September 5, 2006

Tom's Top 10 Tips for Better Proposals

Writing a good sales proposal is a challenging task. But here are ten practical tips that will make the job easier.
The good news is that you can translate these tips immediately into action. Writing your proposals will be easier and the results will be better.

What does it take to write a better proposal?
A combination of common sense and good advice.

Here are 10 tips based on my experiences writing proposals for the past 20 years. Lets see...that's one tip for every two years? Hmmm...guess I was a slow learner. All the same, they should give you a jump start on doing a great job with each of your proposals.

1. Never title your proposal "Proposal". That doesn't say anything the client can't figure out themselves. But, oddly enough, that's what most proposals are titled. (It's a little like writing a book a titling it "Book", isn't it?) Instead, try writing a substantive title that states a benefit to the client: "Increasing Network Reliability and Convenience Through Automated Fax Capabilities."

2. Focus on your clients business needs or mission objectives first. Most people start with their company history or an overview of their capabilities, strengths, or advantages. That's important stuff, but it doesn't belong up front. What does? The things the customer cares about. Put the customers needs right up front in the Executive Summary, mirroring what you have heard from them before you offer a solution. That shows you have listened and considered their interests and are not offering a canned approach. It's a great technique to build trust and lower anxiety.

3. Avoid lengthy corporate histories. Nobody really cares. And no matter what, don't start your proposal with your company history, your mission statement, or your corporate vision. If you include any of that stuff, put it at the back of the proposal, not up front.

4. Keep your proposal as short as possible. Think thin to win. It's tempting to throw in anything and everything that might be of interest, but the decision maker can't find your key points. Also, a short proposal will usually be read first, which means all others will be judged in comparison to it. That's an advantage if you've done a good job.

5. Eliminate jargon. Make your proposal simple and easy. Avoid using your own jargon unless you are absolutely certain everyone involved in the decision process will understand it. Ask yourself: even if your contact at client organization understands all of your jargon, who else will read the proposal? Will they understand it? In fact, the only jargon you should use throughout the proposal is theirs.

6. Highlight your key points. Executives don't read, they skim. Make your document "skimmable." Use bullets, headings and subheadings, bold face type, color, bullet points, borders, and anything else that will make your key points jump off the page.

7. Prioritize your differentiators or competitive advantages. Think about what you have to offer and select a few of them, prioritize in terms of what matters the most to the customer.

8. Ghost the competition. If you know which competitors are also in deal, raise issues in your proposal that strike at their weak points. Don't disparage them or mention them by name. But if you know they have a lousy safety record, make a big deal about the importance of safety and how great your record is.

9. Quantify your benefits and payback. Quantified benefits are more convincing than generalities. Calculate the total cost of ownership, the return on investment, the potential value of improved productivity. Show the benefits graphically, in a comparison chart. If you can base the customer's positive outcomes on the things that differentiate you, you'll really have a powerful value proposition.

10. Ask for the business. Ask for it in the cover letter, ask for it in the Executive summary, and ask for it when you present the proposal. Being passive doesn't work. You have to ask.

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