The starting point of any proposal is research. Find out as much as you can about the prospect’s business, business model, competitors, organisational structure, and buying behaviour. This way you will understand what the customer’s real concerns are and know how to address the value system of decision-makers.
In many companies, the decision-makers wear different hats. This mix of decision-makers requires a proposal that appeals to different sets of disciplines. For a decision maker to read the proposal you need to have visibility in the marketplace.
This is established through meetings, emails and phone calls. Bigger companies create visibility through advertising, sponsorships, websites and newsletters.
Telling the right story
Start by getting your team together and brainstorm. Generate as many ideas as you can, discuss them, and then prioritise the best ones. Merge these ideas into themes and then write the story of the business. Stick to these rules:
- Keep it simple – focus on the most important issue you want the prospect to remember.
- Have a story line – create the proposal around the prospect’s situation
- It must be memorable – draw a vivid picture of the fantastic outcome you can offer the prospect.
The executive summary is a sales tool
The word “summary” makes us think that an executive summary must summarise the proposal, but a proposal is much more of a tool if it summarises the reasons why the customer should buy from you. The focus must be on the prospect. The name of the prospect should appear as frequently as the name of the vendor.
According to Tom Sant, America’s foremost proposal writer, a proposal should be divided into four parts.
- Part 1: Explains that the proposal writer understands the prospects business.
- Part 2: Describes the potential impact on the customer’s organisation if the problem is solved, if the need is fulfilled, or the goal is achieved.
- Part 3: This section must be written in non-technical language. Each element of the solution should tie into the customer’s problems or needs.
- Part 4: Again write this section as simply as possible. In this section ask for the business, which can be done by just saying, “We are very exciting about working with you”. Include one or two key points that differentiate you and that prove that you are the right company for the client to choose.
Target your audience in the body of the proposal
The body of the proposal is about your business. Make sure that the information flows logically. Explain solutions you offer, your experience, and your capabilities. They need to see details of how you work and what you provide. Include proof of your financial stability and competency.
Every industry has its own particular “language” such as words, terms and expressions. However, these terms are foreign to people from other industries. Avoid the use of jargon, or if you must use it, explain it. Define what makes you different from your competition and how you can reduce the prospects overall costs.
Be fastidious about checking your proposal
Your proposal will be competing with proposals prepared by professional writers and designers. You may not have those resources at your disposal, but you can be fastidious about checking for typing, spelling and grammatical errors. Ask someone else to check your document for errors before you submit it, it takes a fresh eye to spot the typos.
Many proposals have been thrown out because the proposal-writer left the name of one of the prospect’s competitors in a paragraph copied from an old proposal. Avoid any language that is considered offensive – including women, men, persons with disabilities, persons belonging to visible minorities, senior citizens, and so on.
Personally present your proposal
Research has proved that proposals that are presented personally have a 50% higher chance of winning over those who do not present personally. Face-to-face time with the prospect is the best way to secure a deal.