If you write sales proposals, you know they are an essential part of running and growing a business.
The trouble is, they aren’t fun to prepare and come loaded with stress and difficult questions. They also have deadlines and approval processes that loom too quickly. Many all-night pizza sessions have taught me that winning early by planning great proposals pays off every time.
This post is all about the groundwork before you start the serious writing. Done well it puts you on a path to preparing fewer, better proposals, and winning more business with less stress.
I look for three preparatory steps in each case. If I’m comfortable with these, then a quick and dirty trial run gives a good foundation for investing time and effort in preparing the formal proposal.
Qualify in or out
Don’t waste your time writing proposals that are unlikely to succeed. It’s hard going and inefficient. I’ve worked with companies that win one in ten, and others that win more than half – I know where I’d rather be.
- Relationship – the best proposals are part of a conversation. If you are not already having one, then seriously consider the probability of winning the work against people who are already there.
- Understand the context – will this project actually happen as specified? How urgent is it, how stable is the need, and how committed is the customer?
- Understand the requirement – what do they really want, why, and which parts are most important? What outcomes are expected, and what risks are they facing? Without this knowledge the proposal is shooting in the dark and is unlikely to succeed.
Have a winning proposition
Do you really think you can win this? Square pegs rarely win contracts to fill round holes, so be honest about your proposition and play to your strengths.
- Meets the requirement – be honest and objective about your true product-requirement fit and make sure you can answer all the exam questions.
- Credible – is the buyer likely to believe you can do this and that you are their best option?
- Differentiated – what separates your proposal from the crowd if the deal is competitive? Better understanding, better fit, or better long-term support should be known and celebrated in your response.
- Low risk – to help buyers choose your solution, make it easy for them to justify their choice, and minimise their risks in doing so.
Know your process
Bidding is hard work at the best of times, so a good plan is priceless.
- Writing – have you got the available and qualified resources needed for this short-burst project?
- Review – no matter how well each section is written, editing turns it into a single proposition. Brevity, consistency, tone and message can be checked throughout, but must be planned into the process.
- Pricing – there is a price to win in every case. Knowing it, and balancing it against costs, capacity, timing, strategy and other factors will lead to ‘good’ business if you win. Understand early how this works, so it is not stressed when needed.
- Approvals – every company will have a process for approvals and release, so plan and brief ahead because executives are rarely pleased when treated as an afterthought or presumed to be on board with a risky offer.
If the team and process are poised, you have a plan, and it still looks like a good opportunity with high win potential, just take a moment before diving in to the detail writing.
Perhaps assign up to a quarter of the available response time to write an executive summary of the proposal across all its sections, and then review the hell out of it. This will show if it hangs together as a well-argued and compelling proposal, and gives you a framework for the detailed work to follow.
- Storyboard – you are leading the buyer toward a conclusion that yours is the best solution, so have the messaging sequence and sections mapped out and well structured.
- Summarise – an executive summary of each section, with a few key requirements, responses, and messages clearly laid out.
- Challenge – get some reviewers to read it and rate it very critically to find gaps or weaknesses early, and get them fixed quickly.
Once the proposal hangs together in outline form, you have a trusted framework, which is an asset that will streamline and de-stress the detail work that will follow.
I like pizza, really, just not in a dimly lit office when everyone else has gone home, and a submission deadline of noon the next day requires a CEO review in 12 hours and the margin still isn’t quite what we were aiming for…..
If you know, or fear, that situation, let’s have a chat. It is avoidable, and I may be able to bring a few things to your team to smooth the process and help you win more business with less effort. A free 30-minute discovery call or video meeting can start that conversation.