Entrepreneur Ideas: A Guide to Writing Business Proposals More Effectively

by | Sales and marketing

So far, so good. You’ve been asked to submit a proposal to a potential client.

Congratulations. Getting invited to the party is half the battle. If nothing else, at least you know your company and its products or services are good enough to warrant additional consideration.

But, now what?

Well, don’t fumble the ball at mid-field. An intelligently planned and carefully written proposal will showcase why your company is suited to the task at hand and, if you’re fortunate, set the stage for a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with the new customer.

Well-crafted business proposals are a mix of art and science, and the actual format you use will depend on the industry you work in and the complexity of the services offered. (And some large companies will even insist that you use their standard template and forms to bid on projects.)

But whatever the parameters you encounter when preparing to make your case to a possible buyer, there are few things you can do to increase your chances for success. They might not make your proposal bullet-proof, but at least you’ll have made your case effectively.

Before You Start

To the degree that you can, try to find out exactly who will decide the fate of your proposal. This is much easier to do when dealing with a smaller organization. In larger companies, it’s often the case that the person actually using your services will specify or prefer his or her choice to someone in purchasing, or at an executive level. But large company or small, if at all possible, you want to deal directly with the person who will sign off on the agreement and write the check.

And it should go without saying that you should make sure, prior to beginning your proposal, that you are prepared to offer exactly what the customer requested. Refer to the original RFQ (request for quotation), the specifications sheet, or your notes from customer meetings.

Finally, make sure you give yourself enough time to complete the proposal in a way that reflects well on your company. Adhere to deadlines set by the customer. Of if there is no formal deadline, make sure you get the proposal out when you say you will.

Seven Components of Successful Business Proposals

For illustrative purposes, assume that a hypothetical company has been asked to quote on a database marketing program. This probably is not what your company offers to its client base, but the principles and format described here will work in most situations.

1.   Introduction and Overview.This is where you show the prospect that you understand the company’s “itch” that you can scratch. Two or three paragraphs are generally enough. If you can envision your client nodding to himself as he’s reading it, you’re on track. Example:

XYZ Company has a market penetration problem. Despite 15 years in operation and a justified reputation as an industry thought leader, there is concern that certain company resources, particularly its client and prospect databases, are under-leveraged and that revenue is being “left on the table.”

This document introduces a process for launching a custom database-focused marketing plan, which will not only increase revenue for XYZ, but also provide greater insights to its customers and markets, laying the groundwork for continued success in coming years.

Note: Generally, the Introduction and Overview is usually written last, after all the other sections are researched, organized, and written.

2.   Goals and Objectives. Here, you tell the prospect what you intend to accomplish and how it fits with his or her long-term goals. Use numbers, letters, or bullet points. Example:

 a.)Identify current clients with appreciable additional revenue potential and prospects outside the current XYZ database with similar upsides.

b.)Establish system for targeting and contacting key accounts or prospects with targeted information.

c.)  Introduce process for regular follow-up contact with accounts and prospects.

d.)Implement system for tracking return on investment for new marketing and account management activities.

And so on…

3.   Tactics and Methods. This is the “nuts and bolts” or “how we’ll get it done” part of your proposal. Take as much space as you need, and be prepared to answer questions on this section after the prospect has reviewed the document. Example:

The XYZ database is the cornerstone of a program that will:

·         Organize the XYZ customer list with respect to market segment, products and services purchased, dollar volume, and future potential

·         Coordinate customer communication

·         Shorten XYZ’s sales cycle

·         Manage the customer retention process

Information acquired during database research and analysis will be incorporated into specific recommendations for XYZ’s marketing plan.

 4.   Value to XYZ. Yes, this should be a stand-alone part of your proposal. In fact, it might be the most important part of the proposal.This is no place to be modest. Tell the prospect exactly what his company stands to gain by working with you. Again, letters, bullets or numbers tend to work best here. Example:

Benefits to XYZ Corp. include:

a.)Additional revenue from both established accounts and new sources

b.)[Minimum] increase in marketing and sales costs

c.)  Likelihood of positive customer experiences resulting in additional inquiries about other products and services

d.)Established, regular procedure for customer contact

e.)Reinforcement of XYZ’s position as an industry thought leader


5.   Process Outline and Project Timing. A project outline can bring about a “comfort level” for your prospect that can set you apart from your competition. It should be your bestestimate of a timetable and sequence for completing the project. Example:

1. Agree on parameters

2. Start program (Sept. 10)

3. Identify/establish customer and prospect groups

·         Database analysis

·         Market segment reviews

4. Strategy development

·         Develop message

·         Implement measures for measuring campaign

          5. Present recommendations / launch campaign (Nov. 1)

In terms of timing, a single paragraph statement is generally all you need. Example:

The project is expected to run approximately nine weeks. Process can start on Sept. 10. Barring unforeseen events and assuming cooperation and appropriate input from XYZ personnel, work should be completed on November 15.

6.   Accountabilities. This section describes what you and the prospect are each responsible for, if the project moves ahead. You should have separate places for your accountabilities (e.g., completion of agreed tasks in an acceptable manner, adherence to agreed upon deadlines, etc.), and the client’s (e.g., access to key personnel at mutually convenient times, prompt payment of invoices, etc.)

7.   Agreement. This is where you outline your terms, including pricing of the project, procedures for payments, and responsibilities for expenses incurred.

You can use a format similar to your company’s regular invoices, so the information can be presented in a familiar, organized fashion.

Random Tips for Successful Proposal Writing

·         Don’t go overboard on boilerplate material and “legalese.” You don’t want your proposal to be re-routed through the prospect’s legal department.

·         Beware of “scope creep,” where through either your team’s initiative, or at the customer’s request, you end up doing more than originally expected. Make sure any additional work offered or requested is balanced by an increase in your fee.

·         If you’re in an industry where trade secrets are critical to your success, insist on a confidentiality agreement. It will protect both your interests and those of your client.

What questions do you have about writing business proposals that will win you the job? Leave them in the comments below.


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