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Indecent Proposals

This is a subject that I have written about before, but it cropped up again during a conversation with someone I spoke to recently for the first time in a while.

The person concerned runs a B2B field sales team (circa 100 people) and wanted to engage a company that could help them improve the quality (and conversion rate) of their sales team’s proposals.

They had meetings with 3 organisations, all professing to be proposal writing experts.

Scope presented, potential suppliers fully briefed, response dates agreed, they waited for the proposals to arrive, here’s what happened,

  • 2 arrived later than the agreed response date

  • 1 did not include a firm price

  • 1 offered 3 different options, but no recommended solution

  • 1 did not include an Executive Summary

  • 2 had more content about themselves than about the customers requirement.

With a shrug of disappointment, they decided that their own team’s sales proposals were “decent”, not great but actually better than those received from “the experts” and they abandoned the project.

So with this in mind, here are a few pointers from me on writing a good sales proposal, these tips won’t ensure you win every bid, but they will ensure it’s not your actual proposal that lets you down.

1. It’s all about them

A proposal needs to be focused on your customer and whatever it is they are going to gain by giving you their money. Focus on what they will get, make it all about them and how (specifically) their world will improve by awarding your their business..

Leave the stuff about you, your company and what you are good at until the end. If they think you understand their issues and challenges and you can deliver what you say you can, they’ll get around to reading about you, if they don’t they won’t.

2. An Executive Summary is an Executive Summary

The Executive Summary of your proposal should be exactly that, an Executive Summary, an overview of the key points of the proposal, nothing more and nothing less.

Make sure you write the Executive Summary with the buyer’s communication preference in mind (see point 4). If you use boiler plate it will stand out a mile and you should not be surprised if you don’t make it past the first hurdle.

On a personal note, I always state the price in the Executive Summary (as well as the Investment section of the proposal). The only reasonanyone buries the price in the middle of their proposal is if it embarrasses them and they don’t think they are really worth the amount they are asking for.

3. Be specific

It’s not up to your customer to work out which of a plethora of products or services that you “could” offer is the right one for them, it’s up to you to tell them.

If you’ve taken the time to qualify the opportunity correctly, understand the strategic and operational drivers creating the need and the decision makers resonating focus, it should be easy to do this. If you haven’t you will struggle to create a winning proposition.

4. Communication tendencies and preferences

Everyone you sell to will have their own personal communication preferences.

Some people love to be immersed in the detail and need to know everything about the solution you are proposing, some are only interested in the end result and the benefits.

Some people will be concerned about operational risk, some will be concerned about how what you are proposing will impact their people.

The manner in which your proposal is constructed needs to take into account who it is intended for and how the information within it is communicated. If you get this wrong your proposal might not only fail, it might not even be read.

(Take a look at some of my posts and videos on Everything Disc to understand this better).

5. How much? (coincidentally where I live in Yorkshire the 2 most often spoken words)!

Tell them exactly how much it is going to cost the customer to buy what you are recommending to them.

If you can’t do this then (a) they will struggle to approve or gain approval for the funds they need to place an order with you, and (b) they will think you don’t know what they need and they’ll be right (refer to point 3).

It’s not a proposal if it doesn’t include a price and if you don’t include a price someone can’t place an order with you.

6. Deliver on-time

Once you have agreed the delivery time for the proposal, make sure you meet it.

If you don’t deliver the proposal on time it will make your customer (a) doubtful as to whether or not you can deliver what they are buying on time and (b) think you have better things to do than meet your commitment to them.

7. Make it better than decent

The opportunity to bid for someone’s business should never be taken for granted, there’s always plenty of organisations eager to do so. So if you want to give yourself a chance of winning, make your proposal better than decent.

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