Writing a winning proposal is a tricky business. On one hand, you really want to land that contract. On the other, you don’t want to give away too much of your precious knowledge in the process.
Consultants typically suffer from this phenomenon frequently. Many prospects – and even tenders – demand that the bidder explains in detail how they will go about their work. We’ve even seen some tenders that require bidders to include for example the draft questionnaire for a market research project. Seriously? Isn’t this exactly the work they’re supposed to pay you for?
The risk is not only that an enormous amount of time is potentially wasted should the contract be awarded to someone else; we’ve seen (rare) cases where the prospect was actually able to get the job done by themselves. With all the support and coaching they’ve been receiving during the bidding process, they became practically experts themselves.
So how can you write your proposals in a way that leads to a signed contract and doesn’t unnecessarily disclose all that hard-earned knowledge you’ve acquired over the years?
Start with an overview of the business case
Your potential future client feels a lot more comfortable with you when he/she sees that you really understand their challenges. Many bidders copy and paste bits and pieces from the tender documents. That’s not the way to go. You can’t repeat to the prospect what they just told you. You need to demonstrate that you really understood their needs, which is an essential prerequisite to offering a suitable solution.
Describe the solution
You are about to offer a solution in the form of a service or product. Describe at length what that solution is, and how it helps the prospect in dealing with his/her challenges. You don’t need to talk about how you are going to design or build the solution. That’s your intellectual property. But what the prospect needs to buy into is that what you are offering will solve the problems on hand.
Describe the deliverables
You are trying to convince the prospect that your solution is the best out there. Well, there’s no better way to accomplish that than by describing what the solution will provide the prospect with. For example, when you talk about the research you will perform during the project, don’t describe how you will be researching the market. Instead, talk about the outcomes your research will produce, such as total market size, growth patterns, and so forth.
State your credentials
People like to see that you’ve done similar work before, especially for comparable businesses. It’s great to list your clients, but those that are irrelevant can be left out (unless they are critical brands). List the names of organizations you’ve worked with before on similar solutions, and include contact details for reference calls. Positive feedback will take you a long way toward a signed contract.
Elaborate on your expertise
In line with listing relevant references, you may also want to describe your team’s consolidated skills and expertise that will become essential to deliver a great job. You don’t need to include detailed resumes though. Some prospects make this a requirement, but it doesn’t make sense. If they don’t trust you enough to deploy the best human resources for a particular project, you may want to reconsider submitting a proposal. The prospect’s trust and confidence should be in your business, and not individuals who are part of a greater team.
Include a timetable and milestones
At a high level, describe the various work phases the project entails, and when each begins and ends. You should also include important milestones, such as when draft work will be submitted for review, etc. But again, don’t go into the smallest details. Stick to high-level descriptions such as “research phase”, without breaking that down into tasks.
Break your prices down
If your proposal includes multiple phases that offer value at their individual levels, list those separately with their fees so the prospect has the option to choose only parts of what you’re offering. This comes in very handy when the prospect really likes what you’re offering, but can’t afford the whole lot at once.
Keep it short and sweet
Your prospect is probably looking at evaluating three or more proposals. Imagine if each proposal is 50 pages or more in volume. It becomes very tempting for the evaluator to pile all submissions somewhere remotely on his/her desk that then remains untouched for weeks or months.
Once you’re done with your proposal, it’s good practice to add a one-page summary for the eyes of the busy reader. Sometimes, someone way up there wants to review important proposals but won’t have the time to read them entirely. This is where the executive summary comes in handy to make sure that person likes your company and proposal the most, and gives it nudge.
Recycle your proposals
Over the years, you’ll probably build a wealth in proposals. Keep those neatly organized by subject matter so you can recycle bits and pieces as needed. You will still need to customize each proposal, but the essentials will all be there at your disposal, and you want to reach a point where you can crank out great proposals in record time.
Make it easy to review your proposal
When finally submitting your proposal, include at least three print-outs and soft-copies in PDF format on a CD. Since several people will be involved in the review process, your prospect will appreciate the gesture and you get a bonus point for making their life easier.
About the Author
Pinnacle Business & Marketing Consulting is a results-driven boutique consulting firm that specializes in providing clients with practical and pragmatic solutions to their business and marketing challenges.
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