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An ATB Matrix makes proposal development easy by clearly defining the barriers preventing your customer from achieving their goals.

Five years ago I attended sales training classes. In this class, they shared successful techniques for uncovering the true nature of our prospects’ challenges. One technique involved understanding the current situation (not working as needed) as compared with the goal state (working as needed).

From that technique, I developed my ATB Matrix, which I use when developing proposal solutions and supporting content. The ATB Matrix is a simple table that lists the “As Is” state, “To Be” state, and the “Barriers” that prevent my customer from achieving the “To Be” state.

As Is
To Be
What is it now? What is wrong with it now? What is right? If the customer could wave a magic wand, what is the better solution? (Must fit within the parameters listed in the RFP.) What is stopping the change?

Completing the ATB Matrix forces the author to see things from the customer’s perspective. In turn, having this perspective builds customer empathy, and the final proposal will showcase a deeper understanding of the barriers. It also focuses solution development on actual problems and not preexisting solutions repurposed from past proposals.

The following is an example of a single row from a completed ATB Matrix.

As Is
To Be
Vehicle repairs are slow (happen between 1–3 weeks). Vehicle repairs happen within 3 days. Hard to order parts. Software system (PTAC) is slow and crashes often. Parts take up to 2 weeks to be delivered. Wrong part delivered. Only 3 mechanics. Repair volume changes daily. Current needs require 1–7 mechanics. Must use existing budget. Fear that new system will be worse than old system. Don’t want to learn a new system. (Training takes too long and mistakes happen during transitions.)

Even if the author is not an expert, completing the ATB Matrix (with the support of a subject matter expert) makes it is easy to begin solving the problem. For example, the first barrier listed is that the parts are difficult to order. The software (PTAC) is slow and crashes. How would you solve this problem?

  • Update the software?
  • Purchase new software?
  • Fix the old software?
  • Change the system or process?

Once the author has a short list of potential solutions, they can ask a subject matter expert what is possible and most likely to be accepted by the customer. Next, explain what the proposed solution is, why it was chosen, and how it is compliant with the customer’s requirements. That is your proposal!

Mike Parkinson, CPP APMP Fellow, is an internationally recognized visual communications expert. He is a partner at 24 Hour Company specializing in bid-winning proposal graphics. His Billion Dollar Graphics web site, “Billion Dollar Graphics” book, and Graphic Cheat Sheet share best practices and helpful tools with proposal professionals. Contact Mike at or call 703-533-7209.

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