This is a reprint of Michael Schmidtmann’s original blog article. Used with permission. Michael leads Trans4mers, an organization of peer groups for sales leaders in the technology field. Visit his website at www.trans4mers.net for more information.
It’s easier than ever to create beautiful sales proposals that nobody ends up reading. Today’s buyer scans the cover page and immediately flips to the back, where the price is. Does this happen to your proposals?
Why are readers bypassing all the boilerplate you’ve so artfully cut & pasted? Why do they skip the pretty pictures you’ve downloaded? Why don’t they care about how long you’ve been in business or how many happy customers you have?
I’ve got a one-word clue as to why prospects are skipping through your proposals. The thing the customer cares about most is…the customer! If a proposal is your chance to influence, persuade, and ultimately convince your prospect, you need to focus on what matters to them. Not you, not your products and services, and not your marvelous NOC. Your proposal should totally focus on the challenges your customer is facing, and your solution as it relates to them.
A Proposal is NOT
- A bill of materials
- Page after page of “vendor vomit”
- Boilerplate about the wonderfulness of your company
- A fountain of acronyms or industry jargon
Reading your vendor boilerplate is like reading the dietary information on a tub of popcorn. Nobody eats popcorn based on the amount of B12 in each serving. They buy it because it smells great, tastes amazing great, and they want it. Nobody buys based on boilerplate marketing material. Nobody (except a government official) even has the time to read it, let alone process and consider the information.
A Test for You: The “I / U” Ratio
Here’s a great way to determine if your proposals don’t focus enough on your customer: Take a typical proposal, and take this short test to see how effective it is.
Highlight the sections in which you talk about your company in RED, your capabilities, your service, your solution, and your wonderfulness. Next, highlight the sections where you talk about customer issues, challenges, and the business outcomes of implementing your solution in GREEN.
If you are like most companies, your pages are a sea of RED. Most proposals I see are at least 10-1 “I-U” Your most persuasive, successful proposals will be a sea of GREEN, with far more “us” than “I”.
What a Proposal Is
I’ve discussed what a proposal is not; of course, it’s equally important to discuss what a proposal is. Here are the four key objectives that every proposal should accomplish:
- Understanding of customer objectives
- Recommendations for a specific solution
- Evidence of competence to deliver
- Positioning and value proposition (the “so what?”)
Masterpieces of Boilerplate
Surprisingly, a short proposal is actually harder to create than a long one. With modern quoting tools, creating masterpieces of boilerplate can be simple and easy. Crafting a short proposal — a succinct executive summary — is much harder. This is mainly because a lot of important content needs to be boiled down to a few impactful sentences, something that requires real thinking and editing.
The Hard Part (What Many Customers Care About Most!)
A proposal that is effective and persuasive needs to be targeted and specific to each customer. You should address two or three really big challenges the customer is facing, and how you will solve them. Your proposal should address these questions:
- So what? Why should the customer do this?
- How will your solution address and solve the problems?
- How are you different from other solution providers?
- What outcomes can they expect by investing in this solution?
The Really Hard Part
If you really want to deliver killer proposals, try taking your customer through “The Buyer’s Journey” right on the first page, in the executive summary.
Here’s what that looks like:
- Overview of the current situation
- Description of the customer’s desired outcomes
- List of the obstacles & challenges they are facing
- An overview of your solution
- The expected results of your solution
- A clearly-defined call to action with a “so what” and an expiration date
Earning the Right
95% of salespeople can’t answer the questions above, and therefore are completely unprepared to deliver a winning proposal. The only time they win is when the other competitors are even worse.
To differentiate yourself and win more business, do the spadework to uncover your customer goals, challenges, and needs. Then, let your proposal take them through the buyer’s journey in a compelling, persuasive way.