Writing Winning Proposals
You have completed the interview, identified your prospect’s needs and your ability to address them, and now you want to follow up with a proposal. First, some words of comfort. When putting thoughts in writing it is natural to experience what is commonly called “writer’s block.” (If this has ever happened to you, then I am glad to report that you show signs of being human.) I believe salespeople tend to complicate this skill far more than necessary. So, let’s keep it simple.
I want you to become familiar with two types of proposals: (1) the requested proposal — when a company sends out a formal request (an RFP, or request for proposal to bid on their business); and (2) the informal, or “letter” proposal when the prospect asks you to send your response to his needs. The primary difference is that in the formal RFP, you answer the prospect’s specific questions in a format defined by the prospect. You can embellish your answers and suggestions here and there, but the company that issues an RFP is looking for a structured response to a well-defined need. The letter proposal on the other hand is entirely up to you. This can be a one pager or a full 100 pages with attached graphics accompanied by a 3.5 inch disc and instructions on how to download more stuff from your web site.
Either way you go, and I say this with extreme caution, I believe based on my experience that eighty percent of companies requesting a proposal have already made up their mind who they will be working with.
Why? Because people tend to do business with people they like. And if an RFP is the only way a decision-maker gets to know you, well . . . you’ve lost the deal already. But if you initiate the relationship with direct mail, telephone follow up, personal interviews, and live face-to-face communications, the decision to do business with you is being established throughout the process. If I decide to do business with you, the details are not going to get in the way of that decision. We will find ways to deal with the details. If I decide that I do not want to do business with you, having all the details tightly tied up in neat rows on four color graphs will not change my decision.
That being said, you are still going to have to write your share of proposals before your sales career comes to an end. So, get used to the idea and comfortable with the process.
Let’s discuss the letter proposal first.
Writing Letter Proposals
Don’t wait to be asked to submit a letter proposal. Many decision-makers spend most of their day reacting to problems created by others. Simply put, they are too busy putting out fires to acquire and apply the requisite flame retardant to their business.
This presents the perfect opportunity for you to take the initiative and come up with some well-thought out ideas and pass them in front of the decision maker in an easy-to-read, clear and concise letter proposal. You are helping organize his work. (Your thoughtful proposal in effect provides a service to the prospect.) I did just that recently. Here is the story.
I attended a national convention for speakers at significant cost. I had every intention of getting my money’s worth, so I attended every event I could. I was a mad man as I ran from seminar to seminar, to dinner, to workshops. I went up and down every aisle at the trade show and met everyone I could. I was a man on a mission.
Well, on the plane ride home I got to thinking. If I felt this way when spending my money investing in my future, many other people would probably appreciate a chock-a-block schedule at their annual meetings.
Rather than compete with a hundred other public speakers for the 2:30 p.m. workshop slot at my prospect’s conference, I wrote a proposal for a 6:30 a.m. sunrise seminar program. My rationale was to provide the motivated professionals with an opportunity to pick up a few more pointers during the “dead time” of the day.
I had an idea. I put it on paper and I sent it in. I got the job. Back to the letter. The elements of a letter proposal are:
a budget or time line; and
future follow-up programs (optional). Let’s look at one element at a time.