Cover letter blunders

Proposals are sales pitches. And successful salespeople know the importance of first impressions. You may make a sale after showing up dishevelled, but the odds are against it—especially when selling a solution that’s important for your prospect’s organization.

The cover letter’s job is to create a strong first impression. Here’s what not to do.

Two ways not to open

Few people take offense at being thanked. So many bidders play it safe by starting off with: “Thank you for giving XYZ Technologies the opportunity to provide this proposal for . . .”

Here’s the problem: This opening has been done a million times. It’s trite. The reader is going to see you, consciously or subconsciously, as one of the herd. Your letter may start to sparkle by paragraph three—but by then you’ve lost any first impression advantage.

Another common opening is “XYZ Technologies is very pleased to provide this proposal for . . .” This opening is equally boring as “Thank you for” and has the added disadvantage of seeming self-centred, rather than customer centred. Who really cares that you’re pleased?

The better approach—show you get it

Strategic procurement specialists have told us repeatedly that they begin to pay attention when they see a seller gets it, that he or she really understands the need and is focused on meeting it.

So, let’s open with the key strategic requirement our proposal addresses. And let’s do it in a way that’s client focused, rather than bidder focused. Here’s an example:

“YourCo has identified the need for point-of-sale technology that accepts all currently available payment methods (including near field), occupies no more than 80 cm2 of counter space and provides software support to integrate new technologies as they emerge.”

Boom—you’ve got the reader’s attention—because you’re focused on his or her needs, and you’ve shown you understand the key requirements.

No chest-thumping please

After the opening, many cover letter writers shift to talking about themselves—how they’re industry leaders, how many units they’ve installed, etc., etc. We’ve seen this stuff go on for paragraphs. And yet who would start bragging like this in a face-to-face conversation?

Leave the chest thumping for the corporate profile. Instead, stay focused on your prospect and the critical factors in the purchase decision. In our next post, we’ll show you exactly how to do that.

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