The Art of Business: Pump Up The Volume of Your Proposals

A proposal, be it in spoken or written form, is a sales pitch — your big chance to make an impression and rise above your competition. That said, a proposal should contain as much artistry and craft and the final work you’re proposing. Here are a few tips to help:

Going Verbal
When giving a verbal presentation you’re selling yourself as much as your services. Follow these guidelines to make sure you make a good impression.

• Plan your verbal presentations. Tighten up your presentation so it can be presented in 20 minutes or less. You may certainly have more to say, but your client may not have the time. Be ready to add in the details at the end of the meeting or at a later one, after you’ve got the concept pitched. A solid presentation will include a 90-day logistical plan with major milestones and three specific goals. If you haven’t done so already, create a generic marketing proposal and then customize the plan for each client.

• Engage in competitor reconnaissance. Visit your competitors’ Web sites to learn what services they offer and determine how your services are different. Be ready to counter your competitors “value proposition” with at least five things you and your company do that your competitors don’t do.

• Schedule time to learn about your client, not just the project. Find out all you can about your client company. Use the Internet, naturally, but don’t stop there; talk to other vendors, employees even customers, if it’s appropriate. Who are the key decision makers? What are their backgrounds? Now learn something personal about the people you will be dealing with. Use the Web but don’t be afraid to strike up a personal conversation before the proposal day. Ask potential clients about outside interests, and how they enjoy spending time when they’re not working. If you discover your client has published an article or has been repeatedly mentioned in the newspaper, you now have an additional means to form a connection.

• Modify your presentation to suit the situation. If your business contact is a “hard driving” nuts and bolts type of person, skip the sales pitch and go immediately to the bottom line. Substantiate whatever you give them with clear-cut research that supports the plan you are proposing. On the other hand, if your contact prefers a more personal approach, spend whatever time is required to get to know more about what matters to them.

Bottom-line people don’t want to be bothered with “bonding.” Stay focused on the big picture in terms of facts and figures. Engineers and accountant-types like seeing detailed numbers. On the other hand, people who are more artistic like the vision thing. Focus on the aesthetics and big picture.

• “Dress for success.” Dress like your clients would when they’re at work. Add some creative flair, if appropriate. You may not judge others on appearance, but most people do. When it comes to dressing, less is more. Understated elegance is always a great guiding principle.

• Customize your plan for each client by identifying which tech tools are most appropriate. A simple portfolio or a flashy PowerPoint presentation? Do you best to match the medium as well as the message. Choose your presentation tools based upon your client’s preferences rather than your own.

• Under-promise and over-deliver. People who over-promise seldom get future referrals and often create a host of problems for themselves in terms of closing the transaction and earning long-term business. Promise what you know you can deliver and no more, and when you deliver more, it’s all gravy.

• Plan time for practice time. A great presentation is based upon a clear-cut plan, but unless you have practiced your delivery, your likelihood of success is greatly reduced.

Taking time to plan actually saves you time in the long run, increases your effectiveness, and ultimately results in more income for you

Written Proposals
No matter what anyone says, a written proposal is a sales document first and foremost. Follow these steps to make your written proposal land on top.

• Open with a bang. Attract attention with an opening that grabs. Invoke a question. Pose a challenge. Be intriguing, enticing, bold. Make them want to read more. Build interest with additional information and benefits. Add details that justify and enhance your bold opening.

• Justify, justify, justify. Make an argument for your product, service, or point of view. Explain the value or advantages or your services. Persuade readers by explaining the benefits in their language. Answer the all-important question: “What’s in it for me?”

• Call for action. Inspire action by telling the reader exactly what to do now. Be clear and direct. Induce the reader to act promptly with additional information, a special offer, or a personal note in the postscript.

• Be concise. You’ll be amazed at how many words you can cut simply by imagining that every word costs a dollar. Does every word carry its weight? Have I refrained from repeating myself? Have I used short phrases or single words instead of tiresome phrases (“cannot” instead of “not in a position to,” “since” rather than “in view of the fact”)? Have I used the active rather than the passive voice (“The board passed the resolution” instead of “The resolution was passed”)?

• Clarity, above all. No one writes to confuse, yet think about how many documents you’ve seen that were nearly impossible to decipher. People don’t have, and simply will not take, the time to figure out what you have in mind. It’s up to you to be clear by:
– refraining from using too many relative pronouns (which, that, its, he, she)
– making full use of commas, hyphens, colons and semi-colons
– running a spell check
– shying away from slang and jargon?

• Be visual. You’re a visual artist, flaunt it by including relevant and compelling examples and comps.

• Be human. A proposal is a communication between one human being and another. It’s neither a legal document nor a testimony to your ability to write in marketese. Even a formal proposal should reflect your personality with language that is personable. Do so by using conversational language and avoiding stilted phrases (per our conversation; acknowledge receipt of).

When you’re ready to present, give it one more inspection and ask a colleague to review it. Is it focused? Concise? Clear? Visually appealing? Reflective of your personality?

If so, now you’re ready to earn some business.

Posted on: February 23, 2004

3 Comments on The Art of Business: Pump Up The Volume of Your Proposals

  1. Great little read. But my small brain (remember brain size has nothing to do with intelligence) loves examples. Would be great to see examples for each point. Thank you though.

  2. It’s all theory, but are there any examples of these great written proposals? What that “bang” should look like?

  3. Though the facts are basic for most business its a good reminder to read

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