It’s not personal. It’s business.

Apr 22, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 3.50.03 PMIn the AEC marketing world, proposals are usually treated as business as usual, but I believe we need to make them personal. I will be celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary on June 1, 2016, (I married young, by the way). My love, loyalty, and commitment to my wife is confirmed, without a doubt, by the fact that I have sat down with her to watch (and enjoy, but let’s keep that a secret), the 1998 Warner Bros. hit, You’ve Got Mail, more than 25 times. Tom Hanks’ character is the head of a multimillion dollar bookstore chain that drove Meg Ryan’s local, independent children’s book store out of business. While trying to court her, Hanks’ character explains that what happened wasn’t personal, that it was business. She replied with: “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” This piece of dialogue has always stuck with me. In the A/E/C marketing world, proposals rule the land. They are usually treated as “business as usual,” but I believe we need to make them personal. One of the best, tried and true techniques to tailor proposals is the IFBP process (Issues, Features, Benefits, Proofs). In the IFBP process, benefits is the coveted “so what?” moment in which we drive the content to talk about the client’s goals. After all, we are always reminding practitioners (and ourselves) that “it is about them, not us.” Client benefits have multiple layers, including: project (solution to a particular problem), business (cost savings and/or set-up to make money moving forward), department (improve standing within the corporate structure), staff (professional development), and a big picture “ultimate” goal (financial, social, sustainable, environmental, etc.). It is this “ultimate goal” that often gets lost in the shuffle and becomes a wasted opportunity to make the submittal personal. Take, for example, a high school renovation/expansion project. A sample of the client’s benefits could be listed in the following levels:
  • Project. Modernization and expansion of aging facilities (problem solved!).
  • Business. Innovative engineering methods led the client to save money in overall project costs (good investment!).
  • Department. The Office of Facilities and Construction Management had been under scrutiny after the last two construction projects went severely over budget (great positioning for your firm moving forward!).
  • Staff. The recently appointed Chief Facilities Officer’s first completed project was a huge success (cultivate this relationship and it will last forever!).
  • Big picture. A community of over 5,000 students, previously under served, now has access to state-of-the art classrooms and ancillary facilities. The athletic fields adjacent to the school will be part of an extended-hours program that will benefit the community for years to come.
Even though we should weave all the benefits listed into the submittal, this “big picture” benefit should be our guiding light when preparing our proposal. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Success demands singleness of purpose,” and the only purpose for modernizing and renovating this high school was to better serve the students and the community. That is something everyone can get behind and relate to. It makes it “personal.” Don’t you want every kid to pursue their education at the best facilities we could offer? Drill down this message throughout your submittal because, at the end, we are all working towards the same goal. Winning proposals are typically the result of having cultivated great relationships and submitting outstanding proposals. Reviewers that can easily understand our proposed approach and how we are working with them to achieve the “ultimate goal” will feel good about selecting us. The relationship will go to another level because we made it “personal.” Who knows, maybe we can meet at the 91st Street Garden at Riverside Park in New York City as the main characters in You’ve Got Mail did and then we… Sorry, I seriously need to watch a superhero movie! Javier Suarez is the central marketing and sales support manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1144 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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