstory and connects the dots. They may also share unstated needs and concerns. For example, an RFP may read, “The offeror shall include three examples of quality control (QC) measures that eliminated errors on similar programs.” When asked the “paint a picture” question, the future client may reveal that they had great pain in the past due to poor quality control. Specifically, the QC process was skipped. That means that the examples should demonstrate that the quality control process would be adhered to in any situation. The question uncovers the logic behind the RFP requirements and exposes what keeps the future client awake at night.
- By including the words, “…success … now and going forward,” short and long term considerations are revealed. Has the future client thought months, years, decades ahead? How far into the future? Is the path from today to the tomorrow clear? Now is the time to know.
- The answer to the question ensures the future client and the solution provider are on the same page. For example, if I asked you to think of an office chair, what do you picture? If I ask another person to think of an office chair, do you think they will picture the same chair? Unlikely. For this reason, it is wise to not assume anything. Remain curious and ask clarifying questions so that you see the picture your future client is painting. Most sales documents and proposals fall prey to the following egregious errors:
a) Never paint part of their picture. If they are stuck, help them paint it themselves. You want the future client to be 100% invested in their depiction of the solution, which you will deliver.
b) Never paint your picture and hope that you can convince the evaluators or decision makers that your solution should be theirs.
Next, Dr. Frey recommends creating a graphic that clearly illustrates that vision. Use the future client’s exact words and ideas in the graphic. Use the graphic as your roadmap.
Dr. Frey has great success asking this simple question and I am certain you will as well.