A Business Proposal or Sales Proposal is often the first strong knock on the doors of a prospective client. Whether it is in the form of a word document or presentation, it has to be impressive and paint such a compelling picture that the customer just can’t wait to pick up the phone and schedule a face to face meeting with you. You get the entry that you need to pitch your product/service and abilities. Writing and reviewing hundreds of business proposals has made me realize one thing – there is a method to this madness and no proposal is too big or too complex – if you follow certain basic guidelines in the creation process:
Pointer #1: It is not about You – the goal of any proposal is to address the specific customer requirements and pain points. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and structure the proposal in the best way that answers the customer’s stated or implicit questions. Persuade them that you know the questions and have the answers through your proposal. To do this, ensure that your proposal and every section in the proposal addresses five questions Who, What, How, When and So What:
- Who – will do this?
- What – needs to be done?
- How – will you do it?
- When – will all the milestones occur?
- So What – will the customer benefit by having you do it?
Pointer #2: Format and Template – Usually the customer specifies the format and structure of the business proposal. Comply with this religiously. Any additional information that you think would be useful in nudging the customer decision in your favour should go into the appendix. If the customer hasn’t specified the response structure, then create the template keeping in mind the questions in Pointer #1. Your proposal should be easily readable and information easy to find. Use indexing and linking within the proposal. Use headings for your sections and labels for your diagrams to draw attention. For some large RFPs (Request For Proposal), especially in government and public sectors, different departments could be given different sections of the proposal to evaluate. So it is important that every section by itself has the context and the references to other sections that might be relevant. Don’t make your customer work too hard or spend a lot of time puzzling his way through your proposal.
Pointer #3 – Optimize against Evaluation Criteria – Most business proposal requests lay out how they will score the vendor for the response. If not, ask the customer about their key evaluation criteria. Compliance to all aspects of the bid is very critical to pass the first stage. So read the fine print carefully before you start putting your efforts to it. Check the submission date and create a timeline to ensure that you meet the deadline. Focus and give more time on those aspects that are most important to the customer and will give you the scoring edge.
Pointer #4 – You do need a Super Executive Summary – Your introduction in the form of the executive summary should actually be the “conclusion” of your proposal. The rest of the business proposal serves to provide the supporting points to add credibility to your introduction. Brainstorm on what the customer needs (as opposed to wants), how you are going to satisfy those needs and why they should do business with you and none else. Summarize the salient points of this into your executive summary first and then start with the rest of your proposal; again it should be more about the customer than about you.
Pointer #5 – Keep it Simple – Minimize buzz words, don’t overwhelm with information just because you have some great content ready, make it visually attractive – sometimes a picture does speak a thousand words. Give a day or two to proofread and review the proposal. Spelling and grammar are yes, important – you don’t want to project yourself as someone who does not care about the details enough.
First impression is everything in hunting and winning business. Use your business proposal to stand out in the crowd and make a lasting impact. I would love to hear your views on what challenges you face in responding to proposals and how you tackle them….