Pop a sun-warmed, fresh-off-the-tree olive into your mouth and you’ll spit it out after one bite. Blech! But if you process your olive with brine and NaOH (a.k.a., lye) for even a short time, the result can be sublime. You can achieve a similar transformation when you soak your consulting firm’s proposals in “PTF.”Your proposals have to overcome a few tough challenges before they’re signed and your consulting firm celebrates a win. Chief among those challenges is an unfair evaluation:
- On one side, your client weighs the risk that he could look bad and his certain loss of money (your fees).
- On the other side, your client considers a possible benefit for someone else: his future self.
The danger of your consulting prospects overweighting the present and over-discounting the future is particularly high if you write your proposals in English.
Really? The English language is making it harder for your consulting firm to close deals? Yes.There’s some interesting research to consider and, fortunately, that research also points to an ingredient that will yield tastier consulting proposals: PTF (If you write your proposals in Finnish or Mandarin, PTF is added automatically.)
Let’s start with three bits of scholarship:
First: in the 1930s, a fire-prevention engineer named Benjamin Whorf hypothesized that the structure of the language we use affects how we think. (Whorf also happened to be a linguist, like every other fire-prevention engineer I’ve researched from the 1930s.)
Second: Recent work on Whorf’s idea has connected our language structure to our actions. The research suggests that people who speak languages without strongly distinct future tenses are more likely to invest in activities that benefit them over the long term.Third: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who visualize a positive statement in the future are more likely adopt beneficial actions than those who visualize that positive statement in the present.
Let’s mix those three ideas into a brine that will reduce the bitter taste of consulting proposals and make them more appetizing to your prospects.
The ingredient that will help is PTF, or Present Tense Future.
Write key sections of your proposal—the desired outcomes, the value and the recommended approach—in the present tense set at a future time.
A few examples will probably help:
|Proposal Section||Typical Example||PTF Rewrite|
|Desired Outcomes (i.e., Objectives)||BigCo would like to have a lower cost of cocoa production||At the end of this initiative, BigCo’s cost of cocoa production has dropped significantly.|
|Value||Successful implementation will demonstrate the value of your division to the executive team.||Upon completion of our work together, the executive team is fully aware of your division’s contributions.|
|Approach||During our first phase we will interview 20 of your customers.||In phase one we’re interviewing 20 of your customers.|
By using language that deemphasizes the separation between now and later, you prevent your consulting prospect from disassociating himself from the future reward.
Your client could feel bad that all your present tense wonderfulness doesn’t reflect his reality. But, by setting it in the future, you remove that threat.
To make this practical, I recommend you draft your proposals the way you always have, then soak them in a PTF bath to make them sweet, delectable, and irresistible to your consulting firm’s clients
Can you think of other instances where it would be helpful to apply PTF to your communication with consulting prospects and clients?
Text and images are © 2022 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.