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In today’s economy, businesses need to write more proposals – and better proposals – than ever before. As the industry became more competitive and complex, customers became more confused and demanding. As a result, they are more likely to listen to a presentation, nod, and mutter those horrible words, “Sounds good! Why don’t you write it in writing for me?”

One motivation behind looking for suggestions is that buyers want to compare offers from different vendors to make sure they are buying the highest value solution based on your differentiators and value propositions. At a simpler level, they may just want to compare prices, clarify complex information, and gather information so that the decision team can reasonably review it.

Regardless of the customer’s motivation, the fact is that writing a proposal has become a common requirement to close a business throughout the business world. Today, people who sell everything from garbage collection services to complex information technology have to come up with compelling customer-centric suggestions.

Your goal when writing a proposal is to provide your client with enough information – convincingly presented information – to prove your case and motivate the client to buy your services or applications. Sounds pretty straightforward.

So why do the vast majority of proposals start with the history of the vendor company? Does the author believe that there is something so compelling in their origins that customers will immediately be persuaded to buy?

And why do so many proposals focus directly on vendor products and services, but never mention how these products and services will help the customer solve a business problem or close an important gap? Does the proposal writer believe that the facts alone are enough to motivate people to say yes?

Winning proposals must focus on the customer, not the businesses or products. Most people buy because they look for solutions to burning problems, additional resources to close the gaps, or tools for reporting severe problems. This means that the proposal is not a price, cost or project plan. Each of these elements may be part of the proposal, but they are not sufficient to make a compelling case in the client.

In my experience, there are four categories of content that proposals must include to maximize your chances of winning:

1. Proof that you understand the business problem or need of the client.

People and organizations are anxious to make big purchasing decisions. The bigger the decision, the greater the anxiety. They know that even a well-meaning supplier can lose time, money, or both. One way to reduce their anxiety and minimize their perception of the risk of moving forward is to understand that you clearly understand their problems, issues, needs, opportunities, goals and / or values. Whatever drives your client’s interest, you need to show that you understand him and that you have your own solution about him.

2. Recommendation for a specific approach, program, design or implementation of a system that will solve the problem and produce positive business results.

Surprisingly, many proposals do not contain recommendations at all. What they contain instead are descriptions of products or services. What’s the difference? The recommendation explicitly links the characteristics of the product or service to the client’s needs and indicates how the customer will receive positive results. It contains language that indisputably indicates that the vendor believes in this solution: “We recommend …” or “Our advice is to implement …”

3. A great reason for a client to choose your recommendation over any other.

This is your value proposition. Keep in mind that you can write a proposal that is completely up to the customer’s requirements and recommends the right solution, which offers even the lowest price and still loses. Why? Because a competitor may make a stronger case that their approach offers a higher return on investment, a lower total cost of ownership, a faster return on cost, or other similar measure of value that is relevant to the customer.

Most proposals do not contain a value proposition at all. They contain prices, but without estimating the rate of return the customer will get at their choice. Failure to address client needs and failure to submit a compelling value proposition are the most serious mistakes you can make when writing a proposal.

4. Proof of your ability to achieve on time and on budget.

Most of the suggestions are pretty good in this area. You want to show compelling evidence to help answer the question, “Can I really do this?” Good evidence includes case studies, references, statements and CVs of key staff. You can also include project plans, management plans, company expertise and other forms of evidence (white papers, awards, third-party recognition). Avoid throwing in everything. Keep the evidence focused on the areas the client cares about.

These are the essentials. Every piece of information, every number, every paragraph in your proposal must contribute to the provision of one or more of these works, as they relate directly to the three key factors that evaluate each proposal:

1. Responsibility: Do we get what we need?

2. Competency: Can I really do it?

3. Value: Is this the smartest way to spend our money?

If you follow the basic structure outlined above – first summarizing your client’s needs, then showing their potential for profit or improvement, recommending a solution, and finally substantiating that you can get the job done – you will see an increase in your profits.

But there are two other principles that can push it even further. Two P’s in writing a proposal successfully:

• Personalization

• primate


Customers expect more today. Why? Partly because they are trained to expect more as a result of the business community’s emphasis on excellence in customer service, a focus on “overall quality” and increased market competitiveness. In today’s market, you can’t give customers a suggestion of a boiler plate. You must include their name and the name of their company throughout the proposal. You must acknowledge that you have listened to them and remember – and apply – what you have learned about them from your previous interactions. Here are three conclusions that come from the reality of increased customer expectations:

• Effective sales people and suggestions cannot deliver a single message. Customers are not treated as demographic units. They engage in conversations, listen, and view customers as individuals.

• Effective marketing and sales require a combination of content and insight. You need to have something valuable to say, and you need to say it in a way that shows your audience that it’s relevant to them.

• Messages on the boilerplate can be worse than no messages at all, as they sound “canned” and undermine the report you created with your customers.

• Use the user’s language and address questions from their business and their industry. If you use the jargon they use, and if you show in the cover letter and executive summary knowledge of what is going on in their business and industry, they will assume that the whole proposal is personalized for them. Unfortunately, most marketing departments (and, in particular, sales people) resort to “cloning” as a way to make their proposals quickly. They borrow a proposal someone else wrote for another client, use Find / Replace in Microsoft Word to change the client’s name and print it! It’s about as personalized as a can of spinach. (Plus, they run the risk of the wrong client’s name appearing in that proposal. You can imagine what that does for the report and credibility.)

The principle of primacy

What is the “principle of primacy”? It is a tendency that we all need to make judgments about future experiences based on our first. You can call it the principle of first impressions. For example, if we go to a new dry cleaner in our neighborhood, and they end up with a few shirts or blouses and are rude to us, we would have to go back masochists. It may be that they are usually very efficient and decent, and the set of circumstances is conspired to make a negative impression on us. But we will never know. We will never go back. Research shows that the primacy principle is so strong that at least seven positive experiences are needed to overcome the first negative impression. (Or, conversely, seven negatives to overcome the initial positive experience.) So, what does this mean for suggestions? This means that we have to put things ahead of our proposal that most interest users. This means that we do not send a cover letter on the boiler plate. We do not write an executive summary that applies to all of us. And we don’t call our proposal something general and meaningless, like “Proposal.”

The primacy principle reminds us that it is vital to understand the client and then structure the message properly. First, ask the most important business questions of the customer. If at all possible, put the goal or outcome they want most at the top of the list of results. And structure your foundation in the things that matter most to decision makers:

• Meeting the perceived need

• Delivers superior value or ROI

• In accordance with specifications

• Demonstrating supplier competency

Don’t guess! If you don’t know what interests you, ask them.

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Source by Kip Davis




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