Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

7 Habits of Highly Successful Proposals

Hi - New article includes previous posts (4 habits) and three new ones!
See "Article" section at right for a link. Enjoy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Keys to effective business proposals: #4

Answer the questions that were asked

This habit is absolutely crucial when responding to a formal RFP, but is good advice for unsolicited proposals that are the result of a sales person’s conversation with the prospect as well. When responding to an RFP in particular, though, be sure that your proposal:
  1. Responds directly to every question being asked, and every concern being raised; and
  2. Is formatted exactly as requested.
Failure to comply with these two rules is probably the number two reason why proposals get rejected early in the evaluation process.

So: even if you think your prospect is asking the wrong questions, and even if the RFP response format makes a hash of your attempt to put together a response that builds a case, start by putting together a proposal that conforms to the RFP exactly. Better yet, include a table (called a “compliance matrix”) that lists every requested item and where you’ve responded to it. Comply and make the reviewer's job easy.

Then get creative.

If their entire premise is mistaken, submit an alternate response that responds to the “right” questions, and show how this alternative provides even more benefit to the prospect’s company while still addressing their stated problems and concerns. Naturally, be polite and courteous.

If their required format doesn’t allow you to logically present your abilities, then build your business case in the executive summary and/or cover letter instead of the main body. In the response itself, add transition paragraphs that tie things together in the way you want them tied together.

Winning proposals are prospect-centric, and show this by doing things the prospect’s way. At least at first.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Keys to effective business proposals: #3

Offer a customized solution

No matter how off-the-shelf your product or service may be, write every paragraph of the proposal as if your product or service was developed specifically for the prospect’s current problem/opportunity.

Practicing this habit means resisting the tendency to (a) realize that your standard offering will meet the client’s needs and then some, and then (b) going down your product brochure describing every terrific feature of your product or service in turn. Your prospect will realize that you are throwing the kitchen sink (however stunning) at them, and return the favor by throwing your proposal into the same stack as the ones that break Key #1 (Show you are listening).

To customize your solution, develop the habit of starting with the prospect’s detailed list of requirements. Then, as you go down their list, describe which feature of your product or service meets that requirement or solves that problem (and how). When you get to the end of their list, stop. End of story.

What about all the wonderful features of your product or service that were left over? You can include them as well, but before you do, I recommend that you:
  1. Be sure that they address an unstated but reasonably- inferable prospect concern or problem (“Note: If you are experiencing ….., then our system….”) as opposed to a “nice to have”;
  2. Are clear in presenting them as an added but valuable benefit of selecting your solution, not a substitute for some requirement you couldn’t meet; and
  3. Describe them in a section visually separate from the main body of proposal text, like a sidebar or text box.
No matter what your product or services looks like from your side of the fence, describe it the way you want your prospect to see it. And what they want is the “baby bear” solution – not too much, not too little. Just right.

Winning proposals are prospect-centric, and show this by offering customized solutions to prospect problems.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Keys to effective business proposals: #2

Address the big picture

Effective proposals go beyond your solution to the prospect’s immediate problem and demonstrate that your solution also benefits the prospect in a strategic context. You show this by explicitly identifying what broader opportunities the prospect will enjoy by solving the problem at hand. This discussion belongs in both the cover letter and the executive summary.

For example, if the prospect's stated objective is to reduce costs in their product delivery system, show them that your solution will not only reduce delivery costs, but the resulting efficiencies will also work to improve customer loyalty, add to their competitive advantage, and keep them current with industry best practices. These may be obvious inferences, but state them anyway so that they know that you know. And if you can, back your strategic assertions with your own or third-party experience.

Knowledge of your prospect's big-picture context can come from the prospect company itself, from your own experience in the field, from research that you conduct, or preferably from all three:

1. From the prospect. If you have a RFP, the better-written ones will supply some of the strategic context explicitly, or somewhat indirectly by describing long- and short-term goals. If you have any questions, have a strategically minded representative from your team ask the prospect’s project team about the overall context.

2. From your own experience. No matter how comprehensive the prospect’s information is, brainstorm with your internal experts in the prospect’s field. If you can come up with opportunities they haven’t even thought of, you’ll position yourself as a valuable partner rather than just a vendor.

3. From research. Even if the first two steps are successful, I recommend conducting a little outside research into the prospect company and its industry. You might get valuable insights into the current competitive situation, emerging market trends, and, if nothing else, improve your ability to talk their talk.

Winning proposals are prospect-centric, and show this by focusing intelligently on their opportunities as well as their problems.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Keys to effective business proposals: #1

Show you are listening

The number one reason given by reviewers for rejecting proposals early in the review process is that they don’t directly respond to the RFP (if there was one), or don’t specifically address a pressing problem their company needs to resolve.

Effective proposals start by reflecting the prospect’s concerns and problems back to them in convincing detail. This assures them that your proposal is actually relevant to their company, and not just another marketing piece. Proposals that are, by contrast, simply compilations of product descriptions and features without specifically tying them to the prospect’s desired outcomes generally don’t make it out of the first round.

For example, suppose you have a marketing materials software system that allows purchasers to manage all their marketing materials and campaigns through a nifty web portal. You can submit a proposal containing splendidly detailed specifications for your truly wonderful system, and chances are the prospect will say “so what” and toss it. Suppose instead you start off your proposal describing your prospect company’s current marketing programs and the specific headaches your prospect is (probably) having managing them, and then, headache-by-headache, show how your system can relieve those headaches. Now you’re talking the prospect’s language, and she or he will read on.

Hint: if the word “boilerplate” appears anywhere in your proposal procedures, you are probably experiencing more than your fair share of early exits from the evaluation process for this reason. Worst offender? The boilerplate cover letter.

Winning proposals are prospect-centric, and start by showing that you are listening to them.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Need Case Study?

If you want to start using case studies in your marketing and business development, but aren't sure how to go about putting one together, I've just posted an article on the subject (see link in the right nav bar). Hope you find it helpful. And feel free to post comments on your case study process on this blog.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Got Case Study? 10 Ways to Leverage It

Case studies take time and resources to put together - why not leverage that investment for all it's worth. Here are 10 ways to leverage it:

First - as is (printed):

1. As a leave-behind on prospecting calls
2. As a show piece in your lobby area
3. As free download on your web site
4. As an extra in a direct mail package
5. As part of a follow up to a prospect inquiry.

And, with a little bit of tweaking:

1. As a web page - An expanded version as a content page on your web site, with links to other content-rich pages (a related white pager, for example)
2. As a web page - as a destination for links from your client list and/or testimonial pages
3. A shortened version as an article in your newsletter
4. Rewritten, as a press release to a trade publication
5. Re-framed, as a give-away piece for the satisfied client

I'm sure there are many more ways to leverage the case study investment - please leave a comment with your ideas!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lesson from the inaguration

One of many possible business writing lessons from President Obama's inaugural speech - where tone is concerned, sometimes less is more.

In this case, the President deliberately put aside his customary high-oratory flourishes in favor of a somber, face-the-facts tone, a tone that was created as much by his word choices as his delivery. Reason - it reinforced the message contained in the content.

Similarly, business writing is usually delivered with an up-beat, can-do high-business-atory tone. Why? Like high-oratory, it's usually effective, and who doesn't like to sound up-beat and can-do?

But take a lesson from the President. Sometimes the audience doesn't want high-minded oratory, it wants to hear the unvarnished truth, and wants to hire someone who's willing to roll up their sleeves at the 5,000 foot level.

As always, know thy audience. Obama knew his.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The versatile case study

Case studies, or "customer success stories," are some of the most versatile marketing pieces there are. Once you've done the research and gotten the Opportunity, Challenge, Solution and Results down in compelling language, you've created a base from which all manner of good things can flow - in both space and time!

Space: You can repackage parts or all of the case study to add pizazz into your various marketing channels. Typically, the basic case study becomes part of your print repertoire, as a leave-behind at meetings and conferences, for example. A version of the printed version should go on your web site, but be augmented with additional testimonials, links to related case studies, and links to other related content (eg. you have a white paper on the technique you used to delight your case study client). Shorter versions can go into your newsletter, where you provide a way for readers to see the full version on the web or request the print version in the mail.

Time: You can also use pieces of the case study throughout your selling cycle. In your initial contacts (voice mail, email), you can use tidbits from the measurable results as teasers. A followup can use the shorter summaries you put in your newsletter. When the client is truly interested, send him or her the printed version with a note that an augmented version of it can be found on your web site (provide the link). Finally, when the client needs the final convincing, you'll have your set of related case studies ready to spring.

Finally, to get the most out of your case studies, spend some money to get them right:
1. Hire a professional designer - and make sure the design melds with the rest of your marketing "look and feel."
2. Hire a professional writer - it can mean the difference between what is simply an organized collection of facts, and a compelling story that pops off the page.

Putting time and money into compelling case studies is one of the most leverage-able marketing investments you can make!