You’re ready to expand your business. You want to put some feelers out there. Attract and sign new customers. Try your hand at bigger or more high-profile projects. Get your brand out there and your foot in the door. One of the best ways to do all this and more is to write a proposal. However, you’re not a grant or proposal writer. You want to do what you do best, which isn’t writing business proposals – it’s focusing on your business and your industry. You Google some examples online and, frankly, it looks daunting and a little boring. Or, you’ve written quite a few proposals, but they just aren’t getting signed. You don’t know perfectly yet how to write a proposal and you don’t know where to begin to improve your proposal writing.
Well, we’re here at Quote Roller to help get you started and to teach you how to write a proposal – and not just any proposal, one that will reflect your expertise and professionalism and get signed! In The Orange Book, we break down the important parts of the proposal and teach you how to make them shine. Inside The Orange you will find: • A better definition of what IS a business proposal? • The essential parts of a stellar proposal • How to open it up like a winner (Hint: It’s about them, not you.) • The seven stages of the business proposal lifecycle • Examining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
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An effective sales proposal funnel How to always be selling without ever appearing to be selling ...and loads more!
For sure, proposal writing falls on a deep learning curve. And more than anything, as much as we hate to, we learn from our mistakes. In The Orange Book, we draw on the knowledge the experts and we have gained and help you to do the same, so that every step of each proposal can be a step toward improving your results. The Orange is a must-read whether you are a novice or a veteran proposal writer. When it all comes down to it, we continue to learn from each other as we work to better understand what makes one proposal more successful over the other and how to apply that knowledge to getting the next proposal signed. And you don’t have to read it cover to cover all at once. Treat The Orange like a security blanket, something you can refer back to whenever you want to hone your proposal writing or nail down a particularly spectacular client. The whole point is that we are here to help you learn how to write a business proposal better. Now, what are you waiting for? Dive right into The Orange!
What is a Business Proposal – your comprehensive all-in-one guide.
What is a Mission Statement and why you need it for your proposals — Ask yourself: Why does my business exist?
The 7 stages of a Business Proposal Lifecycle — Like Simba, even Business Proposals have circles of life.
Write clear business proposals with the Power of SWOT — It stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, but how does that spell SOLD?
Why you should treat each proposal as a 5-step Process — Apply the capture planning technique and score big. 5 Skills for creating Great Proposals — 1. Strategic Planning, 2. Know Your Prospects, 3 … 4 … 5 …???
Six stages of an Effective Sales Proposal Funnel — A + I + E + P + R = $.
Top proposal myths debunked — brought to you by Picasso and Yoda.
12 Questions to ask yourself after Losing a Deal — Turn that frown upside down and snag that next sale!
What is a proposal? It might seem like a strange question to ask.
Yes, your proposals might be performing many of the above functions but those things tend to be utterly boring to read. A good proposal should be sexy, engaging and like nothing your prospective client has ever read before, especially from your competition.
“Of course I know what a proposal is, why else would I be on a Proposal Software website?” In reality, though, proposals or the effective use of them is still something that is largely misunderstood. You’ve probably sent or created many proposals in the past, whether for your business or in your personal life. Some proposals are simple while others can completely alter your life, or the way you do business.
What do all proposals have in common though? A good proposal takes the reader on a ride, and frames the path YOU want them to take, and makes them stand up and shout, “YES! This person gets me!” Take a minute and think about your proposals from the past and ask yourself: Do my proposals read like a.... Business document Contractual agreement Resume Boring, Boilerplate Company overview
The problem with your proposals The biggest problem with most proposals is they are not created with the proper goal in mind: to speak directly to the client in order to close more business.
When itâ€™s time to send off your proposal, the absolute worst thing you can do is to send off a cookie cutter example of what your company does, and then cross your fingers and hope for the best. An equally bad tactic is to send off your proposal and be unwilling to waver from what has been written inside it.
A proper proposal is an effective marketing tool, plain and simple. If you can take away one concept or idea from this article, let it be this: Your marketing strategy should be at the core of your business. One of the best marketing communications strategies is to speak to your prospects as if they are the only client you have. Everyone wants to feel special, even in the most mundane of industries.
Your proposal is a living, breathing entity that needs to evolve with your prospective client and their needs.
Donâ€™t simply assume that just because youâ€™ve gotten someone to the point where they request a proposal that you can start slacking off and hope enough trust has been built to keep them interested. Your proposals should require just as much thought and effort as the overall marketing strategy your company employs.
This is very closely related to the fact that your proposal needs to be about them, NOT about you. Leave your ego at the door and make it all about them.
Even the smartest business people can get too close to their projects/businesses and, as a result, fail to see the bigger picture. Once it is time to create a proposal for your prospective client, give their perceived problems ample thought, but also ask:
This can be a difficult concept for many businesses to grasp, especially if they have spent years crafting the perfect mission statement, identifying best business operations for use in-house and making their services attractive to customers.
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While all of those things are certainly important to the way your company operates, your clients aren’t interested in your inner workings. The only thing your clients care about is what you can do for them.
Your proposals need to address the problems they are having and what you can do to solve them. Don’t be so quick to assume though that your clients even know what their problems are. One great way to blow away your prospective client is to make suggestions to pain points they might be having, but might not have even realized yet. You might be right about some or wrong about others, but either way, this is the fast track to getting to the bottom of the real problems your client is having. Another bad assumption is that the problems your clients come to you with are actually the ones you need to be spending the most time focusing on. The problems they think they are having could actually be minor compared to the ones you can help them uncover, and eventually solve.
What are their real pain points? What problems are they really having? Are the problems they say they are having really the biggest problem in the grand scheme of things? What can I do to help them alleviate all of these problems? Do my solutions to their problems convey myself as a professional that truly understands their business? If I were in the prospective client’s shoes, would I be able to see undeniable value in the proposal?
Creating your proposal The proposal creation process needs to be created with the following two things in mind:
Once this is completely understood, someone that has never written a proposal can write a Grade A proposal.
Never appear to be selling
Never stop selling Never appear to be selling
While these might appear to be two completely conflicting ideas, they are concepts that good copywriters will understand perfectly, let me explain further:
Never stop selling Remember that your proposal is a marketing tool, and what is the main point of marketing at its simplest level? To sell.
Here is where things can be a little trickier, unlike a sales letter, where the readers are often entirely cold leads, in most instances anyone reading your proposal can already be considered a warm lead. Their request for a proposal already conveys an active interest in your services.
Instead of selling to them, prove your own value to them and turn them into a buyer who feels like it was their idea to buy before you even give them the opportunity to. If you have been following the advice in this post thus far, your client will be feeling so confident of everything you can do to help their business, they will be asking where they can transfer the payment to, without feeling like they have been sold anything at all.
You should be thinking of your proposal as one large, expertly written, ultra targeted sales letter. When laid out logically, a proposal will have all of the same elements laid out in the same order as a well-crafted sales letter. There is the strong opening, qualification, followed by identifying your clientâ€™s problems and pain points, and how you can solve them, finishing with a call to action with the desired action for your client to take.
The key elements of a winning proposal
Good formatting is essential but over-formatting will work against you
We have covered the concepts of what makes a stellar proposal, but what do you actually put in there? While there is no perfect format for all proposals (remember they are living, breathing things and we have yet to find any living, breathing thing that was completely perfect), making sure your proposals include some key elements will help you knock it out of the park.
Just like in a sales letter or any form of actionable copy, it is a must that your proposal is easy to read and has a good flow to it. This ensures your readers absorb your information at the correct pace and in the order you meant for it to be consumed.
Make your opening strong This is copywriting 101, but is just as important to creating a strong proposal.
DO NOT make your opening an introduction to or overview of your company. Anyone reading a proposal from you should already be more than familiar with your company and will be bored beginning to read your proposal by hearing more information that they already know about. Again, this proposal is about them, not you so make sure you spend time addressing their business and not stroking your own ego by talking about yours. DO ask yourself when creating your opening, “will people read the whole thing on the strength of the opening alone?” If the answer is “no”, then go back and keep working on it until you have people intrigued from the very first sentence they will read. Openers that defy popular convention or ask the reader a question directly that they don’t know the answer to are both examples of strong openers that build interest from the moment they are read.
The templates available from Quote Roller will help guide readers through your proposals in a way that is easy to digest. While we can help with the template, the content will be up to you and it also needs to come across in a way that is easy to read. Big blocks of text are your biggest enemy and most people will just skim through the big blocks, missing your most important points. Paragraphs, especially short ones, are your friend and help to segment your ideas and make them reader friendly. Subheadings are essential to helping you move from topic to topic and things like bold and italic fonts draw the reader’s eye to the important parts you want to focus on. Remember, if your client wanted to read a big block of monotonous text, they would pick up their favorite novel.
Clear pricing leaves less room for confusion
the company and not just from the company as a whole. That isn’t to say that receiving a proposal from a company isn’t professional -- it can definitely convey the fact that you are a large operation with successes under your belt. Having a name and/or face of a real person they can associate with the proposal though will definitely help to build trust.
Along with making your pricing clear, don’t be afraid to talk about price in the first place, your customers know your services are not free! In making your pricing clear, it should all be completely evident within one minute as to how much your different services cost. You may have a few different packages so it needs to be displayed in a manner that is easy to digest.
Keep in mind that the proposal doesn’t actually have to be written by said person if they are not a great copywriter, but they should be familiar with the proposal that has been written as them, so as to keep everything congruent.
Your services might also have several variables that affect price but will only be applicable to a small percentage of potential clients. Instead of making them read about all the exceptions to your pricing, include a short addendum explaining that anything outside of the services listed will need to be discussed directly. This has an added benefit of appearing to have less additional costs and leaves less room for them to criticize or analyze your prices for things that may not pertain to them anyways. A good proposal tool like Quote Roller will include optional pricing options for you to use.
In addition to just being personable, having social proof is one of the biggest factors to building trust these days. Include links to your business’s social media profiles and if possible, a portfolio of previous works and successes. Testimonials are also a great way to build trust, allowing your prospects to hear the opinions of others who have used your services in the past and been satisfied with their decision. If at all possible, try to include testimonials for work that is similar to that of the client you are sending the proposal to, so they see you have done excellent work on similar projects in the past.
Be personable and have social proof Keep it brief At a basic human level, people buy from people they know, like, and trust. You can be a HUGE business with many people working for your client, but the transaction is generally completed person-to-person.
It would be hypocritical to write a long paragraph here, so keep things as short as you can. Explain everything in as much detail but in as few words as possible. Doing so will make everything much easier to digest and much less overwhelming to prospective clients.
This is best accomplished by creating a proposal coming from one person in
An expertly crafted proposal doesn’t have to come from scratch And despite what some people might tell you, we don’t recommend that it does either. We have perfected the art of sending proposals and are here to help you do the same. With our easy to use proposal creation service, we handle all the technical bits so you can focus on crafting the perfect angle that your clients can’t say “no” to. Don’t take our word for it though, sign up for our free trial and discover how the right proposal helps you to win more clients and build your business faster.
Have you asked yourself this question: what are the reasons your business exists? If you know the answer, good for you, go ahead and skip to the middle of the article, I wonâ€™t tell anyone. However, most of the solopreneurs and small companies do not have a clear answer and this blurs the activities and goals of their business. How can you keep all your activities in sharp focus?
With the mission statement. Mission statements are incredibly simple, so donâ€™t be put off by the magnitude of what you think they are.
Collective knowledge defines a mission statement as a reason for a companyâ€™s existence. We are going to make it even easier. Just answer these three simple question to create a persistent and compelling mission statement. Who: Who are your core target customers? What: What are you giving the customers? How: How are you different from the competitors?
Always learn from the best! Letâ€™s take a mission statement of Harley-Davidson, Inc: We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments.
Mission statement should be reflected in every action you take and any business activities you perform: starting from website design to your email signature. By communicating with you, your potential clients should see that you are consistent and have a clear understanding of what you are doing, and how you are doing it. When you are creating a business proposal, you should always take into account your mission statement. It will allow you to understand if the client needs are the ones that you can solve. When crafting your mission statement try to keep it broad enough for growth, e.g. Envatoâ€™s mission statement.
Who: Motorcyclists and general public What: Fulfilling dreams How: Expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments One more example: Envato: Our mission is to help people to earn and to learn, online. We operate marketplaces where hundreds of thousands of people buy and sell digital goods every day, and a network of educational blogs where millions learn creative skills. Who: Everyone (though a push is into creative folks) What: Ability to earn and learn online
How: By operating marketplaces and maintaining a network of educational blogs
Why your business proposals should include a mission statement? In short, it will allow your clients to understand who you are and what you do. However, whatâ€™s more important, it will allow you to tailor each business proposal more efficiently towards each customer. Letâ€™s take a look at these two examples: When you look at major corporations selling one type of product, this is a foundation for their mission statement, i.e. a car manufacturer only has one mission. To make cars and sell them to you: irrelevant of the style, price or demographic.
Now, take a look at Virgin Group. They have over 400 brands and each has its own mission statement. The Virgin Group then promotes their own mission statement as an umbrella, overseeing all their objectives. So in reality, Virgin has two mission statements â€“ one for the corporation and one for each sub division. When you are working on mission statements, use the same theory as above. Are you selling one product or do you have verticals? As a designer-developer cyborg, you might offer programming services along with accompanying design. Some of the customers will only need one of them; others will need both. Creating mission statements have to be planned out in a manner that shows you in your best light yet does not deter from your objectives by trying too hard to appease one client. If you fall into this trap, you will spend your career
trying to fit in. Anyone who tries to fit in loses core values of their business intentions, and looks scattered in their thought process. You are in this to make a niche for yourself. Do you need to promote your mission statement only to one target market or for multiple? Could you make various mission statements that you can adapt to each market without looking like you are scattered? Remember that when you are creating a mission statement for your website, this is something you need to have set in stone. Yet if you are creating a mission statement for a marketing proposal, then you can adapt it according to the audience.
Broad vs Focused Mission Statements Here is a hypothetical example of a broad mission statement for a website and a more focused business proposal: Our company creates a technology that can be licensed to the clothing industry in order to reach the maximum potential in time & cost effective inventory aggregation. By implementing our unique API, we provide a drag & drop set of features that you can use for your back end storage supplies; and keep full track of your purchases and sales. This company has a technology to basically check inventory, see what’s selling, what’s not selling, create repeat orders automatically and sell off redundant purchases that would usually be a financial & storage space burden.
event. By integrating our API, we provide you the platform to review the fashion week inventories that are big sellers, enabling you to reach your store buyer’s demands in a faster turnaround. Our API also provides a summary of fabric that is on the second tier of interest to buyers so you can repurchase at a lower price, based on supply and demand. Do you see how you have not changed your core messaging or mission statement, yet you have just adapted it for Ralph Lauren? In addition, you have now triggered an idea for the RL team, who may have never assessed waste in fabric purchases after fashion week and now need to dump the stock elsewhere. This simple adapted mission statement presents you in a more professional way:
Now, you are creating a presentation for Ralph Lauren so they can license your technology. Yes, the Big RL is interested in what you have to sell, which makes you now consider that they are not keeping track of their own inventory and you have something they could use.
This is how your mission statement presentation would show when you send your business proposal:
Furthermore, you didn’t have to compromise your mission statement in no way. It was broad enough to adapt it for a big client.
Our company creates a technology that you can implement within four weeks, enabling you to track your purchases and discarded sales that require re-selling at a discounted price. With seasonal trends and four global fashion events per year, Ralph Lauren’s fabric inventory requires a surge of analysis after each
In summary, each business needs a mission statement to clearly present what they do and how they are different. The simple exercise of crafting your own missions statement will allow you to take faster bid-no bid decisions and present your proposals on a higher more professional level.
You have a clear understanding of RL business: know what RL are doing seasonally, You are highly focused and customer-centric: your statement is directly associated to RL annual life cycle.
Are you aware of the life cycle of a proposal? No proposal is truly new territory â€“ there are established best that will help you make it happen. The life of a proposal actually starts well before it is actually submitted. And, the cycle does not end with the acceptance of the proposal. When you have a clear understanding of all the stages of the proposal you can visualize big picture and take necessary action right on the spot and not miss a single opportunity. Letâ€™s take a closer look at the big picture of the proposal life cycle.
1. Pre Proposal (Pre RFP) You might be surprised to know that your business actually needs to operate in a state of readiness at all times. That’s right – ready for your next proposal, that is. Before you can ever execute a successful proposal, you need to have established practices in place and ready to go when the opportunity comes. In fact, you’ve even got to have a plan in place to identify proposal opportunities!
Assuming you have all of those positions filled within your organization, and everyone knows the role they should be doing, you can safely say that you’re ready to receive a proposal opportunity – and to make the most of it.
When a proposal chance does arrive, you’ll need to have not only a plan, but a team in place to handle it. This all falls under the broad headline of preplanning.
The first exciting phase of the proposal life cycle is the moment when your organization is presented with the opportunity to submit a proposal. This is often in the form of an RFP, but it may also come through more informal channels. Either way, this is the time to seize the moment!
Here’s a look at some of the roles that must be in place before the proposal creation can ever begin. You might not have all the people in house, but these roles will help you to understand what skills are required at each stage of the business proposal creation: • • • • • •
Capture Manager – has top-level oversight of the proposal effort Proposal Manager – oversees the day-to-day development of the proposal Proposal Coordinator –administers all proposal procedures and creates reports Researchers /analysts – gather and relay pertinent information about internal and external factors Writers – create the actual content of the proposal Review Leader – evaluates the progress and eventual success of a given proposal
Of course, you’ll want to go ahead and capitalize upon the initial wave of excitement permeating throughout your organization when a new RFP comes into the picture. Within a few days of receiving the opportunity, you should rally the whole team listed above for a meeting. You’ll want to use this meeting to present the RFP/opportunity to your team and layout some initial objectives to get the ball rolling on creating the proposal.
3. Pre-Writing Using the initial momentum carried over from the RFP initiation, you should begin right away to conceptualize the proposal. This means outlining, plotting, and annotating everything. This will help you guide the proposal as it is developed, as well as to evolve it along the way. You can always revisit your original plans along the way to see if, by some chance, your proposal has derailed somewhere along the way.
• Recovery This is the time for the proposal team to heed the recommendations of the Red Team review. Most of the time, this is a relatively short process, but at other times, it can be a more involved process that will require additional time. Just be careful not to miss the proposal acceptance window, or your efforts will be negated!
• Drafting The next phase will be creating an initial draft of the proposal. Using your prewriting as a guide, and your researchers and writers expertise, you’ll begin crafting the final proposal. This is by far the longest part of the whole process, and the most detailed. Every word has to be right, and the message has to be clear.
• Finalizing Once the recovery is completed, the final proposal should be solidified and approved by management. This may be a structured process of approving each section in turn, or it may be a single exercise of approving the whole document. In either case, this part of the process should go by fastest of all, assuming all other parts in the process have been effectively executed.
• Review Once you have a draft of the proposal, it needs to be thoroughly vetted and evaluated by managers across your organization. This is sometimes called “Red Team Review,” which basically means that managers who are not involved in the actual proposal process, pooled from elsewhere in the organization, are asked to read and critique the proposal. This should be executed about half way through the anticipated deadline for delivery, to allow as much time as possible for changes to be made as a result of the review.
7. Follow Up
The biggest step of all is the one that puts everyone on pins-and-needles. It’s best not to wait until the last possible minute to submit your proposal, whether it is submitted via parcel, or electronically. You’ll want to allow a little time for it to arrive, and to allow you time to overcome any technical or logistical glitches in the delivery.
At the end of the process, you’ll want to check back with the external company and make sure all proposed actions were completed sufficiently. This is a great time to get engagement from them, and ideally, to solidify the relationship of your two organizations in such a way that it can facilitate future business opportunities.
5. Award The award is the next most exciting event in the proposal life cycle. You should have a plan in place for the proposal’s acceptance, and for transitioning to the appropriate team members who will see the proposal through to completion. This will vary among organizations and proposals, but it’s an import step nonetheless. 6. Progress Management Even if the actions of executing the proposal have been handed off to another team, it is still up to the proposal team to make sure what they have promised is delivered. This is done by working with the teams executing the proposal to create regular, detailed reports on the progress of the proposed actions. Progress is reported internally and externally, and always transparently.
Knowledge is power, and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to forging a strategic advantage over your business’ competitors. Only by closely analyzing your company can you come to fully understand where your brand stands in reference to market trends and competitors. The SWOT matrix is applicable in making all sorts of decisions in business (and even in your personal life). But for our purposes, we’ll look at applying SWOT to decisions that impact what goes into our business proposals, in an effort to win bids on a consistent basis. SWOT is beautiful in its simplicity. Here are what the letters stand for: • Strengths • Weaknesses • Opportunities • Threats Using SWOT to make a business decision will shed light on the state of your business, allowing you to better position your company in subsequent business proposals. Simply put, by understanding exactly what your SWOT status is, you can work to emphasize your plusses, while minimizing your minuses. SWOT analysis is typically completed in a workshop setting by a given company’s leadership team. However, in a small company or for a freelancer, it might be just you or two to three people involved. There is nothing complicated in SWOT, all you need is a whiteboard, several markers and a passionate team. No whiteboard? No problem, just draw everything on paper!
The idea of SWOT workshop sessions is to take a long, hard look at your business and frame its realities against its goals – aligning the discrepancies as often as possible. SWOT is actually divided into two channels: the internal factors of Strengths and Weakness, and the external factors, opportunities and threats. Let’s have a closer look at analyzing the internal and external aspects of SWOT.
Know Your Strengths
Be Honest About Your Weaknesses
SWOT begins with perhaps the most positive facet of the analysis: your company’s strengths. Your business strengths are probably immediate to you, but uncovering all of them might require some deeper reflection.
Some of us like to avoid thinking about their business’ weaknesses; others of us tend to dwell on our weaknesses. In either case, the SWOT workshop is the appropriate forum to bring all those unpleasant shortcomings to light. Fortunately, this process of recognizing and acknowledging your company’s weaknesses allows you to overcome many of them, in all posterity.
Questions to ask and answer: • • • • •
What has been successful for you in the past? What makes your company better than its competitors? How have you lowered costs compared with market averages? What types of positive feedback have you received from existing customers? What makes your company unique?
Finding answers to questions like these should be the result of the strengthfinding workshop. Your team should be pulling strengths from statistical sales data, as well as from intangibles, like customer perception and employee satisfaction. The more legitimate strengths you can identify, the more of them you will be able to callout, with authority, in your future decision-making processes.
Let’s delve into the kinds of things to watch for when it comes to assessing weaknesses. • • • •
What areas could use immediate improvement? What strategies have failed to realize results? What internal factors are causing lost sales? What relevant functions of your business are you unable to deliver?
Although, for most purposes, the weaknesses you note should be ones that you can internally influence, it is important to gauge external reaction. How do people perceive your efforts? If the answer is poorly, then some internal factor is causing them to see it that way. Factoring weaknesses is the time for brutal honesty and healthy introspection. You’ll thank yourself once you’ve been able to combat the problems you discover.
Address Threats to Your Business
The next major point in using SWOT to make a business decision is identifying opportunities. I am sure that you are already aware of just how beneficial such an exercise can be. If you identify an opportunity that you had never thought of, it can potentially unlock a new revenue stream – which is always a welcomed event!
The final component in the SWOT matrix is that of addressing threats to your business. External threats run the gamut from competitors and disruption, to changing government regulations and consumer interests. Threats differ from weaknesses because you do not always have absolute control over external factors, whereas you can generally dress-down weaknesses in-house.
Some of the kinds of opportunities to look for include:
As such, threats must be overcome at every chance.
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Here are some potential threats to watch out for:
Are there emerging trends that you have overlooked? Has technology changed in your industry? Has a new, leaner methodology emerged that would increase your bottom line? Have consumer buying habits changed in way that you need to address? Has a former competitor left the marketplace?
• • • •
The sky is the limit, though, when it comes to spotting an opportunity. In this area you should leave no stone unturned. Every opportunity that you identify can potentially benefit your business’ future endeavors.
Do your competitors control greater market share than your business? Is there a bad public image related to your brand? Has a new government regulation imposed an unplanned cost on your company? Are you struggling to get venture capital or maintain cash-flow?
Threats can come from anywhere, even from sources you might not expect. Most companies are at least casually aware of certain threats, but others might come as a total surprise to you. Again, this portion of the SWOT analysis process is sure to be eye-opening and beneficial.
Applying What You’ve Learned with SWOT Once you’ve compiled your SWOT findings, you will have a far better picture of your overall business than before. As you can see, this information is of key importance in creating business proposals. Not only can you use SWOT to make a business decision about what to put into your proposals, the resulting information will be transparent to those who receive your proposals. This means that SWOT, when accurately related to your business proposals, will help underline the strengths and competitive advantages of awarding a bid to your company.
As such, SWOT is a win-win. The more knowledge you enamor yourself with, the more you’ll be able to make informed decisions around that knowledge. SWOT allows you to know your business better than you already do, and that translates to being able to grow your business. Here is a great video from Erica Olsen on SWOT, if you are too lazy to read.
Every business proposal is not just a document, it is a process. Think about this for a second. Most smart companies and your fellow competitors employ capture planning technique to win more and present their products and services better. However, what is it? Capture planning is a term that encompasses all activities that happen between the initial request-for-proposal (RFP), and the acceptance of the proposal by the prospective customer. Capture planning is essential to creating winning business proposals. I wonâ€™t lie and tell you that itâ€™s quick to build, quite on the contrary, efficient capture planning requires careful preparation and execution to succeed. If you are dissatisfied with the results you have seen with proposals later, there has truly never been a better time than right now to reign in the process of capture planning, in order to start creating business proposals that effectively grow your business. The most important wins in business hinge on great capture planning. The process of nurturing a business opportunity from start to finish is complex, but like every facet of modern commerce, capture planning can be conquered by understanding a few key concepts. Letâ€™s have a look at five things you should be doing with capture planning in order to win bids, every time.
1. Analyze this! Know Where You Stand (External Analysis) In order to really connect with your prospects, you need to understand them – and your competition – on a deeper level. Since those business professionals who will receive your proposal are actively engaged in leadership roles and focused on their own agendas, it is important for you to factor as many relevant details about them as possible into your capture planning efforts. This means defining the needs of your potential clients/customers early in the capture planning process, through informed analysis. It amounts to sizing up not only the prospect, but your own competition as well. By clearly understanding what competitors have to offer the prospective client, you can better position your company to stand out. Careful analysis empowers you with information that will prove valuable when formulating your proposal. Look Within (Internal Analysis) Once you’ve ascertained where your organization stands in relation to your prospective customers and your competitors, you will want to realistically gauge the extent to which your company can gain a competitive edge. This part of capture planning involves assessing your organization’s internal abilities and track record. The information gained from this internal analysis will prove valuable in establishing accurate pricing in order to win business. It is important to frame all aspects of the internal analysis alongside the external analysis – the two are equally important in capture planning. You’ll want to keenly watch for opportunities where your experience and your prospect’s needs align, so that
those points of mutual benefit can translate into your proposal. For those elements of common ground to work in your proposal, they must first be established, and that is the ideal outcome of internal analysis during capture planning. 2. Be unique The analyses you conduct in capture planning should leave you with a list of defining traits that will make your proposal unique – and irresistible. The remainder of the capture planning process can then be shaped around these discriminating factors. The discriminators will serve as a guide to keep you, as well as the proposal itself, on track. Analyze
Write a proposal
3. Write a business proposal Treat Proposals as More than Simply Writing Exercises By now, you are probably beginning to sense that there is much more to capture planning than merely working out a well-written proposal. While the language of the actual proposal is very important, it is ultimately just one tool of capture planning among many others. Accordingly, the whole process should be managed from the earliest prospect contact to the time when the deal is sealed. Simply put, every prospect is a unique opportunity that should be thoroughly researched, evaluated, and understood before the ultimate solicitation takes place. No magic combination of words will be enough to win-over discerning clients. The proposals you place before them need to speak to their realities, their needs. That knowledge is only gained through the analyses mentioned above, and will only work within the confines of the overall capture planning strategy. A great, well-written proposal is a must, but it is not a standalone breadwinner by any means.
Your business is only valid to your prospective customers to the extent that it fits in with their goals or needs. The knowledge gained in the external analysis, as well as the discriminators from earlier in capture planning process, must translate through the actual proposal. No single word in your proposal can exist without purpose; all words should be tailor-made to win the bid. The writing process is a study unto itself, to be sure. But some short pointers – all pooled from the prevalent conceptions related to sales literature – will get you on the right track. Here are some key points when it comes to the written portion of capture planning: • •
Write Business Proposals to Sell At the point in the capture planning when the writing does begin, the proposal itself should be clear in its purpose: to result in a winning bid. For this reason, all elements of proposal copy should adhere to the concise expectations of modern, digital-age sales copywriting. Less is more, when it comes to selling with words, and the focus should be squarely fixed on the prospect – and only secondarily focused on your own organization.
Simple, plain-spoken language is preferable to complex or superfluous wording in sales material, which is just what your proposal actually is. Don’t write in an overtly advertorial way. Excessive platitudes and unfounded claims are best avoided. Facts, figures, and testimonials have consistently shown to be parts of winning proposals, and should be preferred in your writing over blatant sales tactics. Share your successes through the writing, but avoid placing your own awesomeness at the heart of the proposal. Instead, show off how well your organization understands your prospect’s needs. Invest more word count into them than yourself. Ask for the sale. Don’t forget the offer, the all-important step in solidifying the business. Carefully construct the copy so that, at the end, there is an actionable buy-in step that your prospect will want to take. The close is the crucial piece of tendering proposals, and your capture planning should never lose sight of that fact.
4. Take a Lead Capture planning means not only developing a strategy, but also seeing that strategy through all stages of execution. This is where management skills come into play. Someone must be in charge – often the Proposal Manager – and that person needs to be abreast of all aspects of the process. This means delegation must occur, with analysts, writers, and other team members working fluidly to create a stellar, winning proposal. The old saying “The only way to fail in business to go forth without a plan” is very true in relation to capture planning. The more thought and effort you place into the strategy, the more controlled the results will be.
5. Refine Every business proposal – even one that does not work – can still be of value to your organization. Review and evaluate data from your proposals to gain an insight into areas needing improvement. Likewise, the data from a winning proposal can help you assess what worked, so that those elements can be honed in on in future capture planning efforts. Beyond raw data, you can also seek feedback from the prospects themselves, or learn more from taking a close look at a winning competitor. In any case, the data generated from every proposal can prove valuable in the future.
It happens every day: proposals are made by businesses and accepted by prospects. No one ever said it would be easy, but your company can be on the winning side of that equation by mastering the five skills needed to create great proposals that win bids.
Itâ€™s not a magic trick that others have mastered better than you have. Itâ€™s a constant work on your skills. There is not a magic button that can be pressed, and all your proposals will automatically win every time. The proposal starts with thorough planning, moves to great conception, and hinges on execution and follow-through. For a proposal to win, all those factors must congeal into excellence.
While on the surface this may all sound like a daunting prospect, there are some great practices that you can adopt to make the most of each and every proposal your business issues. The truth is, the various must-haves involved in the proposal submission process call for you and your team to conquer certain skills. Every step in the proposal-generation process can be linked to one or more individuals inside your organization mastering some key skills. Letâ€™s take a deeper look at five skills needed to create great proposals.
It has been said that the best way to fail at business is to operate without a plan. This is very true when it comes to creating proposals. The fact is, your proposal strategy is the most important step of all. But proposal strategy requires expert managerial skills, as you’ll have to understand your business and its prospective customers, your abilities to deliver on the customer’s needs, and any market challenges that your business faces. This means that you or a designee must be put in the Proposal Manager role in order to hold your team of researchers and writers in creating the proposal accountable. As you may know from other aspects of your business, the better the planning you put in, the greater the results will be. 2. Know Your Prospects One of the biggest – and most detrimental – mistakes you could make is to misgauge the needs of your prospective clients. Information in the proposal that does not meet with your prospect’s needs does nothing to win the bid. For this reason, your team must manifest great research skills in order to know as much as possible about the prospective company before the proposal creation ever starts.
If the language or your proposals is significantly disjointed from what your prospect needs, the whole effort is a loss. A healthy dollop of business reconnaissance will go a long way toward helping you secure a winning bid. As such, your team simply must have someone who specializes in getting to know your prospects and their needs. 3. Effective Communication Every aspect of a given proposal must hit on points that are relevant to the prospective business. So the next skill needed to create great proposals is effective communication. And we’re not just talking about writing here; the need for effective communication carries-over into managing your proposal team and developing the fundamental concept of the proposal. Every person on your team needs to be clear on what your proposal is intended to convey to its recipient. Failure in this skill area can result in offering the wrong solution, or making excessive claims. Everyone involved in the proposal creation process needs to be on the page, and achieving that comes down to effective communication throughout your organization. Of course, the proposal must also be effectively written and clear in purpose. It must sufficiently address the problems faced by your potential clients, as well as offer them a clear solution.
Communication is a skill that you cannot afford to miss!
4. Writing Well Closely related to the skill of effective communication is that of clear and concise writing. The problem is that all too often, people tend to think of creating proposals as simply being a writing exercise. Planning, conception, management, and delivery are all equally as important as writing. Nevertheless, the writing itself does matter. The copy in your proposal should (of course) be grammatically correct, in a consistent font and style, and legible in every regard. Beyond those general writing skills, though, a successful business proposal should speak to the modern audience in the digital age. Wordiness, big paragraphs, and academic language just won’t do. In fact, research has shown that those things are repellant. This is not to say that your proposals should be conversational in tone, though that may be appropriate in certain situations. More to the point, your proposals should be concise and should focus on communicating the message you need to send to your prospects. Whatever wording you use, it should be sufficient for the industry you operate in, never over-the-top, never overly simplified. 5. Salesmanship The next main skill needed to create great proposals is sales technique. Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s important to know that being
overly salesy is not the best approach, at all. The important takeaway is that every proposal is a piece of sales material, and it should be treated as such. Let’s review the basic parts of the sales process: • A greeting/opening • Qualification • Overcoming objections • An offer (a call-to-action, asking for the sale) • Close A proposal covers the traditional sales process, even if it is not as obvious as in other arenas. A proposal without an actionable ending that asks for prospect buy-in is really just a piece of informational literature. By ensuring that your proposal appropriately incorporates a sales element, you’ll ensure that your prospective customers are clear on how they can accept your proposal. Do you get the impression that all of these five concepts are closely related? That’s because they are! The sales aspect of your proposals should communicate your unique advantage effectively, with verbal concision. Excessive, overbearing claims and being advertorial will work against you, so it’s important to anchor your proposal’s selling elements with factual information and tangible benefits for your prospects.
Let’s talk about the sales process in general and try to port this notion into sales proposals. If you are just starting your business and are capturing new leads (new clients with a potential project) this is indispensable knowledge. By analyzing efficiency of your sales funnel, you will be able to spot bottlenecks and take the required action to improve the health of your business. Armed with an idea that each proposal has a sales funnel of its own, you will be able to advance your business proposals to a new level. The ‘sales funnel’ is a term that gets bandied about frequently these days. The truth is, the same old marketing process has been around for ages, and, for the most part, only the medium has changed. The sales funnel is as it was back in the heyday of television advertising – it has simply moved to the digital realm. Now that businesses operate heavily online, the result is that copywriting, marketing, and proposals, all look very similar to the consumer. What this means is that your business proposals are directly immersed in the sales funnel, online, all the time. Far too often, businesses put tons of effort into sales copy, CRM, and digital marketing, but they forget to create proposals that are equally as compelling as the rest of their business strategy. And this omission can lead to lost revenue, as well as serious disappointment. Let’s have a look at how good proposals work as sales tools, and how you can get the most out of them for the benefit of your business.
The Proposal as a Sales Tool What do proposals have to do with the sales funnel – an instrument of marketing – you ask? The answer is: everything. At best, a proposal is a consolidated piece of marketing material that manages to execute the whole sales process all on its own. Here are the basic parts of the sales funnel: • • • • • •
Awareness Interest Evaluation Purchase Referral Repeat
Broadly speaking, awareness puts a brand or product on the peripheral of the consumer. Whatever it is that your company does, you should state it in your proposal’s leading paragraph what your business has to offer, and provide some assurance that your business is a reliable, trustworthy authority in its given industry.
Your proposal moves along the sales funnel because you are able to help your leads understand why your business is ideally suited to help them achieve their goals. An evaluation compares some features and/or benefits, and sometimes attempts to discredit a competing option or alternative.
If you are a digital marketer, for example, the opening of your proposal should make that fact clear. Doing this right up front plays into the concept of qualifying the customer. In our digital marketing example, only a customer who is at least somewhat interested in having his or her home painted will continue reading the proposal – which is fine, because those who do continue past the opening paragraph move from being mere possibilities to being leads. Interest Once the consumer has read past the opening paragraph, you can safely graduate to explaining how your service meets the customers’ needs. This part of your proposal is a continuation of the process of qualifying the customer. The part of your proposal that represents the ‘interest’ portion of the sales funnel should be rhetorical to some extent. In effect, you are leading the consumer to ask the question ‘why do I need this,’ specifically so that you can answer that question in the next area of the funnel.
Most commonly, a proposal will engage in an evaluation of the competing option of inaction. If your proposals can succeed in illustrating that your service is all benefit, and inaction is all detriment, you will see your business start to grow.
Purchase The purchasing step can take on a variety of forms, but one thing must be present in all cases: asking for the sale. You will never sell anything by not offering to do so. That being said, you should avoid making people feel like they are being sold. Instead, make the purchasing step an action – clicking a button to go to checkout, ideally. Closing the sale is the ultimate goal, so the content in this part of your proposal is crucial, and being successful will mean understanding your business, its customers, and their needs very thoroughly.
In an ideal scenario, your customer will be glad to have made a purchase after having done so. Consumers make purchases that make their lives easier or in some quantifiable way, better. At the end of the sale, if your business has gotten everything right and delivered on what was proposed, you will likely enjoy having the customer refer new customers into the sales funnel.
As you can see, every aspect of the sales funnel is represented in an effective proposal. Of course, proposals can contain more than sales content, they can contain digital space innovations such as analytics, multimedia, and more.
A referral may be as basic as a ‘like’ on Facebook or as traditional as word-ofmouth advertising, but either way, apart from the actual conversion itself, a referral is one of the best possible outcomes of a consumer interaction.
Repeat The other great possible outcome of the sales process is the repeat customer. Having perfectly executed proposals is essential to the customer service experience. Once the customer has passed through the sales funnel once, they become twice as likely to repeat the process. Presenting them with great, informative, and actionable proposals that don’t frighten them will go a long way toward earning repeat conversions.
In any case, every proposal that your business generates is useful, even if it does not lead to conversion. Those consumers who fail to become leads, or those leads that leak out of the funnel, can tell you where the weak points in your proposals are, allowing your business to respond accordingly. By giving equal attention to your business proposals as you would sales and marketing, you can solidify your brand position and ensure customer retention through continual refinement of the in-proposal sales process. As with any other aspect of business, the best way to get ahead is to have a plan. So, put some thought into your proposals, and relate them to your overall sales strategy and goals – you’ll be glad you did.
Rumors and trends tell you how to manipulate the customer to get that business proposal signed. We are here to tell you how to get that signature, while respecting yourself along the way.
Now, you’re not the Picasso of your sector… yet, but excessively lowering your price sure isn’t the way you’re going to get there. Your service has a value. Of course, numbers matter, but focus your business proposal on creating and reinstating your business’s value. We promise you’ll be more competitive explaining the specifically tailored services you’re offering a client, than being the lowest of the low. Furthermore, your market will thank you too, as lowballing ruins it for everyone.
Our team at Quote Roller is here to debunk those myths and offer you barebones advice to follow to make sure your business proposal stands out from the pack for the right reasons. 1. Low prices win more often Sometimes playing the numbers game signals the time to walk away. I Recently heard a rumored tale of Pablo Picasso. Later in his life, he’s in a cafe in Paris and a cute waitress tells him how she’d love her very own Picasso. So he takes about five minutes and draws an abstract on a cloth napkin. She is so excited, jumping up and down, ready to take it out of his hand, when he stops her with three words: “10,000 francs, please.” She responds that it only took him five minutes to sketch. Good ol’ Pablo says that he had spent his whole life working up to this number and to lower it would risk everything.
2. Longer proposals win more We all like to believe our mission statements are important. And they are – they help us understand our business better and, therefore, present ourselves to a client in a better way. It is important to consider your company’s direction and mission through all steps – bid decision, writing proposal letter and business proposal, negotiation and closing – but it is not important to tell your client. If your company stands for something, they’ll know it through actions, not words. Which means, leave all that bull out of your business proposal. One of our team members once worked for a company that touted itself “The Place to Be,” meaning a great place to work for, always citing its ranking on various top 100 places to work in the U.S. listings. Now, this is definitely something a potential employee likes to hear, making it an excellent thing to include in job offers and employee contracts. However, it was a silly thing to put all over their company’s web page and inside every sales package and business proposal letter. It detracted from their message of quality goods and services. In other words, everyone likes to hear about themselves, not to listen to people bragging. Make your proposal geared towards your client’s goals and needs, not your own. Because nobody cares.
3. Only skilled pros can clash a deal You know where you want to take your business, but you can’t get there without taking risks. You receive a request for proposal from a potential new client or from a recurring client who is asking for something not exactly in your wheelhouse. Don’t step away!
Also in the don’t wimp out category lies your competition. Yes, we know it is harder to steal business away, especially if you are going up against a big design house with loads of resources, but we think, if you want the business and you have the time to offer a better, more personal service, go for it.
However, don’t get ahead of yourself and bite off more than you can chew either. Ask your team:
Plus, using business proposal software allows you to send out more bids in less time. (There should be a shameless link to Quote Roller, but we think you know what to do
Is this something we want for our portfolio? Is this where our company is headed? Do we have the resources to complete this task? Have we done something like this before, but in a totally different sector? If your answers are affirmative, we say it can’t hurt to try. Yes, as dear Yoda says, “There is no try, only do.” But, if you manage your client’s expectations, being honest that, while you haven’t done something exactly like this before, you are a growing agency that wants to try and that you believe you have the creative power to do it, we say take the risk and send them a well-thought-out business proposal. Now, this is where you may need to offer some sort of a deal, but, as long as your company is in the black, sometimes expanding your portfolio in the right direction makes it worth it.
Dang it, your business proposal was rejected! Learn the questions you should be asking yourself, so this doesn’t happen again. I will explain how you can create a proposal knowledge base you can reuse in your future proposals, understand what works and what doesn’t and get the next deal nailed! Nobody likes to learn his or her lesson. However, as much as we hate to admit it, we really can learn from our mistakes. Sales is no exception. In fact, studying our rejected business proposals, as much as our winning business proposals, can help us learn for the future. It can teach us about our client or a potential client, and we can use it as an opportunity to learn how to write a business proposal that is sure to win them over next time.
OK, so your business proposal didn’t get signed and you didn’t get the sale. Take a nanosecond to be sad and then rally up and take it as a moment to learn for your next proposal. Schedule you and your team five to ten minutes to brainstorm as to what went wrong.
Content & presentation
Start by asking yourself these groups of questions: Client needs:
9. 10. 11. 12.
What was the client looking for? Did our business proposal really aim to solve that problem, concern or need?
Why do we think the client said no? Where do we think we missed the mark? Where did we fall short? Should we have been sending them a business proposal in the first place? Who is our audience? How do we define our prospective clients?
Content and presentation: 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is our business proposal clear and concise? What could we have cut out of the business proposal? What could we have added to the business proposal? Was our business proposal easy for the client to open? To read through? To sign?
Prioritizing 7. 8.
What did we think was important to the client? What did our client actually think was important? What did he spend the most time reading? Was that because that part was unclear or because it was important to her? (After reviewing your business proposal software)
Taking time over a well-deserved cup of coffee to reflect on what went wrong will help you and your company solidify the success of your next opportunity to present a business proposal. Make sure to look over those notes we keep reminding you to take. This is how you can be sure you understood the customerâ€™s requirements. Then, see if you addressed them in your business proposal. Your notes and your proposal software can combine to become a wealth of information that can teach you how to write business proposals that get signed.
If you are using an online proposal software like Quote Roller, win, lose or draw, you can track what parts of the proposal your client spent the most time examining and what they skimmed right past.
If a client spends a lot of time examining an aspect of your proposal that was never discussed before, think about the questions you were asking. Consider what open-ended question that you could ask the client in the future about this certain aspect, so you can make sure to properly address the issue in your future business proposal.
The parts of your business proposal that your client spent the most time examining are probably the same parts that lost you the bid. If it was the bottom line, probably you need to ask yourself if next time you can sell them a different package at a lower price or if maybe they really aren’t your target audience.
This is where developing and redeveloping your value propositions becomes key, as you can offer your customers two different ways of addressing a single issue. The results can be the clue to changing your losing business proposal into a winner.
Take notes When in doubt, when you are thanking your potential client for his or her time and telling them you look forward to working with them in the future, it can’t hurt to ask them (politely!) what went wrong. Be very open and honest and say that you still want to learn from them and you’d love to gain some insight as to why they accepted another company’s business over yours.
Make sure you and your team take and share copious notes during conversations with clients before and after sending them your business proposal. It helps you reexamine where those seemingly small comments or objections that were made may have made or broken the deal. It is also a way to compare your notes with your proposal software to try and see if there’s a pattern. If there’s an issue that comes up with multiple clients, that’s something you as a company needs to focus on rectifying.
Remember, people love to give their opinion and asking builds a relationship. Either way, these answers can give you the clue for working with them in the future, plus, you can take it into account the next time you are writing a business proposal.
Employ help Once in awhile, have your partner, friend or spouse read one of your business proposals that failed. If those that love you can’t get through your proposal because it was too long or too convoluted, probably your failed customer couldn’t either. Your friendly everyman can teach you how to write a proposal, by helping you filter out distraction and overly complicated jargon. This outsider can offer you a different point of view for free. Now, if you are new to writing business proposals, perhaps you don’t have a lot of winners to look at… yet! Your proposal management software should have sample proposals that you can use to both as a business proposal template and as a way to compare your proposal against successful ones. Once you build up your business proposal portfolio and compare your wins and losses, it should be easy to notice trends that clients want to see and those that they don’t. On the flip side, when you have a signed business proposal, it’s another great moment to see what your client liked and didn’t. Using your proposal management software to see the last thing your client looked at before signing shows you his or her priorities for the future. So remember, even though it sucks, losing and learning from that one bid could help you get five more business proposals signed.
A place where creative entrepreneurs and business owners can find useful information, advice, insights, tips, tools, case studies and sample library to win their next project. We help you win more deals by writing and presenting irresistible proposals.