Thursday, September 9, 2010

Managed Print Services: The Case Against Auto-Generated Proposals


"The heaviest proposal wins..."

"We gotta have the company history in this proposal..."

"And don't forget the spec sheets..."

"This will be easy, I can just use the last proposal we did, and search and replace..."

Sound familiar?

Let me ask you something, do you read books?

What keeps you interested?

It's the story isn't it?

Somehow, your favorite writer or a nice article you spend time with, engages you, tells you something new, yet familiar.

Now, do you think that article or book was boiler-plated into existence?

Do you think Stephen King, goes out, asks bunch of potential readers what they like and what scares them, imports all that "data" into a tool, clicks "go" and out pops the next best seller?

"No, Greg, I don't think Stephen King clicks on "go" and a best seller pops out." - good answer.

What could keep your prospects attention, hook them into reading your ENTIRE PROPOSAL?

Two words "content" and "brevity"

I know this thought, this idea, may rile some people - because some of the best MPS tools out there are now or will be offering automatic proposal generation embedded into their monitoring tools.

I do not like that.

If you are going to spend the time to do a correct assessment, you should also invest the time to articulate your findings and recommendations in an engaging manner.

Yeah, you "hate to write..." or you "don't have the time to write..." spend the time.

If it makes you feel better, figure out what your expected commission on the deal will be, figure in your required hourly payback and dedicate a portion to writing. On second thought, maybe you don't want to know your effort to commission ratio.

I know, I know your sales manager doesn't want you writing and has probably never used a Thesaurus in his life. Hell, he may even have a metric "number of proposals generated per month" - sad, really.

It's all about content.

Nobody is asking you, or even expecting you to be the Hemingway of MPS. Quick joke, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Hemingway's answer, " end up dead in rain..." I never "got" Hemingway.

Anyway, Content.

Look at your last proposal. Is it engaging, inviting? Would you read it on a Sunday afternoon? Does it taste stale?

"...Yeah but, there is another hash mark on the whiteboard! If I put out 20 proposals, with a 10% close rate, I will bring in 2 deals a month..." - huh.

My company has a complete department whose sole responsibility is to generate RFP responses - this one department can keep my RISO 3050 churning for 45 minutes.(did he just mention a RISO? The hell is a Riso?).

The results are customer requested, dead-tree poundage. And the content? Again, dead-tree poundage. Before I go too far, this is a cultural issue, we will always have a department that churns out this tripe - it is a necessary evil.

Given a choice between the latest RFP response or a copy of "Eat, Prey, Love", I guees I would spend my Sunday afternoon with Elizabeth.(gag)

The sad thing is, "Eat, Prey, Love" would be more engaging, because of the CONTENT.

"...brevity is the soul of wit..."

In this age of Twits, Tags and LinkedIn comments, 120 characters or so, is plenty when conveying information - from Iranian protests to hurricane updates - much can be said in 120 characters.

This is extreme. No proposal should be 120 characters - but if you successfully pull it off, let me know because that would be a story.

But brevity, concise content, is better than any spec sheet, org chart or images of copier/printers, that is unless you throw in some hotties. Just kidding. Don't do that.

Get to your point. Get to the benefits of action, the cost of inaction. Simple is best.

Ask your prospect. Ask him what he wants to see. Ask him if he reads a 45 page proposal on a Sunday afternoon.

Three books:

Stunk and White, "The Elements of Style"
William Zinsser, "On Writing Well"
Merriam-Webster's, Dictionary and Thesaurus

Start there.

My desktop, at 5,000 ft., in the bunker:

Click to email me.


  1. Hi Greg,
    I agree with most of what you preach but felt compelled to comment on your position against automated proposal tools. While I agree the output must be about content, simplicity and customization not all automated proposal generators are about bulk and standard inflexible templates. Our DocuAudit product is brand neutral and can be branded to the dealer and prospect. The content can also be whatever you want, a one page snapshot or a full blown proposal that sells to the corporate objectives and it is still automated. The ultimate objective should be a document that gives the prospect what they want to see in order to help them understand the data, the recomendations and the objectives.

  2. Arnie --

    Yes, my world is one of examples in the extreme.

    And Sales people are lazy. Templates and macro's short circuit creativity.

    And most proposals are terrible - information becomes data and then minutia. The only thing understandable is the pricing.

    I have seen DocuAudit and it is just fine - no problems.

    My point is, and will remain, proposals should be simple and contain relevant, unique and engaging content.

    Thanks for reading DOTC, keep coming back.