Cover letters are one of the most important pieces of a proposal. Unfortunately, 99% of the cover letters I’ve seen during my Brutally Honest Proposal Critiques are cr*p.
The problem stems from common misconceptions about the cover letter’s place in the current proposal environment.
Lets look at three misconceptions that can lead to epic cover letter failure.
Misconception #1: People Want To Read Your Cover Letter
Recently, I was at a prebid meeting at PASSHE, which is responsible for dorm construction for Pennsylvania’s state university system. The Director of Construction made it plain.
“Don’t include a cover letter in your proposal. It’s not going to convince us. So, don’t waste your time.”
Why would he say that?
He said that because he’s seen hundreds, if not thousands, of cover letters and they all said nothing.
There was nothing of value in those cover letters. Naturally, when he sees a cover letter, we have trained his brain to skip over it.
If you think someone is likely to read your cover letter, you are insane.
Instead, you have to give people a reason to read your cover letter. You have to get their attention and then create a “slippery slope” that will keep them reading.
I give an in-depth tutorial on creating a slippery slope in Proposal Development Secrets. Many of you have already read the book. I won’t rehash all of that.
But remember, you have to start off by creating a “knowledge gap.” You create a knowledge gap by highlighting a gap between what the reader knows and what the reader wants to know.
Let’s say you are proposing to a client that knows your firm pretty well. You might use, “3 Things You Might Not Know About ABC Architects.”
Those three things better be something they don’t know and also highlight what they would be missing out on if they hire someone else for this project.
You’ll notice I use this knowledge gap technique with a lot of my titles. That’s why my open rate is so much higher than the industry average. I give people a reason to read, then deliver.
Obviously, it’s a technique I’ve also used quite successfully in proposals to clients all over the country.
Misconception #2: You Can Use A Template
People always get angry at me when they ask for an example of a great cover letter for them to use. That’s because I tell them such a thing does not exist.
A great cover letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs is not going to be a great cover letter to the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Each cover letter has to speak to the specific client and project. Unfortunately, that means, gasp, each cover letter will have to be written from scratch. There is no way around it.
Well, actually there is. Write a terrible cover letter they will simply skip over. But that won’t help you win.
Misconception #3: Throw Everything At Them and See What Sticks
This misconception leads to long cover letters. Here’s the problem.
If you had received a three-page letter in 1973, the likelihood that you would have read all three pages would have been very high.
But we live in a different world. When was the last time you read, word for word, a three-page letter?
Even better yet, when was the last time you even received a three-page letter?
I’m sorry to say that if my own grandmother sent me a three-page letter, she’d be pushing her luck. I couldn’t promise I’d read ever word.
Busy people just don’t read long cover letters.
Anything longer than a page is pushing it. When my boss sees a two-page cover letter from me, his initial reaction is, “There is something up. Why is this so long?”
Two-page cover letters are sometimes unavoidable. But three-page cover letters are always avoidable.
Every word needs to earn its place on the cover letter. If it doesn’t speak specifically to this client, to this project…it hasn’t earned its place. As much as it pains you, leave it out.
Don’t let these misconceptions plague your cover letters. Follow my advice and you’ll get an opportunity to make a powerful pitch to your clients.
If you want to learn more about the slippery slope, I just released an unrestricted PDF of Proposal Development Secrets.
There is now also a bundle that includes a Brutally Honest Proposal Critique (among other things).
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