Creating More Effective Proposals

The need for good proposals - the business kind, not the marriage kind - struck me again a couple of days ago, when I received a poor proposal. I had talked on the phone with a sales rep, and then she followed up with a proposal.

You know what? Her proposal was even worse than her live sales pitch. It was a completely canned message, which wasted her time and mine. With that, some thoughts on creating effective proposals.

Let's start by dividing them into two categories: commodities proposals and differentiated (or value-added) proposals.

If you sell commodities, your proposals will be relatively straightforward, as you compete on issues like price, delivery, and product characteristics. The buyer makes a relatively objective decision, and all other things being equal, he takes the best offer.

That likely makes clarity your best proposal writing strategy. For example, if you have a significant advantage in one area, you might create a matrix showing the information in a table format for easy comparison.

Turning our attention to proposals for differentiated or value-added products, we immediately notice an important distinction. There are no easy comparisons among vendors, as there are with commodity sellers.

The buyer has to compare intangibles, which means subjective judgments. He can't compare one marketing consultant with another, for example, unless he hires both, which he's unlikely to do.

Since we're dealing with subjective judgments, it's good to ask, "What goes on in the minds of buyers?" Solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity probably tops the list for most buyers. While the solution may not be immediately obvious, the need likely is plain to the buyer.

And, that's why many experts suggest that proposals address at least three specific areas: the problem, the solution, and the process (by which the solution takes care of the problem).

It's important to note, too, that proposals for differentiated products or services should not focus on you or your organization. Leave the kudos about yourself until you've covered the problem, solution, and process. And, make the part about you shorter than the first part of the proposal.

Sophisticated proposal writers also know they can increase their chances of winning by carefully studying the buyer's problem. By showing the buyer they understand the problem better than competitors, they give themselves an advantage.

There's another important distinction between proposals for commodities and differentiated products. In the case of commodity purchases, the buyer may not be the user of the product or service, likely reinforcing the objectivity effect. On the other hand, buyers who purchase differentiated or value-added products may be the users as well.

In summary, be strategic when you write a proposal, thinking through what type of proposal you're creating, and by addressing issues in the prospect's mind.

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Learn how you can use communication to help achieve your goals, by reading articles or subscribing to this ad-supported newsletter. An excellent resource for leaders and managers, at: http://www.communication-newsletter.com

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