A product proposal is essentially a sales tool that explains the benefits of selecting your product or service over someone else’s. They can run a few pages long or into the hundreds of pages for more complicated products and services. A well-written proposal can obviously generate new business, but you should also know how much a poorly written proposal can weaken even existing, strong customer relationships, negatively affecting your bottom line. What steps should you follow to produce an effective proposal, and what does a good proposal look like?
A proposal seeks to gain new business from an existing client or can target a completely new client. It can be produced in response to an RFP or “request for proposal,” or can be a document you send to prospective clients without an RFP.
Many business professionals struggle with how to write a sales proposal that will result in landing the new business or customer. Understanding how to write an effective business proposal is an art, combining business knowledge, research and an understanding of your customer and their needs.
Developing an effective business proposal template means you create a base document that can be customized to each potential customer or new piece of business. In your template, you should begin with an engaging introduction, including an overview of your product or service that explains what sets you apart from your competitors and why you believe the company should select you for the business. This is based on not only a description of your strengths and experience but in having determined how you would best serve the client’s needs. The introductory section should be an irresistible invitation for the reader to dig in deeper and learn what you can offer that others cannot.
- Theme. Consider developing a theme or tone for your template that reflects the voice of your business that can be woven throughout the document as well as in the introduction. If you are focused on problem-solving, describe that approach. If your selling point is being lower cost, focus on the value you provide.
- Experience. It should include samples of your work or describe examples of how you have approached solving a problem or need that’s similar to what your target customer is facing. These items should be specific and clear, not packed with generic sales language. While you don’t (and shouldn’t) necessarily disclose the names of other clients, you can describe the type of business they are in and the problem they faced along with a detailed description of how your company handled their needs.
- Pricing. A proposal should also include a pricing estimate. They need to know how much it’s going to cost if they select you for the work. Be transparent, clear and honest about how much you would charge to take on and complete the work.
- Research. With a template, you can customize the document to each client based on what your research indicates they value as a service or business tenet, what they need from a service provider and provide answers and information that will demonstrate your ability to be the best choice to answer their needs. Conduct research so that you really know your potential customer and customize the template to be attractive specifically to them and their business.
All of these tactics are great if you are responding to an RFP. But how do you approach a company with a proposal without a request?
You don’t have to wait for a formal invitation in order to present a proposal to a company. Sending a proposal proactively when you see an opening that your business could serve or answer will show that you are tracking their business needs and believe you have a product or service that could help their quest for success. You can show the customer how working with you can solve a “problem” they didn’t know they had, via lowering their costs or improving an aspect of their services. But you need to do so carefully or else you’ll kill the connection before it even heats up.
Networking is a key aspect of making connections to grow your business. If you know someone who works at the company you are targeting, you can ask your connection if they can help you set up an introductory meeting with someone in a decision-making position such as a C-suite-level executive. In this meeting, you can introduce yourself and give an overview of your services. But treat introductions carefully and be respectful of the executive’s time.
Meeting someone is one thing, but throwing your proposal at them right off the bat could backfire.
Networking events are great places to meet people in other companies and develop sales leads, but a lot of networking is also done online these days. You can introduce yourself to someone on a site like LinkedIn and establish a dialogue and connection that can be nurtured over time. Building contacts takes time and effort, and should be done with a purpose and plan of building contacts that can help you strengthen your business position.
Research what companies you want to target and begin to work to develop connections at that company. Without an RFP, you may be playing a long game, so you need to be persistent and consistent in your efforts to build connections with potential customers so that they consider you when the time is right.
As a last resort, even without an existing connection, you can always reach out to the head of a business with a “cold” contact and introduce yourself via email, by phone or with a mailed package. Cold contacting someone generally has a lesser rate of success than doing business with someone with whom you have already established a professional connection, but you never know when you’re going to reach out to someone at the exact moment they were considering switching providers or mulling over how to solve a problem.
It should go without saying that your proposal is your professional presentation of yourself and your business or enterprise, but you would be surprised how many proposals are submitted with errors. Follow every instruction in an RFP to the letter, and answer every question they provide. If they require you to submit online using a form they have customized to streamline the proposal process, don’t also send in your own proposal as a supplemental document, unless they specify that is allowed.
The entire proposal should be thoroughly proofread by a professional to ensure there are no typos or grammatical errors, and for general readability. Your proposal is a representation of both yourself and your business and should be reviewed multiple times by more than one person to ensure it is as perfect as possible. Graphics and design elements can help to make the piece stand out, look attractive and enhance readability. Professional writers, editors and proposal specialists can make sure your theme is retained throughout and that every aspect of the document answers the questions set forth in the RFP while also presenting you as the optimal choice.