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.

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