Writing Effective Proposals
Last month I spent a few minutes talking about responding to RFP’s. More specifically I shared two thoughts to keep in mind when considering responding to an RFP. First, if you didn’t create the opportunity through your own sales efforts than you have a very low chance of winning (less than 10% according to an IBM study) . In this case your time is better spent on creating your own opportunity, not responding to a random RFP. Second, if you must compete on random RFP’s you need to develop a strategy. Ideally your strategy should dictate how you’re going to change the playing field (decision making criteria) and to do that will require you to go around the person who included you in the RFP. This month I want to talk a little about how to write an effective proposal.
I don’t know about you but most proposals I see-and I have seen a lot (selling software, staffing, consulting services) -focus 98% of the content on broadcasting features and benefits and 2% focused on the customer’s goals and objectives and anticipated outcomes. It’s as if we think whoever sends in the heaviest proposal is going win! Let me make this clear; your customers don’t care about your service offerings. They expect you to do all those things. They’re not buying your services, their buying business results that are the end deliverable from your service offerings. So how do you sell business results?
The most important part of a proposal is the Executive Summary. Interestingly enough most proposals don’t even include an Executive Summary and those that do still miss the point. The Executive Summary can be broken down in to a few key points.
Define the customers business problem
The first you need to do is demonstrate to the customer that you truly understand their business and their business issue(s) that need to be resolved. This is not simply paraphrasing the customer’s requirements. The customer’s requirements is not the same as their business problem(s). You must write in as much detail as possible everything that you know about your customer’s business and the problems their experiencing. The problem is the compelling event that has driven them to seek a solution. If you can’t demonstrate that you understand their issue than how can you expect them to have confidence in your proposed solution? You might be asking, “how do I find out the details of my customers business problem(s)? By asking. Asking the questions that lead you to these answers is selling! So ask really good questions and take really good notes because this information is going to go into your proposal. Specifically, the executive summary.
Define the impact of the business problem
Simply understanding your customer’s business problem is not enough. Now you must explain why resolving the issue(s) is so important. You need to understand the impact of the problem. Who is the problem affecting? Customers? Employees? Partners? Shareholders? Stock price? Market share? Your client’s year-end bonus? Perhaps their job? All of this needs to be detailed in your executive summary.
Define the anticipated business results
How am I suppose to know what the anticipated outcome are? Isn’t it always just reduced costs? No! Certainly cost reduction is often one benefit but you need to talk to all of the executive stakeholders and ask them what specific results they hope to see. You need to describe all of the ways in which the company will benefit if the problems are resolved and the goals are met. This can mean many different things to different people, depending on how you ask. For example, replacing a legacy order entry system can please the CFO from a cost stand point (reduce costs), the CEO from an earnings standpoint (generate more profit) and the CIO from an efficiency stand point (less employees to manage a new system with less down time). This is not a discussion of your features and benefits. But if in your proposal you only write about the anticipated outcomes for the CIO, it will not appeal to the CEO or CFO. Also, this is NOT the area to talk about your features and benefits. Instead, this area should focus on the benefits the customer will get from your solution….increase revenue and market share, shorter time to market, etc..
Define your solution
Here is where you should define (in non technical terms) your solution. You should include your approach for solving the problem and be able to connect the dots between the client’s business problem and your solution. Ideally, you should have a story (keep it pointed) that highlights how you have solved this same problem for other customers.
Call To Action
Finally, and don’t forget, ASK FOR THE BUSINESS. Let the customer know you are excited about the opportunity and look forward to working with them. Don’t include pricing or any other company literature in this area.
I can assure you that most proposals are won and lost based on the vendors ability to demonstrate how well they understand the customer and their business. If you have ever hired a vendor (even a contractor to do work on your house) than you know what I am talking about. You want a vendor who understands you and “gets it,” not the vendor with all the bells and whistles.
Thanks and Happy Selling!
Dan Fisher is Founder and Managing Director of Menemsha Group, a Boston based sales training and consulting organization. To learn more visit www.menemshagroup.com or email dan at dan at menemshagroup dot com.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.