When a customer or prospect asks you to put your proposal on paper, he is handing you a golden opportunity to engage him with a clear and convincing explanation about how your firm is uniquely suited to meet his needs. But engagement is just the beginning. To seal the deal, you must offer a value proposition the client can’t refuse.
Tom Sant has trained thousands of sales people and executives in the art of writing winning proposals, yet he learned a valuable lesson of his own while waiting his turn to address 800 sales reps of a major national corporation at their annual meeting.
Breakfast had just ended, and there was a short break before Sant’s turn at the podium, when a vice president of purchasing made a beeline for Sant’s table.
“What are you going to talk about,” asked the VP?
“Crafting winning sales presentations,” said Sant.
Unimpressed, the VP reached for a dirty fork on the table, pointed it straight at Sant and said: “Let me tell you something. Tell our salespeople, if they write the kind of proposals that I get, they should be fired!”
Intrigued, Sant asked the VP what sort of proposals he was used to receiving. The VP answered: “I get a bill of materials and a price quote. No total cost of ownership, no payback analysis and no calculation of value. In short, nothing I can use to make a smart decision. But this is exactly how a customer thinks and that’s what I want to be shown.”
Sant’s guidance was featured prominently in a recent issue of Inc. Magazine that lent insight into the need to make a persuasive case to land a sale. Smart decision makers, like the VP that confided in Sant are looking for impact. When inking a deal, they need assurance that their company will receive more in return than it is spending.
The sales proposal is your chance to make that case. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then a written proposal is a powerful weapon in your sales arsenal. You don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but you must incorporate some basic style pointers into your presentation and know enough about the customer’s needs before you start sharpening your pencil – and your pitch.
Proposals should begin with a subject called the Executive Summary. Contrary to popular belief, the executive summary is not a summary of the contents of the proposal. It is a summary of the basic issues, the proposed solution, and the projected results. Effective executive summaries are structured as follows:
Needs: Demonstrate your understanding of the client’s business, key issues or problems. Do research and ask questions before you start writing so you are certain how the client measures success and then demonstrate your value in those terms.
- Outcomes: Focus on the results they want to achieve by addressing the needs or solving the problems you have identified.
- Solution: Recommend solutions that will solve the problems and deliver results.
- Evidence: Differentiate yourself from others who may be bidding on this opportunity.
The body of your proposal should contain detailed explanations of how you will do the work, the key people who will be involved in the project, your prior successful experience in this area, previous customers you’ve helped on similar projects, and evidence of your core competency and financial stability.
Some people find it easier to write the executive summary first, and build out the proposal on subsequent pages, while others find it more effective to write the proposal, then to compile the executive summary after completing the report and its recommendations.
Whatever works for you is fine, but when all is said and done, before putting the proposal in the mail, or hitting the send button, review the entire report for grammar and spelling. Find a fresh pair of eyes, preferably someone in your office who had nothing at all to do with the report to read it over carefully, word-for-word.
One last pointer. No matter how good your presentation is, it won’t necessarily stand on its own unless you have established the appropriate groundwork. Your proposal will be taken far more seriously if you have established your name-recognition in the minds of decision-makers.
This includes ongoing marketing and advertising activities, but it also consists of networking, public relations, sponsoring conferences, sending speakers to conferences, and publishing periodic newsletters that highlight your accomplishments. This way, by the time your proposal gets into the hands of those decision-makers, they will already have gained a measure of confidence in you that will make it easier for them to say yes.
This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Recommend solutions that solve the customer’s needs, not yours.