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May 6, 2013 The Rainmaker

If you want the deal, don’t just mail it in

Ken Cook

Do you use boilerplate language in proposals? My guess is most of us do. We use it because it communicates with consistency what we want to say. It also assures that the language is vetted for accuracy, messages are clear, and liabilities are avoided. The challenge is when boilerplate language crosses over to fill-in-the-blank mode.

Recently I assisted a client in sourcing a vendor for a new website. We spent considerable time going over options, design considerations, marketing needs, platforms on which to build the site, ease of use, functionality, etc. In other words, we did a lot of homework with a lot of upfront effort. We looked at online options.

After assembling all of this information, we had some clarity on what we did and did not want to do. We then sat down with three vendors we knew. We wanted their help, experience and expertise in making our decision.

We invested time with the vendors. We took them through our research and laid out what we wanted. We explained our concerns, prioritized our goals, and explored budgets and how much flexibility the client had on the financial side of the equation.

Then the vendors mailed it in. Each proposal we got back looked to be over 80 percent boilerplate. The boilerplate addressed the areas of a website we needed, but the overall proposal did not speak to the specifics of the client's situation. It was as if our conversations and meetings never took place.

There were no reiterations of goals, priorities, options and concerns the client had explained. The vendors did not personalize the proposal to the client's situation. Each response laid out features, functionality and processes that vendor offered.

Through their standard language, they assured the client that design, marketing, and analytics could be addressed. But the boilerplate did not assure the client that his specific design, marketing and analytics requirements would be addressed.

Admittedly the three vendors chosen may not be representative of how all web design companies operate. There may be some of you out there that are saying right now you wished my client had come to you. Frankly, we do to.

The point here is not to denigrate web design firms. I could probably fill in any industry and find a similar story out there. The point is to listen and engage.

I guarantee you prospective clients are assessing risk and have anxiety associated with that risk. They are seeking a partner who can help ameliorate their risk and reduce the anxiety.

That process begins with listening well. Assure the client that you hear them; be specific in your response to their situation. Paraphrase what you heard to assure the client that you understand their challenges and are empathetic to their situation.

Be specific in your solution. Point-by-point, demonstrate to the client how you can help them reach their goals, reduce their risk, and reduce their anxiety.

Feel free to use boilerplate. Just insure that you're addressing your client's needs in a very specific manner.

Ken Cook is the managing director of Peer to Peer Advisors and developer of How To WHO: Selling Personified, a program for building business through relationships. Reach him at

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