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The art of preparing proposals that win more business.

No doubt about it, the proposal is the main event in your business development activities. Proposals that win business focus on highly valued outcomes your clients desire, rather than a detailed outline of your processes and costs.

Whatever your business, at some point in the sales process, you’re going to have to prepare a proposal to your client in order to close a business deal. Being asked to present a proposal is the main event of the business development process. All your previous hard work turning a suspect into a prospect, and then into a late stage buyer looking for a solution, has come down to this defining moment–preparing and presenting your proposal.

There is no getting around this fact–how well you prepare your proposals determines how much business you will close. Mastering the art of proposal preparation is essential to your success. To help you craft proposals that win business, here are some suggestions you may want to consider.

Your purpose in preparing a proposal is to recommend a course of action that provides a highly valued solution to your client’s problem–not provide them a price.

For early-stage entrepreneurs, all sales are critical. When asked to submit a proposal, it’s easy to jump right in and start thinking about how to win the business offering the cheapest price. Your proposal needs to focus on the “value of the outcome” to the client–not your process, your services, or the value of your time.

When prospective clients request a proposal, what they really want is a solution to their problem. Your client will determine how much value they place on obtaining the solution, not you.  If the solution is readily available by lots of providers, clients will most likely place little value in the solution and obtain it at the lowest price.  That’s why it’s a good idea to qualify the opportunity!  Before you begin to prepare a proposal, you need answers to these two important questions:

Can the client-to-be-afford you? No sense wasting your time if the client can’t meet your minimum requirements.

Are you a good fit for this opportunity? If the opportunity doesn’t represent the type of solutions you are specialized to provide, or doesn’t enable you to provide the client with your best high-value thinking at fees that are profitable to your business, you should pass. Taking work on just to pay bills is a sucker’s game. Your success in the long run depends on engaging in only those opportunities you are well suited to pursue, and provide profit to your business.

Once you have the right answers to these questions, you may determine the opportunity worth investing your time and money in preparing a proposal.  When you are positive and confident that it's the right fit, your solution is the best, and you will be able to command premium pricing providing the solution, you’ll already be in a winning frame of mind as you begin the proposal process.

Winning proposals tell a winning story.

Winning proposals tell stories about how your solution will best serve the clients stated needs and desired outcome. It’s not about your process or your services. Clients don’t care about any of that–they care about experiencing their desired outcome.  It’s essential to have a deep understanding of the client’s needs and desires, and what will be required to fulfill them. The client will perceive your value to them based on how you will provide desired outcomes not just deliverables.

Winning proposals eliminate risk.

A prospective client is taking a risk by hiring you. A winning proposal will share your knowledge and insight in ways that position and prove you are the “go-to” expert in this solution. To do that, you have to provide useful knowledge that illuminates and expands the client’s options or possibilities– in a manner that surprises and delights them!

Then show proof by illustrating how other clients have achieved their outcomes as a result of doing business with you. Your proposal needs to instill confidence in their consideration and decision to do business with you.

Winning proposals do not look like you filled in the blanks.

If your business requires consultative sales conversations, it’s essential that your proposal be highly customized and reflective of the substance and specifics of those early sales conversations. You won’t distinguish your value by submitting a proposal that looks like you plugged your solution into a boilerplate form. Remember your purpose is providing a unique solution that is highly valued by the client-to-be. If it’s off the shelf, it’s probably not special or unique, and consequently will be perceived as less valuable.

Winning proposals are well organized and complete.

Regardless of the size of the document, your proposal needs to be well organized and complete. A winning proposal should include these components:

Introduction This is your opportunity to state your claim of expertise, and the value you bring to the client. Two paragraphs tops.

The Clients Desires/Objectives/Outcomes State your deep understanding of your client's needs, objectives and desired outcome. Re-state in “their own words” what the perceived need/ problem is, why obtaining a solution is important to the client, and what defines a successful outcome.

The Project Definition State all the specific information that defines the scope and detail of all deliverables and the services you will provide to complete the assignment.

Your Proposed Solution Here’s where compelling storytelling is critical. This section is not about your process or your services. This is about communicating the functional and emotional benefits associated with your proposed solution–what’s in it for them and how your solution will fulfill their needs and achieve their desired outcomes. If your solution involves proprietary processes or methods, outline them here. Just remember to align your process to support the desired outcome. Every process must be anchored to a desired outcome.

The Financial Value of the Solution Outline all the specific information about your fees and expenses including the time required for completing the project, and any associated terms or conditions regarding how you expect to be compensated.

Your fees should be stated in a range (i.e. $10,000 -$15,000).  You’re stated fee needs to reflect the financial value the client places on their desired outcome, not how many hours it takes you to deliver. Do not provide any line item detail to your stated fee. If the client wants that breakdown in detail, leave that stuff for the “closing” conversation.

The Support and Proof of Your Stated Expertise Provide short bios featuring the specific qualifications and the individual experience members of your team assigned to this project will bring to the party. Hint: it better be the A team. Also include any case studies that are highly relevant and prove your claims of expertise in solving the stated problem.

Appendix Use this last section to include any process or financial detail that supports the previous content.

Proposal Acceptance Page This final page is where you obtain the clients acceptance to provide your closing contract.

Winning proposals present themselves.

Of course, it’s always best to present your proposal in person. However, that’s not always possible or practical. In my business, my clients may be in a different part of the country. It’s not always practical for me to present in person, nor is it always desirable to the client. That’s why your proposal needs to be strong enough to do the “presenting” without you.

Often, clients will receive proposals to develop a short list of candidates. More importantly, decision-makers only meet the finalists. The proposal is a selling document not a closing document or a contract. If you make it to the short list, and the client wants a deeper discussion about your proposal, that’ll be your time to have a closing conversation. The proposal offers you an opportunity to demonstrate how you add value not just take their order.

Preparing proposals that will win more business is a thoughtful process. Only invest in the opportunities you are well suited to pursue. When you tell a compelling story about how you will help your client achieve the outcome they highly value, chances are, you’ll not only get the gig, but command premium pricing as well.  And that’s as good as it gets.


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