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.

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