The most successful and important proposal in my life was a quick win. With the ring decision aside, it was based on three fundamentally important ingredients: clarity, timeliness and problem-solving power. My intentions were clear and unambiguous, the offer was made in due time and solved a relationship evolution dilemma that all couples inevitably face, sooner or later.
Simply put, it was a win-win that both of us have been enjoying ever since. But can this personal success tactic be easily copied and applied to an online business, where mutual interest is short-lived, where opportunities may suddenly come in plenty and vanish just as fast, and where competitors line up to pick your client an instance after you make a mistake?
Proposal and Contract image from Shutterstock
Turns out it can – given that you have the right attitude and tools.
Imagine that you have been building up a pre-sale relationship with a client for some time (it doesn’t matter whether it’s been hours or months) and you need to make the final move and present your proposal. Although few of us actually manage to roll a perfect strike with the first ball and meet all of the customer’s expectations to the last point, the goal is that you do, or at least come close. Having a well-structured and detailed proposal submitted which leaves no room for ambiguous interpretation of its clauses usually gets the first prize or unlocks the door to further negotiation, leaving your competitors behind.
This is exactly why your proposals should be prompt and well rounded, and every person on your sales team should follow this rule. Your guys can achieve this goal with efficient communications, thorough analysis of requirements and also with an impeccable presentation of your ideas. If you think you score high on these requirements, ask yourself a question:
“Do I send prospective customers proposals that really stand out from the crowd of similar quotes?”
If you paused for more than a couple of seconds, the answer is most likely no.
Follow these recommendations to create great looking and easy to interpret business proposals:
Address the problems identified by the client (or deduced by you from the client’s RFP) in your document and describe how the proposed solution will solve them. Any project or effort must solve a problem or even several problems at once– otherwise, it not worth starting altogether. The value of your proposal lies in its problem solving power and transparency, not in a perfect description of a complex system with a vague purpose. For example, if you are a fruit wholesaler or an owner of a small deli shop supplying premium bratwurst to local sport pubs, this principle applies to your business just as much as a web design outfit. Smaller daily shipments of fresh oranges can help a juice factory optimize its work flow, while a steady supply of top-notch sausage can easily increase customer loyalty at your client’s pub. These are two problems solved – and all of these seemingly minor details can and should be reflected in your proposal.
Be very clear about the items you are quoting on. Don’t let vague definitions appear on your list. The fewer questions the client has about your initial cost breakdown, the better. If you can’t explain the scope or meaning of a proposal item on the spot, you may lose what little credibility and trust you’ve managed to win so far. Avoid terms like “miscellaneous”, “other” and – God forbid! – “etc”. Lack of clarity creates understandable suspicion and can also be used against you later on with references to these vaguely described items.
Be sufficiently detailed. A very general quote always incites customers to ask for more details. However, an extremely detailed breakdown may also raise questions (e.g “How come this will take you 2 hours? I can easily do it on my own in half this time!”) and leave no room for a risk buffer. So the rule of thumb here is to provide customers with just enough information for them to be happy and ask a minimum amount of questions (if at all). So unless your lead is a deeply technical person (and you are OK dealing with such an inquisitive and all-doubting client-to-be), try keeping things on a layman’s level to prevent unnecessary and time-consuming negotiations.
Do your math homework. Always check and double-check numbers. Miscalculations tend to create a bad impression with customers who look for perfect accuracy from day one. Utilize an Excel spread sheet to eliminate errors, or you can resort to specialized online proposal management services to create mathematically sound proposals.
Keep the timing right. Being the first one to submit a proposal does not necessarily mean you are going to win the bid. Sending your proposal too soon is risky if it is not yet a quality contract, so take your time and do your best work possible – but keep in mind that time is of the essence.
Be creative. Customize your proposals. A document with a nice header, footer, proper formatting and a click-able table of contents will definitely score higher than a lackluster list of items that is hard to navigate, so do your best to make your proposal aesthetically pleasing. If you are a design company, make this proposal a demonstration of your skills. If you are quoting for business analysis and application modeling services, make sure that the client sees how good you are at interpreting high-level business requirements into specific tasks and pieces of functionality. Be professional and creative – and rest assured that your client will notice your efforts.
Here is one BIG tip that will really aid you in this process. To make things easier on yourself, you can use specialized tools for proposal creation and editing, one great example being QuoteRoller.
But the bottom line is this: don’t rush and don’t be late with your proposals, suggest possible solutions of the client’s problems and be creative. If you did everything right, there is a pretty good chance that your client will give your proposal the green light and your pre-sale relationship will finally turn into a successful commercial marriage.