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Proposal Writing For Sales

Your RFP Database Can Help You
Produce Proposals Efficiently

Effective proposal writing will help you win request for proposals (RFPs). What are some strategies for writing winning proposals? Hire a RFP writer, use a free RFP template (or create your own template from previous successful proposals), or develop your RFP database and use that data in your proposals.

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Interestingly, writing proposals often gets little attention when developing a selling strategy or even a pricing strategy.

However to be successful in small business sales, particularly in selling products, it is critically important to have a strong proposal writing plan.

Requests for proposal, requests for quotes, and requests for information are just some of the proposals you need to be able to write.

There are advantages in outsourcing your proposal writing. You can hire an experienced and competent RFP writer.

Or you can build your own RFP database and use it to help build a proposal efficiently. Or you can use free RFP templates to help develop a winning bid.

You can also look at comparable or competitive industry bids. Many buying organizations will provide a debrief on why you did not win a bid.

For example, a construction management RFP resulted in a loss for a small business owner who bid on the business.

The owner asked for a debrief and the buyer reviewed the construction management RFP in detail; and the owner learned what the strengths and the weaknesses were of his bid. His win ratio improved by 25% after he worked on improving his proposal writing.

Proposals need to focus on the result you want: getting sales. Marketing plans usually focus on the pricing, product, plan and promotion. Sales plans usually focus on the customers and the products.

This is a how-to for focusing on writing a proposal as a tactic to increase your sales success rate. This step-by-step action plan is written for product proposal writing but can be easily adapted for project proposals and would need to be somewhat adapted for service proposals. Also consider following a RFP template or RFQ Template if appropriate (if you write bid requests on a regular basis following a free RFP template or using data from a RFP database that you've built can save you resources - time and money).

Stop Proposing and Start Selling: Products

Our Objective

  • To increase our sales success rate.

The Selling Concept: your client or potential client needs to approve of you before making purchasing decisions

  • Before a sale can take place, the buyer must accept you and your company. Build trust and establish rapport with first.
  • Buying decisions are emotional, not rational.
  • If "approval of you" does not exist, no price will be good enough to get the business.

Our Strategy as Sellers

  • To differentiate ourselves.
  • To establish an emotional connection with the client.
  • To provide reasons to buy (quote or proposal specific).

Handling Requests for Proposal: Step-by-Step

Step One: Getting the Proposal Specifications

  • Ensure that you have a well designed proposal or quote request form. (With it, you will be better able to see where you are missing information; i.e. the blanks.)
  • Get all the specifications, using the proposal request form. Ensure clear understanding of any unclear or grey areas.
  • Ask questions necessary to clarify any grey areas. Common grey areas include:
    • Promise date: is that the date the order must ship or the date the order must arrive?
    • When is the proposal required? Time and Date?
    • If appropriate, ask for a sample or mock-up or a copy of the last time order.
    • When will a decision on the proposal be made? What is the decision criteria?
    • If you need to buy time to complete a complex proposal, offer something that benefits the client, e.g. more time; work out better price, more options, etc.

Step Two: Ask About the End Use of the Product

  • How will this product be used?
  • How will it be distributed or stored?
  • Have you had any problems with suppliers or the product supplied in the past?
  • Is there anything you are worried or concerned about? (For example, previous complaints.)
  • Is there a potential for re-order? (You might be able to propose a better price if there is some regular re-order potential.)
  • What additional business might be required in the future?
  • Be a consultant to your client. Understand the need, not just the specifications.

Step Three: Ask about the Situation

For effective proposal writing, we need to understand the situation to develop a strong selling strategy solution.

Some typical questions:

  1. How quickly will you be making a decision?
  2. Is anyone else involved in the decision?
  3. In your opinion, what is the most critical element to be considered in awarding this proposal? (E.G. could be delivery time, quality, service, price, etc.)
  4. Is there anything else you need to know or that you need to tell me?
  5. Is this proposal "up for grabs", "a long shot" or a "real possibility" for us?
  6. How would you feel about doing this project with us? Any reservations?
  7. Do you have any special objectives or motivations?

Step Four: Write a Cover Letter for the Proposal

  • Address the emotional issues you have uncovered (e.g. frustration, trust, confidence, etc.) in the cover letter.
  • Demonstrate that you have listened to your customer, that you understand their issues and pain. Show that in your response to your customer.
  • Indicate in the Cover Letter that you will follow up with them directly (your contact person).

Proposal Writing

Questions are developed for each proposal based on the proposal inquiry and the circumstances surrounding it. Some other questions might be:

For a first inquiry:

  • Who referred us to you?
  • If not a referral, how did you find out about us?
  • Why are you looking for a new supplier/service provider?

For repeat jobs (previously bought elsewhere)

  • Why are you changing suppliers?
  • Then listen carefully to the reply.
  • If unhappy with the present supplier, be sure to ask why; you will need to address those issues in your proposal.

When you are the incumbent supplier:

  • Look for warning signs: if you are being asked to quote or propose for the first time in a while this often means other suppliers are also being asked to quote
  • Ask: Have we failed/are there problems or issues?

The Importance of Price: it's a Tie Breaker

Price is an important factor in the selling process but most often winning the proposal writing process is not based only on price (but price can be the tie breaker between two or more 'equal' bids). There are many pricing strategies to consider and use; to name a few - loss leader, psychological pricing, price skimming, and market penetration pricing.

More important than price is what more or better offerings your proposal has when compared to your competitor. The more you have strongly valued attributes the more you can tip the decision in your favor. Your product must be highly differentiated and well positioned.

The proposal is ready: should we fax , email it, or deliver it?

Always try to deliver it in person. Try to get an in-person appointment to do the show and tell on the proposal. Try to be the last appointment; the last is usually the best remembered.

Closing the Sale

First try to ensure that your proposal is not shared with other bidders.

Your script to the client might be: I'd be really disappointed if the hard work I've done on this proposal is shared with others (and if they tell you that they still plan to do so: I hope you reconsider).

Why don't you want the client to share your proposal? Because it is likely you may meet those competitors again in the bidding process; you do not want the hard work you put into writing a proposal to be copied or imitated by your competitors.

Use your selling window

  • Be the last to present/propose.
  • Save a couple things to add after the in-person presentation but also ensure that the proposal writing added those things; maybe in the appendix.

Ask for the order

  • If in a face-to-face meeting, ask for the order because it's hard to say no to your 'face'. The script might be: We'd love to do this for you, can we book the order into our schedule today?

What if your price is too high?

  • Keep selling; be prepared with a script:
    • We're not the lowest but is our price prohibitive?
    • Is it an apples to apples comparison?
    • Yes, our price is higher; we never expected to be the best price but that doesn't mean we're not the best supplier.

Proposal writing to win sales can be an art form.

It takes time and practice to build a proposal selling strategy that helps grow your small business sales.

Marketing plans must make proposal writing a key part of your selling strategy: keep track of your winning and losing proposals and focus on what helped your proposals win sales or lose sales. Then develop your own winning strategies.

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Additional Reading:

Why is Sales Negotiation Training so important to closing a sale?

Or find out about the importance (to selling) of developing an effective Pricing Strategy.

Find more details about developing your RFP Template or RFQ Template.

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Selling Techniques

Successful selling experiences require using more than one technique.

Yes, face-to-face selling (particularly through relationship building) is often one of the more successful tactics.

But other techniques and strategies include building touch points and sharing information.

In other words, educating your customer or prospect on your products and services and also providing information that will help your customer in their business; making sure that your products or services are highly differentiated from competitors' offerings and communicating that differentiation effectively; and clearly understanding what your customers need in terms of value and delivering it.

Communicate with your customers and prospects in person; over the phone; through the mail (yes, letters, cards, coupons and order forms have high response rates if well designed and well executed); over the Internet through blogs, emails, social media, webinars, and your website; through print materials such as catalogues, coupon books, brochures, business cards, flyers and more.

Build your sales approach as a campaign:

Plan to make contact on a regular and frequent basis (not too frequently to the point of irritating customers or too infrequently to the point of being forgotten) and align your campaign with a strong identity program that is consistent with your brand.

Customer Relationship Management

Customer loyalty is built by giving value first in all aspects of your business. As a small business owner or manager, you need to commit to offering the best products and/or services.

Ensure that you regularly ask your customers for input and feedback (and both listen to it and act on it) to continuously improve your processes.

Your customers will respond to the value that you add, not only to the solution you propose but also to the relationship you build together.

Buyers Needs and Wants

What do customers want? Market research says that customers have an expectation of good quality, good price and good service; that is the minimum requirement for doing business today.

What more do you need to provide?

Knowledge. Reliability. Consistency. Communication. Discover what your customers value, and provide it.

Note: customers have unique and individual needs; they do not all value the same things. Make sure you clearly understand what each individual customer or market segment wants or needs.

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Sales: Making Contact

In a business to business selling environment, it used to be that it would take between seven or eight touches to make a sale (or not, since not all contact means that a prospect will buy).

In this Internet age, it takes more touches.

Why? Because we have become both 'ad blind' and somewhat 'insensitive' to touches.

What this means to the small business owner is that your communication (and touches) need to be different from others (not imitations or copies of what everyone else is doing), it needs to be believable and sincere, and it needs to be memorable.

The Sales Cycle

In a business to business sales environment, the selling cycle takes longer to close (and is often more complex) than ever before.

To effectively grow your sales, you need build a plan that will help you to optimize your efforts.

Focus your planning efforts on a lean sales process that: will solve your customer's problem or challenge; has value (i.e. reduces time and/or cost); provides not only what the customer wants but more than has been identified (over-delivering); and that provides a solution that offers convenience, high quality, a price that is acceptable, competitive and covers the business' costs, and exceptional service.