How to Write Compelling Proposals That Win the Sale

I thought I would share this great insight from Adrian Davis about how to write a proposal. His recommendations are spot on. It is important to understand your prospect, and play back their objectives as they see them, then design the proposal to address them. I have always found the most valuable element of the proposal is a one page that summarizes the client objectives. They are so impressed that you listened to them, understood them and provide a solution for them. Prior to providing the proposal it is imperative that you have a meeting with the prospect and listen to what they and the decision maker values. Without this knowledge your proposal success will be limited substantially.

Now Adrian’s insights…

Sooner or later, you’re going to hear these words, “Sounds good. Why don’t you send me a proposal?” Of course, you’ve already heard them and you’ve already experienced the mixed emotions – the thrill of knowing you’re close to the finish line and the agony of knowing there’s a lot of work ahead of you and it could be for nothing.

How do you ensure you don’t waste your time? How do you ensure that your proposal stands out, is read and most importantly, is approved and acted upon?

Rule #1: No Surprises

The mistake most people make is withholding vital information, such as pricing. The purpose of your proposal is not to sell your buyer. Let me repeat that. The purpose of your proposal is not to sell your buyer. It is to crystallize everything you’ve spoken about in a single document that can be acted upon. Your selling job is done. You must pass the baton on to your buyer. Proposal in hand, your buyer must now do the selling and get the necessary internal approvals to move forward.

Rule # 2: Write for the Final Decision-Maker not Your Buyer

By the time you get to the proposal stage, you’ve developed a pretty good relationship with your buyer. Do not submit your proposal “to” your buyer. Be sure to submit your proposal “through” your buyer. It is a very rare organization today that has a leader that will make significant decisions unilaterally. No matter who your buyer is, they will most likely have to consult with one or more other people before signing off. Ensure you understand how the approval process works. Rather than submit your proposal to your buyer, work alongside your buyer.

Always work from a document stamped, “Draft – for discussion only”. The most important benefit of doing this is giving yourself permission to be wrong. As you sit down with your buyer, you can be side by side rather than across the table. If the buyer feels you are submitting a final document, he or she immediately moves into Accept or Reject mode. This puts them across the table from you. When you work from a draft, you are working together to ensure the wording will work for them. As they consider their relationship with the final approver(s), they can soften or harden the language, include or exclude certain elements and restructure or reframe your logic.

Rule #3: Focus on Results and the Next Action

Think about what you’re really proposing. Don’t get caught up in your credentials or boiler plate formalities. Stay focused on the results your buyer wants from you. That’s all the buyer really cares about. How will you improve their condition? Everything else is a footnote. Far too many proposals begin with, “ABC Company is pleased to submit this proposal… blah blah blah.” You need to come out swinging. There’s no time to risk disengagement.

Remember, it is highly unlikely that you will be present when the final decision is being made. In fact, people who may have never met you or even heard of you may be deciding your fate. Your value must now be represented by your proposal.

In addition to having a singular focus on results, you must also have a very clear next step. Your methodology is too much to act on. It’s also academic. What actually happens may or may not unfold as you’ve outlined. What matters is your commitment to your buyer’s success. If your buyer trusts you, they’ll take your methodology on faith. What’s really important is your concrete and clear next step.

Adrian Davis is a business strategist and Trusted Advisor for chief executives and business owners. He is a thought-provoking speaker and is frequently called upon to address senior management teams and sales groups on the subjects of corporate strategy, competitive advantage and sales excellence.

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