Do you know how to write a proposal that will help your company win new business clients every time?
If you are an entrepreneur selling a service to clients, no doubt you have experience with proposal writing. If you run a business that sells a product to customers, you most likely have written a business proposal to sell your product or service to your clients.
If you are the CEO in a small or medium-sized business, is the task of writing a winning proposal one you assign automatically to your marketing department?
If you are the marketing director, do all of the proposals for services to clients written by your team begin to sound alike after a while? Do your eyes glaze over as you read them because nothing stands out or sounds exciting?
Writing a winning proposal is an important skill needed to achieve business success. You want to land that new client, make that sale. You need to master the art of writing clear, elegant proposals that advance your organization and its mission.
In today’s competitive marketplace, you want to write ones that will be relevant, timely, will be remembered, and take advantage of today’s technology. You want your proposal to be enthusiastically accepted, to win the business.
An important point to consider: proposals are now moving towards the all digital business proposal format. Paper-based printed proposals that have to be faxed to a company or mailed via U.S. mail are now dinosaurs. When you use the digital format, as the experts at ClientPoint can show you, you will also have the chance to include up-to-date multi-media features, such as:
Using these features, you can deliver an attractive electronic proposal to your prospects that will stand out, and make them not only remember you but want to do business with you.
Let’s review a few of the basics that you should include in your proposal.
These eight basic components should be included when you write your proposal:
You can vary these elements depending upon your type of business. Many people compare proposals to business plans, yet the terms are not synonymous. While business plans are often written to seek investment in a company, proposals can be written to a wide variety of companies for a number of purposes, not just investment. If you are an entrepreneur selling a service to a business you will send them a proposal.
One of the most important things you can do before you write a winning proposal is to know your client. Do your research. What are the company’s needs? What obstacles does it face? Who are its competitors? Your proposal is a solution to the client’s current problems. If you don’t know what these are, you need to keep searching.
In the article “The New Age of BtoB Selling” in the Harvard Business Review, the authors noted, “… many sales organizations lack the ability to gather high-quality data about their customers and develop those insights. In a 2013 study of 206 sales organizations conducted by the Aberdeen Group, respondents said the key challenge to meeting sales goals was insufficient or inadequate information.”
The article went on to say that the two most commonly cited business pressures of sales organizations were the “inability to identify the most likely buyers for our products and services,” and “insufficient knowledge of the business needs of our prospective buyers.” (https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/oracle/hbr_oracle_report_v2.pdf)
The time you invest in performing due diligence about your prospective client will pay off. You should customize your proposal with the information that you have gleaned to show how you will meet the prospect’s needs.
In the basic elements needed in a proposal, you have several opportunities to include a video message. They are:
These video messages will give your proposal a unique power – they will be personal and focus on your firm and your track record, and they will help your client become more familiar with your business after he or she has had a chance to take a look at some of your company highlights. You can explain why your service will give the client a competitive advantage, and emphasize other benefits.
You want your proposal to be brief yet comprehensive. One of the ways you can ensure this is to include graphs, charts, and high-resolution images. Your use of analytics to explain why the product you are selling will benefit the client is important. If you are selling a software that has helped customers increase their sales, this is a persuasive point. If you have a graph that can demonstrate this, the message will be transmitted easily.
A few tips about the elements of a proposal:
Introduction/Cover Letter – Keep it brief. Get to the point about the benefits that your firm offers the prospect. Your prospect has a problem, and this proposal offers the solution.
About Us – Who we are, company video, website—Be concise and clear. Include a company video if you believe that it will help your value illuminate to the potential customer. Add details from your website so that you can deliver a strong picture of your business and its services. Showcase your firm’s capabilities in a positive way.
History — If you are selling a product like software, you will want to mention how it was created in response to need. Talk about how demand for your product has grown, and how your company responds to feedback from customers. Offer specifics: facts, figures, percentages. Use data and charts here.
The Scope of Work — Remember the advice of Jack Welch: “When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions. You have to be incredibly comfortable looking like the dumbest person in the room. Every conversation you have about a decision, a proposal, or a piece of market information has to be filled with you saying, “What if?” and “Why not?” and “How come?” ― The legendary business leader Jack Welch wasn’t afraid to look like the dumbest person in the room, because he asked, “What if?” a lot.
That’s the attitude that you have to take with your proposal, too. You have to see it as being the solution to your client’s needs, and you envision, by the scope of your work, how you will solve his problems. Use “you” a lot so your prospect knows that you are speaking directly to him.
Continually focus on how your project will meet the goals of the client.
For example, if you are a documentary film producer and you are writing a proposal to a foundation to fund your project, you will explain in the Scope of the Work why this film will help to advance the mission of the foundation. For example, the MacArthur Foundation funds projects that promote journalism to foster a responsible and responsive democracy. If you are seeking a grant for the PBS Newshour, you can explain how your project helps advance the foundation mission by keeping the American public informed and enlightened.
You might run a human resources consulting firm and are sending a proposal to a potential client that is an enterprise firm that has recently acquired another company. In your Scope of the Work you can talk about the methods you will use in your consulting – such as a department audit to make sure that newly-merged teams do not have people in duplicating roles. Sometimes a potential client will not be aware of the full extent of his need for your help; it’s your job to point out to him the benefits you will deliver.
Pricing Agreement – Outline the cost of your services to the client, or the cost of the product, and delivery dates. If your proposal includes a pricing list and the client balks at the total cost, you might later suggest an item or two that can be dropped from the list.
Terms and Conditions – If your firm sells computer hardware and you offer warranties with your products, outline the terms here. If you are a consulting firm going into a large company after a merger, spell out your understanding of the confidential nature of your work. This is also the section where you can include Electronic Signature. Part of making the proposal process easy for the client is to provide a page that includes a space for an electronic signature. As we said, paper proposals are a thing of the past. No one has time to fax back and forth signature pages. Make the signing easy and speed up the acceptance of your proposal.
If you want to make the proposal writing process go smoothly and save your company time, the firm ClientPoint can help you. Their proposal software will help you create proposals online that can be customized for individual clients, and you can keep all your proposals and price quotes in one centralized library for easy customer relationship management. The software will also help you manage the proposal in the life-cycle process with sent, viewed and signed proposals updated automatically based on the prospect’s actions.
In the previously mentioned article in Harvard Business Review on B-to-B selling, the authors talked about the value of using new data sources and technical information to bolster a sale:
Digital Body Language
“One of the most recent developments in B-to-B analytics is tapping into new data sources and combining that information with other data systems to gain a 360-degree customer view. Currently, many CRM systems that are used to identify sales opportunities are limited to information about leads, contacts, and accounts.
“However, with customers increasingly accessing information on the web before even talking to a salesperson, companies can dramatically improve their lead funnel by combining a wide range of information about customer activities (recent service calls, ordering activities, etc.) with insights into what their customers are clicking on. This can include which pages they visited or documents they downloaded from the company’s website, as well as social media activity on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
“Applying analytics to the “digital body language” of visitors can provide powerful insights; for instance, if several people from the same organization have looked at the same solutions page that information can provide a window into the organization’s future plans. Having this insight early in the buying cycle is a key advantage—and is the type of data and approach that smart sales organizations are beginning to embrace.
The article explained, “Using analytics tools, salespeople can gain that intelligence by asking questions such as:
■ Which are the best products to offer a particular customer or prospect?
■ What similar customers can I sell to?
■ What is the potential revenue impact of a specific deal—and how can I add products to grow the deal?
■ What is the estimated sales cycle for this deal based on what has happened in the past?” (https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/oracle/hbr_oracle_report_v2.pdf)
Digital body language may be the secret sauce that you add to your proposal to make it stand out from the rest. Remember, the proposal process is a competitive one. You cannot provide too much data if that data proves your firm’s value to the client.
Beyond the need for data and digital innovation, don’t forget a business basic.
Say thank you to your prospect for taking the time to review your proposal. Show respect for your client’s time.
Before you send your proposal, take one more look and cut it where you can. Trim any repetition. Be concise and clear.
Remember that even the noted French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote to a colleague, “I’m sorry for the length of this letter. I did not have the time to make it shorter.”
If you want your business proposals, quotes, and contracts to stand out and give you the best chance at winning new clients, use ClientPoint Business and Proposal management software. It makes creating and formatting professional business proposals, quotes, and contracts fast and easy.