The most effective proposal is the one that speaks directly to your customers’ goals and needs. It places a great emphasis on understanding and relating to your customer in terms that are meaningful to them. While it’s very tempting to focus on selling your company, the best way to actually succeed in winning the bid is to give more written real estate space to your customer than your own business. Let’s take a look at some of the must-do practices that will help you keep your proposals focused on the customer.
Put the customer first… literally
Perhaps it’s a little bit of psychology, but one of the best ways to create a sense of genuine interest in your customers is to place them first – in paragraphs and sentences. If you set up every reference with them as the (more or less) direct object of every sentence or phrase, you’ll subtly shift them into the mindset that what you are proposing is, in fact, a means to support them.
It’s best to keep the number of references to yourself or your business in your proposal down to the minimum needed to explain what you are offering. It’s much more advantageous to pepper your proposals with references to your customers. This is all an effort to impart the feeling, in the minds of your recipients, that what you propose is an extension to their business – one that they fully appreciate the value in.
Know your customer
In the proposal creation process, you will undoubtedly conduct research in order to establish a firm understanding of your customers’ business needs. This research should translate fluidly into your proposals. If you’ve received a request for proposal (RFP), it’s important to understand why. What are the customer’s needs? What are the limits of the customer’s in-house capabilities; and how can your proposal establish your company as an extension of their team? Finding answers to questions like these is a great way to provide answers when writing your proposal. The proposal most likely to be chosen is the one that most clearly relates your business to the needs of the intended customer.
Write clearly and concisely
Your proposals hinge on communicating the actions you’re offering as clearly as possible. Writing for clarity, more often than not, involves brevity. Keeping your writing focused squarely on the customers’ needs helps keep them on track with the actions you are proposing.
Here are a few pointers when it comes to composition:
- Shorter paragraphs of 3–5 sentences are more approachable for readers. Longer paragraphs are seldom read — which is never a good thing to happen to your proposal.
- Use normal fonts, like Times New Roman, in expected sizes, like 10- or 12-point.
- Use headings and sub-headings. Paragraph after paragraph without breaks in the form of sub-headings is monotonous to the reader, and can be repellant.
- Creating bulleted lists where appropriate is another way to mix things up and retain your customer’s attention throughout the proposal.
- Add visuals. Research has shown that modern readers are keen to receive information through visual content. In fact, in the digital age, many people have come to expect hybrid text-visual media. Quote Roller’s proposal templates allow you to easily include photos and videos, especially important to highlight your work.
- Don’t get too wordy. You’ll want to keep your sentences very concise and limit the words you choose to those that matter to your audience. The use of jargon is fine, so long as it’s appropriate and understandable to your reader. Remember, the one who actually decides whether to sign your proposal may be in accounting and known nothing of HTML5, for instance. It’s tempting, when writing anything, to get caught up in crafting beautiful prose, but your proposals are best kept straightforward and to the point.
The right response
One of the worst things that can happen to a proposal is for it to be off-the-mark when it comes to meeting with the needs outlined in the original RFP. For a proposal to win, it needs to clearly define itself as the right response to your customers’ needs. This means you should avoid copying-and-pasting sections between proposals. When you do that, your reader will pick up on it — and that comes off as a cheap, empty offer which will most assuredly be turned down. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure every proposal is original and tailored to the unique demands of the individual RFP.
Make it action-oriented
One of the biggest mistakes you could make in crafting a proposal is to fail to compel the recipient to action. In sales, this is referred to as offering a “call-to-action.” Your business proposals need to be clear in purpose and outcome, and this means calling your reader to take the action of awarding the bid. This is the fundamental purpose of the proposal writing process, and you can’t afford to miss this step.
That being said, there’s never a time to be overtly advertorial in your proposals. Arriving at the desired outcome of your proposal means outlining the benefits you offer, often without ever directly soliciting the business, per-say. Getting the call-to-action right clarifies the actions you would like your customer to take – that’s important, right?
Make it measurable
Often, your customer will assess your proposal in terms of its alignment with key evaluation criteria. Whatever criteria are outlined in the RFP, you will want to make sure that the proposal clearly describes how you are able to meet those criteria. You may want to create an evaluation checklist to help guide you in this process. Also put some thought into how you present how your company can meet the criteria. All of the information needs to be there, but you can get creative using quotes, tables, and infographics to help make the content more compelling. Many readers will be looking intensely at key criteria, so make sure none of your checklist is missing or ambiguously stated in your proposal.
Focus on winning
By keeping the focus on your customer, you’re taking an essential step toward ensuring the success of your proposals. By making sure the content in your proposal is totally relevant to your intended audience, you will connect with them in a fundamental way. As you write your proposal, be mindful of keeping it clear and on-topic — and actionable. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to meeting with criteria outlined in the RFP and you’ll be well on your way to submitting proposals that win, time and time again.
Are your proposals customer-focused for success?