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Diary of a CPSM Candidate: Please, Just Tell Me Something I Care About

May 7, 2013

Diary of a CPSM Candidate is written by Valerie Conyngham, Marketing Manager at The Cecil Group, an urban design and planning firm in Boston. The opinions expressed below are hers and hers alone. She can be reached through LinkedIn  or Twitter.

SMPS CPSMFor those keeping track, it’s time to check Domain 4 off the to-do list. This is the domain that covers proposals and qualifications, familiar material to about 99% of you. If there is one thing I can tell you after reading the materials for domain 4, it’s that we are all boring the pants off our prospects.

If you’re responsible for managing the proposal process or contributing to proposals at your firm you probably already know much of what is contained in Domain 4 of The Marketing Handbook, but if you’re studying to take the CPSM test, don’t gloss over it. Like the sections before it, there are idea threads that you’ll need to have a crystal clear view of in order to answer the test questions correctly.

Back to the title of this post. If we are going to be more successful at proposals and at interviews we have to stop boring our prospects. This starts with doing your research (if you’ve been keeping up with my diary posts you should be noticing research is a common theme). The more you know about the prospect the better you can write a targeted proposal. Let’s pretend your prospect is building a new multi-family building on a site that was a stop on the underground railroad. They could care less about reading an in-depth essay about your knowledge of the underground railroad and the significance of their site. It’s their site, they already know the significance and you know through discussions with the prospect that it’s important to them. Instead, tell them how you’re going to bring the site’s history to life through your design and why you’re the only firm capable of doing that.

Instead of:

We’re an award winning 450 person architecture firm with offices in 15 states. We’ve worked with some of the country’s largest developers to design market rate condo buildings.


90% of the units in the buildings we design are presold within 4 months vs. an industry average of 60% presold in 9 months. We’ve assigned one of our top museum designers to your project. Working together with our multi-family design team he’ll uncover the special story of your site and create a building for you that shares the site’s history and that people will want to call home.

disclaimer: the statistic in the above sentence is fake, please don’t embarrass yourself by repeating it.

Next time you’re preparing a proposal try starting from the central theme of why us and not them. To get there, ask your team questions like:

  1. What is important to this client?
  2. What is the problem that this project needs to solve?
  3. Why are we more qualified to solve that problem than our competitors?
  4. What top three benefits will we bring to this client and project that our competitors can’t?

Once you have the answer to why us and not them you can start incorporating the theme throughout your proposal. During the editing stage read the materials from the prospect’s point of view and ask yourself, Do I care? If you don’t, you know it’s time for some serious red pen action.

Catch up on past diary entries here, here and here.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2013 1:03 pm

    True story, Valerie.

    The proposal process is twofold, and as a proposal writer, one gets lost because it’s an exercise in following directions as well. It is in meeting the requirements where great ideas/solutions go to die in the process of developing a response. The other part is doing what you outline and the four questions you pose are simple and easy to help keep a team on track.

    Over the weekend, Mel Lester wrote a nice piece to go along with your post.

    • May 8, 2013 9:21 am

      Matt, you’re absolutely right. We’re forced into a lot of writing situations where the RFP requirements can drain all creativity out of the response. It’s even more important in those situations to have your team focused on its key differentiators and thinking creatively on how to infuse them throughout the rigid template.

  2. May 7, 2013 1:48 pm

    I would also add that if you cannot answer those questions, then no-go the project. Too many times we know that we cannot honestly answer the why us and why not them, but still continue to waste time and resources to pursue a losing battle.

    • May 8, 2013 9:23 am

      Good point, Lindsay. It’s hard to win a project when you can’t articulate to yourself why you’re better than the competition.

  3. May 9, 2013 12:54 pm

    Great post, Valerie. You highlight the necessity of research, which is (still somehow!?!) often overlooked. More important, as you point out, is that research itself isn’t the main goal. Some stuff may be nice to know, but it does nothing for you. The trick is figuring out which info can be useful in supporting your case, and then using it effectively. Thanks for underscoring this.

    • May 15, 2013 11:41 am

      Thanks, Krista. I think that conducting proper research can sometimes be a daunting task, especially if you cant articulate exactly what it is you’re looking for and where you could find the information. However, as with most skills, the more you practice it the better you get.

  4. Jennifer permalink
    May 10, 2013 1:21 pm

    Great post! I’m going to print these out for cramming for the test 🙂


  1. Diary of a CPSM Candidate: Executing your Marketing Plan through Promotional Activities | Outlook Blog
  2. Diary of a CPSM Candidate – The End is in Sight! | Outlook Blog

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