Proposals are far more than a vehicle for conveying your message—they are your message.
But sadly, proposals that could be winners are often rejected. They may be filled with information, but the message is lost as they fail to capture the recipient’s imagination.
To make sure your proposals get the attention they deserve, it helps to view them in three phases: before, during and after. Each phase plays a vital role in moving your proposal closer to achieving its goal:
Phase 1: Preparing Your Proposal
Proposals should be easy to follow, but watch out—what’s clear to you can be a mystery to others. Stay away from jargon, too. Explaining something in simple terms earns you points.
How you structure your proposal makes a difference, too. Whether someone is reading or listening to it, organize it so the main points stand out. Often, the problem-solution proposal outline works well because it keeps the focus where it belongs: on the customer.
The problem expresses your understanding of what the customer wants to correct, implement or improve. It represents your grasp of the situation, so it’s critical to get it right—your credibility is at stake. If you fail to read the problem correctly, you’re done. So take it seriously and present a clear, thoughtful and complete understanding of what the customer wants to accomplish. The way you handle the problem lets the customer know whether you want to solve it or just sell them something.
If you’ve described the problem accurately, the customer will pay close attention to your solution, which you want to be viewed as thoughtful, efficient and cost-effective. A good way to do this is by proposing at least three options. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a surefire way to get your proposal turned down. With options, you can argue the benefits and limitations of each one in terms of good, better and best, or low, medium and high cost, for example.
Offering several options also opens the door for involving the customer in a helpful give-and-take situation, rather than putting you in the position of defending just one solution.
Phase 2: Presenting Your Proposal
For some presenters, the proposals itself is more important than how they present it. This is a huge mistake, because in the customer’s mind, you and your proposal are one. If one is weaker than the other, both suffer. It’s your show, so do everything possible to position it to your advantage. Here’s how:
- Set the stage. Don’t allow your customer to guess where you’re going. Make it obvious that you understand the customer’s problem, and lay it out clearly. Then, indicate that you and your solution reflect your competence for solving it.
- Maintain eye contact. You want to make your presentation an engaging experience for you and the customer. This is why handing out a hard copy is a mistake—do it at the end. You want the customer to listen carefully, not be distracted by flipping through a proposal, looking for the cost information. When you lose eye contact, you lose control. And don’t replicate your proposal on a PowerPoint. Maintain eye contact by using only a few key words on each slide.
- Communicate confidence. Your proposal is designed to be persuasive. At no point in the presentation is confidence more critical than when you’re asking for the order. The last impression is the one that lasts.
If the customer experiences your presentation as an expression of who and what you are, you’re well on your way to winning.
Phase 3: Following Up
The follow-up is often a presentation’s forgotten phase, but it’s also the most important. The show’s over. You worked to maintain control, and now you’ve lost it. Your presentation’s fate is in the customer’s hands.
When following up, stay on message. Since it’s likely your customer is considering several proposals, it’s important to make your follow-up stand out. Do this by simply and clearly reaffirming the accuracy of your analysis of the problem, along with the benefits of your solution, in a few sentences. No waffling. You believe in your proposal, so stand by it.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer.