How to write a winning proposal

And that’s not a marriage proposal… well not in the strictest sense of the word but could be the start of a very rewarding relationship for you and the client…

I know from experience that writing proposals for prospective clients can take a lot of investment, even if you have a system and template in place, and that there’s always risk you won’t win the business which means that some people don’t give their all when writing the proposal. And guess what…. This comes across to the client and so can quickly become a self fulfilling prophesy whereas others go the other way and so overwhelm the prospective client with information that can also be detrimental.

The short answer to how to write a winning proposal is to ask the client what they want to see in the proposal; capture that information and ask them ‘so if I send you a proposal that details…. Playing back to them all they told you needed to be in it…will you sign?’ That not only establishes everything that they want to see but also if the request is a really a soft no.


Because if they wanted to do business with you and what you’re offering, be it a product or a service or both, and you’ve include everything they ask in the proposal where the price and delivery is as discussed and agreed then if they won’t sign there’s either more information needed or they don’t really see the benefit to them and/or their clients or they don’t appreciate the value or they aren’t ready to make a decision yet and so there’s more conversation needed with the client.

Why do you need a structure and a system? Having these will takes you through the various sections step by step and so you’re less likely to leave out some useful information. A structure makes easier for the client but also demonstrates to them that you work in a structured way and so is reinforcing the image of you and the way your business works…. And because you’ll have used the Action Agenda during any meetings you’ve had with the client it’s reaffirming the way you work with clients.

So effectively its demonstrating your brand and inspires the client to action; using this system I’ve found not only have I become even more passionate about the solution I’m offering to the client but they really get what it is and the essence of the partnership we have. And I say ‘have’ because once I’ve reached the stage of writing a proposal a partnership will have been formed, there will be mutual trust and respect and an understanding of values and vision.

And the proposal system is organic, for specific of clients I’ve found that I’ve adapted the system and instinctively added an additional section, which is now integrated into the wining proposal system.

Even though there’s a system in place its really important to capture on paper what the purpose of the proposal is for your business. Planning is key so setting aside some uninterrupted time in your diary to plan and compose the proposal is key.

So what elements does a winning proposal contain?

A benefit driven headline – remember the client is interested in what’s in it for them… so starting with a benefit draws them in, piques interest, they can see from the start that you’ve got what it is they are looking for. Capitalise each word; I always use the Business Locksmith brand colours for the title, headings and sub-headings all the way through the document.

On the front cover show their logo and yours; always putting your logo on the right hand side… this puts you in their future…

The opening paragraph will include a thank you for the opportunity to submit the proposal, thanks for the meetings/telephone calls you’ve had and refer back to something that you found out at the meeting about them and the business.

This is followed by the executive summary, just as you would include in any report you might write having an executive summary is really useful not just for the client to see things summarised but – to use the famous Einstein quote about explaining things to a five year old as a metaphor – if you can’t distil your offering into a few paragraphs so that its clearly understood, including the benefits, then there’s still work to do on the proposal and the offering.

And this may appear to be telling the client what they already know but its really important to emphasise – capture the current situation i.e. the pain they’re experiencing and if this has been quantified in monetary terms then include this as it’s a useful comparison for the price and benefits sections. Where possible use their words based on your meeting notes and include the minor points as well as the headline points… include and a this means that paragraph i.e. the intangible pain and consequences of the pain.

Philosophy – use this section as a positioning statement and to talk about the philosophy of your company including what that means when working with clients.

The proposal section will detail the offering to the client, the delivery timings, the features, a brief reference to some of the benefits (but not all as there’s a benefits section) i.e. everything the client needs to know except the cost which is covered elsewhere. You may choose to break this down into subsections.

Number the points in the proposal so these can be cross referenced elsewhere to make it easier for the client.

Then talk about how this will be achieved; this is a section I now to include in the wining proposals; its gives clients a greater understanding and how you’ll work together in partnership.

The section, which details costs needs to be explicit. The client must be absolutely certain there are no hidden costs and if you are providing a service ensure that there is detail of any costs for travel and subsistence say and if providing goods then ensure that items like delivery costs are included.

If there are a range of deliverables or options then ensure these mirror the way the proposal section has been written and cross reference the section so the client can be very clear on what the costs of the component parts are and the overall costs. Also include your payment terms.

Having detailed the costs, the benefits section should then reflect both the overall and the individual benefits, again ensure it captures the different ‘pains’ identified in the ‘current situation’ section including the tangible and intangible benefits. Where possible include a cost benefit analysis or a benefits realisation analysis – again this should reflect what you’ve already discussed with the client. And refer any to the costs to the business identified in the ‘current situation’ section.

The conclusion is in some way a repeat of the executive summary going back to the newsreader model of tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em.

The following section is effectively asking for the order/business/sale, it tells client what to do now. Clearly state exactly what they should do and if there are any time limits e.g. if the client has said that a project should be completed by a certain date remind them that the order has to be placed by x date to achieve this.

The final section is a post script which includes the major benefits and reiterates the call to action.

At the end of the proposal include contact details.

Remember to number the pages, you may also choose to number the sections – at the very least you should number the points in the proposal for cross referencing to the costs. And of course not just spell check using the system tools but print and proof read’ its just good housekeeping that unfortunately is sometimes forgotten when working to deadlines.

Does it win every time, no. Has using this system increased conversation rates…yes…

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