There are people who will tell you that you should never, ever write business proposals. Proposals take a lot of time, the argument goes. There’s a lot of work involved. The very act of putting together strong business proposals draws heavily on your expertise and insight. You’re making an investment when you create a proposal – and if the client doesn’t close the deal with you, it’s an investment that returns nothing.
There are people who agree with the never write a proposal position, who are simultaneously very aware that in order for their business to function on a daily basis, they need to write proposals. That’s the way the world works, and so they go through the motions, lining up the necessary fact sheets and price points in the routine fashion and sending them off in the hopes they get the sale.
And then there are people who see business to business proposals for what they really are – a powerful marketing tool that can be used to gain a significant advantage over the competition.
Which group do you belong to?
The Underappreciated Sales Tool
While preparing this article, I reviewed the last 200 business proposals my company generated. Not every one of these proposals was ultimately successful, of course, but they all had one trait in common: They got our team in the door for further meetings, deeper into the sales process with the prospective client.
We wondered what it was about these business proposals that made customers open the door enough to say, “We’re willing to explore working with you.” Below are the key ingredients that appeared in every proposal.
Overview of Potential Project
Each proposal begins with an outline of the goals and intended outcomes of the project are. This step is absolutely essential. You’re convincing the client that your company is focused on solving their problems.
To be convincing, you need to speak the same language that your client speaks. Every industry and profession has its own language, composed of jargon, acronyms and shorthand terms. The more fluent you are in your potential client’s language, the easier it becomes for that client to feel like you understand them.
Quick Review & Initial Recommendations
In the next section of the proposal, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your insight and judgment. Remember to think like your customer. No matter what industry you’re in, you want to do business with partners who are perceptive and smart.
Use this section to provide your assessment of your customer’s situation, including any items that may be of concern. This is also the point to provide a few surface level recommendations for your customer to consider. You don’t have to provide the solutions to your customer’s problems in the proposal, but you do have to provide your customers with the confidence that you’re capable of solving the problem.
A business proposal is an invitation to start a new relationship. In this section, you’re demonstrating to your prospect what value they may find in the relationship with you. By giving feedback you’re demonstrating to your potential client your style of communication and your level of intellectual investment in their business.
Assumptions and Process
After proving to your customers the value to be found in beginning a relationship with you, the next step is to explain what the experience of working together will be like.
Not everyone has the same background and not everyone has worked on the same projects in the same way. I find it a helpful to share a list of assumptions about how we like to work and what we expect of our client. This step can often help clients determine very rapidly if they’ll be happy working with you.
Marketing to your customer’s means educating and informing your audience. Depending on your industry, a customer may not realize what’s involved in a potential job. Giving your potential client a way to understand what you do and the process you follow illustrates how you value your time and their time.
Clear Pricing Breakdown
Money matters. You have a budget that guides your business decision making process. So do your customers. We’ve found that the clear, easy to understand pricing information is highly valued by potential clients.
Don’t be afraid to be detailed. Break down the costs in a clear way with supporting details for each line item. Customers want to know what they’re paying for. Having support for every number in your proposal demonstrates an awareness of your client’s business needs.
Pride in Your Work & Team
Go ahead and toot your own horn a bit. This is a sales pitch, after all. Let your potential client know why you’re the best choice for them. Be specific, and relate your experience to your potential client’s needs.
Add case studies or images of successful projects. List your team members and their involvement. Tie everything together for your potential client to see you value your team as much as you value their business.
Make it Pretty
Never, ever forget that business proposals are a sales tool. Presentation really does matter. A well-designed proposal is a demonstration to your customer that you value them highly – that you want to get their attention, their respect and yes, ultimately, their business.
Taking the time to make sure your proposals are well organized. Ensure that everything is easy to read and understand. Use color, font, images and layout to make the process of reading the proposal as engaging and enjoyable as possible. Whether you service business is accounting or design people want to feel they matter and good design is a great way to provide that feeling.
It’s Time To Stop
Stop looking at your business proposals as a waste of time or a necessary evil. Start looking at your business proposals as powerful marketing tools you can use to start profitable, long-lasting relationships.
It’s an investment that will reap rich rewards.
Waiting with Proposal Photo via Shutterstock
I always see business proposals, plans and so on are marketing tools in disguise. Unfortunately they often bore potential partners and investors to death.
I agree that spicing things up will make the business proposal glows. My question is, what do you think of interactive business proposals – can they help us close more deals?
What a great question. In some ways I have found most of my proposals are interactive in some ways. After clients review and are interested in proceeding to the next step the proposal gets refined before we move into contract. So you could say the who process is interactive.
I see – how about presenting the proposal in, say, web format? It’s like online CV but it’s a business proposal – with interactive data visualization and so on.
Will that be more interesting to you?
I think the delivery of the proposal itself is important too.
A great added point. Do you mean print or email?
I’m just getting started with the business development side of things, and your article certainly caught my attention. Would you be willing to recommend additional references that address the development of business proposals? Your article wet my mouth, but I’m hungry for more of the details.
Great article! I think often times we forget that a proposal is a marketing tool, and prospective clients tend to notice the amount of detail placed in a proposal for them. It often times gives them a sense of security or lack there of in the level of service they will receive should they decide to move forward in a business relationship with your company.