November 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Sales proposals vary based on your industry, solutions and prospects and can be extremely brief or thousands of pages. Good proposals have to meet several objectives. They answer customers’ questions, address hot buttons and issues and provide clear solutions for each. For prospects, they make it easy to decide, explain to others why your company is the best choice and articulate the benefits they will enjoy from your partnership. And for your company, proposals establish your credibility, understanding and focus on the customer.
Here are some tips for marketers on developing or enhancing a proposal template for your company. Keep in mind that, although it helps to have a template, every document must be customized.
The basis for strong proposals is preparation. If you don’t have a solid foundation from meetings with prospects, you won’t know what is important to them. Prospects have to know that they have been heard, whether information was provided in requests for proposals or verbally. Sue Barrett suggests that, whenever possible, salespeople ask clear questions (versus leading ones) to get to the heart of issues, priorities and needs. They should take detailed notes. And if they can quote exact words, it demonstrates that they have really listened to prospects.
Before leaving meetings, sales should verify they understand what prospects want. Setting expectations about what they are going to do in terms of timelines, proposal preparation, follow-up and so on is critical.
Put the prospects’ priorities first in the proposal. You should not begin with a bunch of details about your company. Until you establish you understand the goals and pain points, no one will care about your expertise, capabilities, features, etc.
With the help of sales, collaborate with customers to build proposals that include all the information they require. You should also help them address the questions the rest of the decision-making team will have. Successful proposals must be easy to elevate for the contacts to streamline the approval process.
- The way the prospects requested
- In order of importance to the prospects
The reality is that if prospects can’t find the information they need, they won’t spend the time to look for it. If the proposals are more complex and have multiple sections, set up response matrices. These are tables that detail how your documents address specific requirements and requests. You indicate where in the proposals answers are provided for each question. This is a helpful tool to those evaluating different options during the review process.
- Executive summary. Some decision makers might read this section only, so hone in on their interests and desired results. If customers read nothing else, they should be sold by this section.
- Requirements summary. These can be lifted from a request for information/quotation/proposal or a summary of what sales has heard from the account contacts.
- Solution overview. Provide specific details about your recommended solution and how it will work for the prospects. Be sure to explain what makes your solution unique in the market.
- Materials, equipment and personnel. Address how the solution fit into the prospects’ environments. Talk about the components and the interfaces. Illustrate what is not working today and how it will be fixed. At Affinity Express, our clients are always concerned about business continuity. We are part of their revenue streams and any service interruption impacts their bottom lines. As a result, we explain in our proposals how we have redundant operations and data centers. Fortunately, we don’t know of any competitors with multiple locations in different geographies so this also differentiates us.
- Quality standards. Explain how you measure and assure quality in the products and services you provide.
- Costs. It can be effective to include a range of investments and options. Try to go beyond stating costs to illustrate value. Capture the reasons for making an investment.
- Benefits. Include detail on how they will be measured, assumptions and key project activities to realize the results.
- Hard benefits. Projected positive financial outcomes, such as cost savings, cash inflow and increased profits. Provide ranges and identify who helped frame and validate those ranges.
- Soft benefits (non-financial terms). Improved customer satisfaction, reduced risk, improved branding, and improved service delivery are all desirable despite the difficulty of assigning financial values.
- Stakeholder value. Discuss how the features and advantages will result in benefits for different stakeholders.
- Business case for investment. Provide the background and numbers around costs, benefits, impact and timing. Cite the prospects’ buying vision for your solution.
- Implementation plan. Jeanne Buchanan recommends that you explain how you will implement, how long it will take and what resources you need. Include staff training, product testing and any other components that show value you bring with the solution. This is another area where Affinity Express spends time to paint a picture for prospects. We have to show which team members will spend time onsite with clients to train and transition them to our marketing production and media solutions. To do this, we use a calendar chart, a table with milestones and a list of next steps in our proposals.
- Timing. Provide schedules linking the major cost elements and showing significant external influences that could affect the schedules. Indicate how long each option will be fully operational and deliver the planned benefits. Incorporate reasons to buy now so that you build urgency.
- Terms and conditions. If necessary for your industry, include governance guidelines such as milestones or key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess progress.
- Company advantages. Talk about why prospects should choose your company. Detail your credentials and provide references. If you can discuss what sets your company apart in terms of how it also serves prospects, that’s even better.
- Limit paragraph length.
- Use 10- to 12-point font sizes for readability.
- Use section headings as theme statements. This helps “skimmers” to easily scan the documents, as well as reinforces major themes you are advancing.
- Define all terms and avoid jargon and acronyms.
- Incorporate visuals. Lists, charts, graphics, photographs, diagrams and sketches all make important points in small spaces. Include captions and ensure readers can understand the messages for each within ten seconds.
- Allow white space.
- Cite the customer’s name throughout and much more frequently than your company name.
- Mention your customer before you mention your business in each paragraph.
- Dedicate more space to benefits than your solution’s features.
Spending time onto develop and improve your proposal template will not only enable you to respond quickly and efficiently with a custom document for each new opportunity, it will increase your revenue. The best advice of all is to write a proposal that satisfies your prospects’ needs, not one that sells your services.
What other elements do you recommend B2B companies include in their proposals?