How To Write a Winning ProposalIn today's economy, sales people have to write more proposals, and better proposals, than ever before. As the industry has become more competitive and complex, customers have become both more confused and more demanding. As a result, they are likely to listen to a presentation, nod their heads, and mutter those dreaded words, "Sounds good! Why don't you put that in writing for me?"
- Evidence that you understand the client's business problem or need
People view major buying decisions with anxiety. The bigger the decision, the greater the anxiety. They know that even a well-intentioned vendor may end up wasting their time or their money or both. One way to reduce their anxiety and minimize their perception of the risk of moving forward with you is to demonstrate that you clearly understand their problems, issues, needs, opportunities, objectives, or values. Whatever is driving the client's interest, you must show that you understand it and have based your solution on it.
- A recommendation for a specific approach, program, system design, or application that will solve the problem and produce positive business results
It may surprise you to learn that most proposals contain no recommendation at all. What they contain instead are descriptions of products or services. What's the difference? A recommendation explicitly links the features of a product or service to the client's needs and shows how the client will obtain positive results. And it contains language that unmistakably shows that the vendor believes in this solution: "We recommend" or "We urge you to implement"
- A compelling reason for the client to choose your recommendation over any others
This is your value proposition. Remember that you may write a proposal that is completely compliant with the customer's requirements, that recommends the right solution, that even offers the lowest price, and still lose. Why? Because a competitor made a stronger case that their approach offered a higher return on investment, lower total cost of ownership (TCO), faster payback, or some similar measure of value that matters to the customer.
NOTE: Most proposals don't contain any value proposition at all. They contain pricing, but no estimation of the rate of return the client will get from choosing you. Failing to address the client's needs and failing to present a compelling value proposition are the most serious mistakes you can make in writing a proposal.
- Evidence of your ability to deliver on time and on budget
Most proposals are pretty good in this area. You want to show the substantiating evidence that helps answer the question, "Can they really do this?" Good evidence includes case studies, references, testimonials, and resumes of key personnel. You may also include project plans, management plans, company expertise, and other forms of evidence (white papers, awards, third-party recognition). Avoid throwing in everything. Keep the evidence focused on the areas the customer cares about.
- Responsiveness: Are we getting what we need?
- Competence: Can they really do it?
- Value: Is this the smartest way to spend our money?
- Effective sales people do not deliver one message
They do not treat customers as demographic units. They engage in conversations, they listen, and they view customers as individuals.
- Effective marketing and sales require a combination of content and insight
You must have something worthwhile to say and you need to say it in a way that shows the audience that it's relevant to them.
- Boilerplate messages may be worse than no messages at all
because they sound "canned" and undercut the rapport we've created with customers.
- Use the customer's language and refer to issues from their business and their industry
If you use the jargon they use and if you show familiarity in the cover letter and executive summary with what's going on in their business and industry, they will assume that the entire proposal has been personalized to them.
- Meeting a perceived need
- Delivering superior value or return on investment (ROI)
- Complying with the specification
- Proven vendor competence