Government institutions and large companies are always looking for other businesses to fulfill their need for various products and services. Request for Proposals (RFPs) are requests sent to a businesses asking them to submit their business proposals showing exactly how they can meet the company’s needs. With so many businesses clamoring for lucrative business deals with large corporations and government institutions, the competition is tough.
Out of the many business proposals companies receive, most end up in the trash. As you come up with your business proposal, take care to avoid the following 5 mistakes. Otherwise, yours is headed to the trash too.
1. Not Taking Time to Understand the Prospective Client
Before you write down a single word of the proposal, ask yourself whether you truly understand the client. Most businesses have a ready template from which they write every business proposal. The result is a flat proposal that does not match the client’s unique needs.
Understanding a prospective client is not just about knowing what they sell. You have to go deeper than that. What philosophies do they uphold? What are their work ethics? If you want to work with the client, it is important to show that you understand them well enough and that you know exactly what they demand from their partners.
By understanding a particular client, it is easy to create a highly personalized and unique business proposal. The last thing you want is a proposal that reads almost like every other they will receive. Stand out, be personal. Show that you understand a client’s particular concerns with this particular project and that you have the solutions they need. When the proposal is read, it should sound as if it has been written by a business that has partnered with the company hundreds of times before.
A good way to understand your client, apart from research, is to ask people in and close to the company. This includes employees and previous contractors. This will even help you get an idea of where you should set your pricing.
2. A Poorly Written Executive Summary
A company may receive 20 or more responses to their RFPs. Each proposal is tens of pages long, making it quite a read. No one has the time or energy to go through each proposal word by word. The executive summary, which comes before any other section, therefore becomes your bullhorn. This is where you shout and display all important aspects of the proposal.
If you start with a poorly written executive summary, your proposal has already failed. Characteristics of a bad executive summary include too much explaining, too long and lack of essential aspects.
By just reading the executive summary, the reader should have a very good idea what your proposal consists of. This means that you should include every important piece of information in small bites. The executive summary should not be longer than one page.
Start with why you are the right choice for them, briefly highlighting your uniqueness and value for money. Answer any client questions in this section, remembering to keep your answers short and to the point. Other details such as budget breakdown and estimated timetable should also be present in the executive summary. The goal is to create a great first impression.
3. Failure to Listen to the Client
In a rush to complete and submit a business proposal, some businesses fail to answer the client’s questions. Not all RFPs are the same. One company’s RFP will be very different from another one’s. You cannot write the same thing for every client who asks you for a business proposal. Each company sends out an RFP with the intent of finding the perfect business to work with. To do this, they need answers to specific questions. Sometimes, those questions are not asked directly.
Before you start writing, read and re-read the RFP to understand exactly what the client is looking for. Spot the obvious questions and concerns. Also, learn to notice the not so obvious questions the client may be voicing. It’s all about listening to the client and crafting the perfect answer in response.
When you combine the knowledge of the client’s questions with a deep understanding of the client (discussed above), the eventual result is a winning B2B business proposal.
4. Not Including Social Proof
One aspect that businesses oft underestimate is the power of social proof. Social proof refers to a phenomenon where the actions of an individual or a group of people are partly or fully determined by the actions of other people. For instance, you may decide to buy from a certain food truck because of the large number of customers already there, or try a new restaurant after reading positive reviews online.
In business, social proof is an extremely important factor in winning clients. When you write your proposal, do not fail to include it. Explain to the client what other companies you have worked with before and what you managed to achieve in those projects. Choose projects that are share similarities to the client’s current project. In your writing, highlight these similarities. This makes the client gain more confidence in your proposal. Social proof makes the client think, “If X were happy with their services, we will be happy too.”
Remember not to gush too much in this section. Most probably, those companies you describe are your client’s competitors. You don’t want to make the proposal about them. Keep it brief but highlight the important parts; what were the project requirements, what was your approach (solutions) and what were the eventual results.
5. Focusing on Price Instead of What You are Offering
When companies review business proposals, they are not concerned so much about prices as they are about getting value for their money. Most businesses on the other hand make the mistake of obsessing over price. They keep on highlighting how they are offering low prices. If companies relied only on prices, you would always fail because there would always be lower bids.
Reveal all the prices you are going to charge the client in the event you are contracted but do not focus too much on them. Instead, prove that you can provide full value for the price you are charging. Why should you be the final choice? What’s unique and special about your services or products?
You may not get it right on the first try or the second. If you fail, try to get feedback from the client as to the reason for rejection. Use your mistakes to improve and submit a winning business proposal next time.
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