Proposals that DO get read

…because, let’s be honest, most don’t

First and foremost;

Q:  When is a ‘Proposal’ not a Proposal?
A:  When it is;
  1.   A templated brochure with a thin veneer of Personalisation (The Intro and Exec Summary)
  2.   Something standard that feels to our Customer / Prospect that it could have gone to anyone
  3.   An offer made without enough interaction, discussion and understanding – if it looks like this then it’s an ‘Initial’ Proposal at best
  4.   A long and tedious list of detailed ‘Requirements’ and ‘Vendor Replies’. Whilst this is likely to be a response to an RFP, it still requires a ‘proper’ Proposal – where the detail lives in an Appendix

So let’s first agree on the Objective…


What Customers / Prospects need from a Proposal

     1.  Clarity:

 The clarity that we understand their current situation and desired future state..…so that they can have confidence that we’re addressing all the issues and opportunities

     2.  Joined up dots:

Expression of a REAL solution that joins the dots between their Problems, Risks and helps them achieve their Aspirations

     3.  ALL elements of a REAL Solution:

A REAL Solution that addresses all three elements of Technological change; Technology, Processes and People

     4.  A solid Commercial Solution:

An easily understood price and clear ROI – the Commercial Solution

     5.  Simple Next Steps:

Simple instructions on what to do next

What we want to achieve with a Proposal

     A.  Confirmation

Confirm our understanding and reflect the relationship (a foundational pillar for winning the opportunity).  It will help with our qualification too.  Are we in the right place with the right thing at the right time?

     B.  Put our Offer that matches the need:

Set out what we’ll provide, at what cost and under what conditions – setting a stake in the ground for a future negotiation (we intend)

     C.   Agreement on Next Steps:

It’s an opportunity to say, we’re offering this (under conditions) and make these commitments…..these are the commitments and Next steps for you to make a reciprocal commitment to us

They’re not so very far apart!

But people forget this - and it causes problems

The vast majority of Proposals don’t achieve either objective because they fail in one of several respects;
  • Too busy trying to ‘Impress’ – They’re tell, tell, tell…..Busy ‘getting in Marketing messages’
  • No joining the dots clearly between the Problems that need addressing, the risks the client faces and the aspirations they could achieve. (Is this laziness or lack of understanding?)
  • Don’t coherently cover all elements of a REAL solution
  • Ramble on and on! – They don’t engage the emotional part of the brain
  • Are as easy to read as the Software Manuals of the 1990s … you know, the ones that never got read! (Good, simple English is a must).
  • Over-complicate pricing and often miss ROI completely
  • Lack a clear Call To Action. Prospects and Customers simply don’t know what the next steps are.

REAL Proposals need to apply the 7 Golden Rules and they have a simple 6 Section Structure:

7 Golden Rules for Meaningful Proposals

So that people WANT to read them
  1. Remember who we’re writing it for – and talk to them in the Proposal
  2. Reflect understanding by focusing on the primary Problems, Risks and the Aspirations that our solution can help with
  3. Keep language Simple – we’re talking to humans after all
  4. Make sure the solution has ALL 3 Technology change elements
  5. Show the ROI as well as the Investment required
  6. Make it clear what’s expected of the Prospect / Customer for the solution to deliver the ROI they want
  7. Put detail in an Appendix at the back

And on top of the  7 Golden Rules apply the Simple 6 Section Structure:

6 Section Structure for Meaningful Proposals:

So that people can easily understand and follow what we’re recommending
  1. An Intro (How we got here)
  2. An Exec Summary (Complete this last)
  3. The Challenges (Problems, Risks and Goals / Aspirations)
  4. The Recommendation (A Solution if we have a REAL one)
  5. The Investment (Remembering to show ROI)
  6. Appendix for all the detail (Maybe broken into sub-sections)

When we add a Cover sheet (with the Client’s Logo) and a Sign-Off sheet, aim for no more than 10 Pages (excl. Appendices) 

Appendices can run to any length – the detailed folk will love them!  If more than 10 Pages, consider separating into a separate document/deck.

5 Top Tips for Meaningful Proposals:

They’re really basic but often get overlooked in getting the thing out of the door – “More speed, less haste”
  1. Avoid surprises in Proposals
  2. Always aim to talk it through – don’t just chuck a file over on e-mail (Accepted – this it not always possible with ITTs, RFPs and the like)
  3. Get someone other than the Author to Proof-read it before sending
  4. And do a final check with Spell and Grammar Check
  5. Send Proposals in pdf not as a word processing or Presentation ‘raw’ file

Of course, Proposals need to be underpinned by great understanding that comes from 6 of the EIGHT GREAT Sales Skills:  Good Research, Questioning, Listening, Summarising, Solution Creation and Personalisation…more on that here

With 35 years of learning best practices and 20 years coaching salespeople, I can help you get started.
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