7 Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing: How to Write Proposals that Help Win Deals
Originally published in Business 2 Community | 1/12/2017
by Lewie Miller
Sales proposals are an integral part of complex sales processes for any organization selling their services or products. However, inconsistent proposals with outdated messaging can undercut months of sales efforts – not to mention the countless hours and resources spent by numerous employees across the organization. Although the process of developing a precise, well-written new sales proposal is vital, it is often overlooked by the leadership team and ignored during sales training, resulting in bottlenecks and duplicate efforts during the proposal development stage.
Ultimately, completing a proposal is a race against the clock. In fact, Qvidian’s most recent customer survey concluded that respondents consider receiving content on-time as their biggest pain point associated with colleague collaboration on proposals. But equally important as meeting deadlines, is delivering quality content that is likely to win deals. A rushed, incomplete proposal can cut your chances substantially. For this reason, we’ve identified seven “deadly” sins that slow down and hinder the proposal writing process (and tips on how to avoid them):
- Failing to qualify the deal: If you don’t know what the prospect is looking for, it is impossible to align your products or services effectively. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the opportunity and how it came about so you can make a well-informed decision about whether or not it makes sense to accept the bid.
- Not focusing on what the prospect cares about: Research indicates that the first question buyers ask themselves when they are considering their options is: Are we getting what we need? For this reason, it is important to understand the issues the buyer is currently facing and what they’re hoping to resolve. This will help make your case for how they will benefit from hiring your organization to help solve their problems.
- Not structuring the document persuasively: It is important to organize the proposal’s content in a way that highlights your company’s assets and works to your advantage. Specifically, the process of structuring your proposal persuasively consists of four key steps – summarizing your understanding of the prospects’ needs, indicating the probable outcomes, recommending a solution and providing evidence that you can do the job on time and within budget. Neglecting to write in a structured format could hinder the proposal key messages and mask the value your organization will bring to the potential customer.
- Not differentiating your offer and your company from the bunch: The prospect needs to be convinced that you provide superior value and differentiation. If there are no differentiators, the prospect will assume they are buying a commodity service and look for the lowest cost. The strongest differentiators are those that are related to the way you work – your methodology, your best practices, your systems and processes.
- Not offering a compelling value proposition: Smart buyers want to see a positive impact in the area of business performance that they believe matters. Give the prospect the evidence they need to utilize the differentiators and show superior value – it’s a great way to seal the deal when proposals are compared side by side.
- Not making it easy to understand and use: Make sure the proposal is easy to follow, formatting is aligned and the key points are clearly emphasized. This can be done with simplistic headings, clear and concise language and sharp sentence structure. The use of long, complex sentences with technical jargon above their expertise will bury your company’s attributes and only speed up the prospect’s tendency to skim through the proposal.
- Not editing carefully to remove all potential distractions, mistakes and credibility killers: The final sin may appear to be the least serious of the seven, yet can still hurt your chances of winning and diminish your brand. It is important to review your proposals multiple times, checking for grammar, spelling and other minor written mistakes. Asking the appointed team leader to proof the proposal at various stages may be more work on the front end, but will speed up the process closer to the deadline.
Although some of these “deadly” sins may seem small, any one of them could be the deciding factor in winning the business. Analyze the opportunity and the customer needs and then articulate your value to ensure a successful outcome. Who knew that avoiding a few sins could produce such heavenly results?