The biggest mistake you can make is pretending negative issues or concerns the client may have about your organization, product or service don’t exist.

No matter how much you think your company and your product or service is superior, you can assume there are people who don’t agree. Unfortunately, some of these people may be evaluating your proposal.You must always consider what these concerns could be and negate them. When presenting to an audience, you have the ability to defend your statements and positions when objections are raised. In a proposal, you only have one opportunity – when you write it.

If you’ve read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout, you may remember that the law of candor is the 15th law of marketing. The authors explain that an effective way of getting a positive reaction is to admit a negative attribute and turn it into a positive.

And do you remember the commercials about the Volkswagen beetle starting in the early 60’s? They were immensely successful yet they brought attention to negative attributes with ad headlines like “Think Small”, “No point in showing you the 1962 Volkswagen, it still looks the same”, “The Last Thing You’ll Need is Power Steering” and “It’s ugly, but it gets you there”. Even with these negative attributes, the Volkswagen Beetle became the best selling model of all time at 21 million cars.

So Volkswagen’s approach is something we can learn from. By identifying issues and questions that may come up and dealing with them, you’ll ensure that client perceptions will be managed and you’ll be able to get your message across rather than having the client’s negative assumptions prevail. You can sometimes even turn what seems like a negative into a positive, like Volkswagen did very successfully.

Some of these negative issues will come out of your strategic analysis and you can use those findings to address the negative concerns. They may be based on how you compare to your competition, for instance. Others may be harder to find. Individuals in your organization may have heard things from contacts within the industry and even the client, but haven’t brought them to your attention. Seek out honest and frank opinions and observations from others. Hearing them may not be enjoyable, but not addressing them may lose business.

Other issues will be fairly obvious. You may be a new entrant into the marketplace and have some very specific disadvantages. If you’re generally more expensive, that could also be negative. If you lost a rebid or renewal recently, perhaps even with a competitor on this RFP, it will raise questions about why you lost the business. If your technology or sophistication is be lower than your competition, it you may look like less attractive. Always assume the perception will be negative, and find a way to deal with it.

In the book “Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive”, the authors outline a number of high-profile examples, including a study by Kip Williams, a social psychologist. Williams’s study revealed that juries were more likely to be favorable of the defendant if their lawyers raised minor weaknesses in the case before the prosecution did. Remember the Volkswagen ads? They all used a negative as headlines, then talked about why it was actually an advantage in the ad copy. “It’s ugly, but it gets you there” is a great example right in the headline.

Sometimes, you can find a negative issue or even what may seem like a competitive disadvantage and explain to the client why it isn’t negative at all. Even if you don’t fully convince the client, raising and acknowledging a negative issue the client is probably already aware of will make you appear more trustworthy. You may even make them look differently at your competitor’s claims.

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