Monday, September 24, 2007

Do covers for my presentations, proposals, and marketing materials really matter?

Yes. One of the best examples I’ve heard was for a ballistics proposal. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent.) The United States Army needed a bullet that flew 2,000 yards and then fell from the sky. They had a favorite, Company A; however, Company B hoped to establish a relationship with the Army as well. Company B had tested this type of bullet before and, using these results, wrote their best proposal. They believed they had a chance despite information that suggested Company A was a certain winner. After writing their proposal, Company B opted for a simple approach to the cover and used a photograph of a ballistics test tracer round from one of their experiments. This photograph showed exactly what the Army had requested: a bullet traveling 2,000 yards and dropping. (It was actually an image from a failed field test of an earlier project for a bullet that was intended to travel farther.) With the cover in place, Company B submitted their proposal.

Weeks later Company B won the bid, and the winning team met with the contracting officer. Company B asked how they won—especially since they were the underdogs. The contracting officer said their cover won the bid, despite the fact that their proposal wasn’t well written and almost resulted in a loss. Company B showed they already had the bullet on the cover image, which gave them the edge over the other bidders who still needed to design the bullet.

Most of the time, relationships and/or the contents of presentations, proposals, and marketing materials win the effort. Nonetheless, the cover forms a lasting impression. It is the first thing that your audience sees, and he or she cannot help but be influenced. Behavioral Psychologists agree that most of our decisions are based on intuitive judgment and emotions. Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Prize winning scholar at the Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, studied corporate decision-making and found that people often ignored formal decision-making models because of time constraints, incomplete information, the inability to calculate consequences, and other variables. Intuitive judgment was the process for many decisions.

If you want a winning edge think about your covers. Covers carry enough weight that they can, and have, significantly contributed to wins and losses, successes and failures. You use a lot of resources, not to mention time and money, to develop your business materials; do not ignore such a powerful tool in your arsenal.