// Blog

5 Guidelines for Writing Winning Proposals

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

If you don't know your destination, any road will get you there. When prospects ask for a formal proposal, they are telling you their desired destination: a business relationship with you. And they're asking you to answer the question, “What road do we take to get there?”

Since it's your job to give directions, you want to tell them the straightest, shortest, and easiest route. After all, you don't want them to get lost along the way, or so tired on the path that they give up before they get to the end.

Why is it, then, that so many new business proposals that cross my desk take the long and winding road? They start off in the wrong direction, take side-roads that lead nowhere, and take forever to get where they're going. It's no wonder the success rate of these proposals is so low.

Read: How to Write a Proposal

5 Guidelines for Writing Winning Proposals

Fortunately, aimless wandering in proposals is avoidable with forethought and focus. Before writing your next new business proposal, consider the following five focus-building guidelines:

Proposal Writing Guideline #1: Focus on the client immediately

What's more interesting at a conference: 1) a keynote speaker who begins a presentation with a 10 minute discourse of who he is, where he works, and why he's qualified to give the speech, or 2) someone who engages the audience from word-one with interesting stories and facts from the audience's world? Far and away speaker #2 wins over more hearts and minds of the audience. Speaker #1 typically finishes with a lot of empty seats.

The same principle applies to your proposals. Nothing in the proposal bible says you have to start your story with, “In the beginning… Let me tell you about all seven stages we've gone through in our firm since the creation of time.” Instead, start your proposal with the genesis of your conversation with the prospect and describe what's going on in their world. Invariably they like reading a story about themselves–and everything that follows it–a whole lot more.

Proposal Writing Guideline #2: Focus on your discussions

Your conversations with the prospect probably focused on one or two specific needs and solutions. You touched on four other areas, but not in depth, and these needs are not ‘on the table' right now for the client.

When you write your proposal, focus on what you discussed—the deal that is on the table. You may lightly touch on the other areas, but generally you should downplay them, for now, so you can stay focused on the topic at hand. Don't even include (unless it's germane to selling what you're selling) information about other solutions you offer.

Why? The last thing you want is to distract your client from buying. If you give them too many things to think about, you will take them away from the task at hand. The client will start asking about these other solutions in more depth. While this is great before you get to the proposal stage and even greater for the next project, it's an unnecessary and dangerous detour for this sale. Once you get to proposal you're trying to gain their commitment, not get them interested in other products and services you offer.

Sounds simple, but many sellers have a strong emotional need to provide page-after-page of descriptive information about their products and services. It's as if they are saying, “While I may be proposing on this, I need you to be clear that this is not the only thing I do. Here's everything (and I do mean everything) else.” This desire not to be pigeonholed as a provider of just one product or service trips up the ability to gain commitment for new business.

Proposal Writing Guideline #3: Focus on clarity

Eschew obfuscation. In other words: avoid using big long words and lines of discussion that nobody but an insider understands. You’re selling complex solutions that may be highly technical and difficult to understand.

Your client may want to know how you'll approach their challenges, but they typically want only enough detail to make the decision. They do not want pages of technical jargon detailing every task you'll complete on their behalf.

Explain your solution in plain English, and give only enough technical or methodological detail to gain commitment to move forward now.

Proposal Writing Guideline #4: Focus on the value of the solution

Sellers are not shy about outlining what the solution is and how it will get implemented, but they are lax in outlining why the client should move forward. Regardless of how clear or plain it may seem to you why you are going to move forward, you should still lay out the business case for your prospective client.

First, your prospect may not be as clear as you think they are. They may also get distracted for a few days and lose focus on the business proposition of moving forward. Their boss may read the proposal and say, “I see what you're going to do, but the ROI isn't clear.” Or a competitor may lay out the case more clearly… which can be the difference between who wins the business and who doesn't.

Lay out your business case clearly and compellingly.

Proposal Writing Guideline #5: Focus the client on the next steps

Some proposals end with a thud. There's no call to action. No next step. No place for the client to sign. No sense of urgency. Proposals without calls to action can quickly go cold. Ask for a signature and the proposal may come back with that signature over the fax machine. If you wait until the next time you speak with the prospect to “see what they think,” the opportunity may slip through your fingers.

Don't be afraid to simply state whatever you want the client to do next.

If the keys to real estate success are location, location, and location, in proposal writing they're focus, focus, and focus. Maintaining your own focus and helping the client maintain his will keep your proposals on target.

Share this with a colleague!


Subscribe today to get the latest on virtual selling, insight selling, strategic account management, sales conversations, and more directly to your inbox.

Topics: Sales Process Sales Opportunity Management