The Write Stuff: Creating an Effective Proposal
In my role as a Trainer, I get to visit some cracking organisation and work with some amazing sales people, some are truly terrific at working on the rapport and asking great questions, whilst others are hungry for the close and look to sell solutions to problems at every turn. I love sales people, truly I do, and coming from a sales background and now selling my own services it is really one of the most rewarding roles.
The thing is, many sales people are not great with detail, and because of their natural hunger for the sale, they tend to fall down when following up with a sales proposal, or sales recommendation as a client of mine has chosen to call them.
The Proposal is in essence the sales person on paper, and needs to be given the time and effort it deserves otherwise it can come across as hurried and as thin on substance as the paper it is printed on.
Here are a few guidelines on Proposal Writing.
First, the proposal must always be sent to the client as an attached document and never as part of an email’s main body. This is due to that nasty habit that email can have of reformatting what has been put into the email where the receiver ends up with something rather messy. By creating the document in Word/Pages for example you have something that cannot be easily corrupted. Finally whatever format you write it in, be sure to export the proposal to PDF and then send it. That way everyone can read it and your work cannot be altered.
Second, the email that the proposal is attached to becomes an electronic ‘compliment slip’. This allows you to use the space for any informality and rapport building comments. You can also refer to the document enclosed and when you will be following up with the buyer, it keeps things nice and clean and creates a more professional feel to your proposal. It is worth mentioning that the subject line of the email plays a vital role. If the client has requested that the sales person send through the proposal then the subject bar should read ‘Requested Information: Proposal from SerialTrainer7 28/3/2015” that way when the client receives it they can see what it is straight away. You can also add things like ‘Action Required’ or ‘Response Required’ to an email subject line therefore informing the client that something needs to be done as a result of receiving it. Under no circumstances put ‘requested information’ if it has not been.
OK so that gets the topline mechanics out of the way for the delivery of the proposal, now we need to look at the proposal itself. It needs to be treated as a professional document, after all a proposal is a ‘statement of intent’ so should be treated seriously.
A good place to start a proposal is often not at the start, but to put it together like a kit, you have differing sections and these should be created and then the whole thing put together.
Sales people traditionally, have been trained to solve the problem by finding out the need and then prescribing a solution. However as The Insight Sales suggests, connecting the pain of the buyer with the products of the seller imply that the client doesn’t really have a handle on why they have found themselves in the current situation or what to do differently. This prescriptive process is a bit like a patient going to a doctor with an ailment, not knowing what it is, and not knowing how to deal with it.
The sales proposal needs to work very hard and needs to connect buyers with not only their needs and problems, but also with their aspirations and goals, this approach will result in the client feeling collaborated with. The sales person is then, according the Insight Sale as Sales Winner! Including these elements adds a new richness to the proposal; so don’t just solve a problem.
Who do people like to talk about the most? Easy huh? Well it would follow that they like to read about themselves too. A good starting point is to create a summary of what the client’s goals, aspirations, needs and problems are with a view to confirming back to them, therefore reinforcing that they have been listened to. This will keep them reading. This first section needs to be bullet pointed with a sentence at the beginning reiterating when the initial conversation was had. E.g. Simon and John met on the 20th March 2015 and discussed the following issues.
The next section needs to reinforce not only how the seller can help the buyer, but why they can help. What are their credentials, what do the two parties have in common, what makes the seller valid and worthy of the buyer’s time? It only needs to be a paragraph and should be concise and to the point.
The recommendation is next, and this forms the nuts and bolts of the offering. There needs to be constant reference to real and relevant benefits which represent value to client. Bring the problems, aspirations, goals and solution together so that they work in synergy to help the client’s business. These need to be conclusive benefits that will start to forge a sense of dependency on the seller in the client’s mind. Especially if what is on offer is important, scarce or preferably non-substitutable. Only ever include offerings that solve the primary issues. This is not the place to add extras. Remember clients must have what they want, not what the sales person thinks is better.
The next section could be called Additional Value Considerations and it is here that a sales person can show creatively and add value that will support and make the initial offering work harder. Naturally there will be an uplift in cost on the client’s part, however if put across in the right way this can also become very desirable to the client.
The section on cost needs to be included as a separate thing. Here the sales person should attempt to offer packages of cost so that choice is created in the client’s mind. Clients love choice, it helps them to feel part of the decision making process and do not feel that they are being hard sold.
Moving Things Forward is the call to action. In this section there needs to be three mechanisms.
- A mention of the date and time (if possible) when the sales person will get back in touch with the client. Ideally 48hours, and no longer than 2 weeks.
- An expiry date. This is not boiler room sales tactics, yet it does inform the client how long the proposal or recommendation is valid for. Things change so much in business, and not just prices, so putting a ‘sell by’ date on the document will help to give it a life span and potentially create some urgency. As some sales are more of a slow burn, and if the client has been questioned effectively an average time space might be 3 months.
- Lastly it is important to include a booking mechanism so that upon reading the proposal the client could if they chose, book there and then. This might take the form of booking form, or signature confirmation; I use a letter of engagement with logistics and terms and conditions in place. Some sales people think this is pushy; it isn’t as it shortens the selling process and makes the buying process easier for the client. It is also a method of demonstrating the assumptive sale!
A couple of cosmetic points.
The aesthetic of the proposal is important; it should have the relevant branding in place both of the buyer and seller. It is also good to include imagery, perhaps of the product or the client’s products.
Sounds daft I know, but page numbers make a difference and bring a sense of formality and professionalism especially if the proposal is offering a more complex offering and is therefore quite lengthy. If it is this way, then sometimes a contents page or even overview/executive summary is worthwhile.
Bullet points, emboldened and underlined words and coloured text can also add something, but go easy, as Coco Chanel once said “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Apply this philosophy before hitting the send button!
A cover page goes a long way too, as this really makes the proposal feel like a product and not just a sheet of prices and quotes.
Testimonials are an essential consideration and inclusion and should be peppered throughout the proposal, most importantly at the beginning, at the end and also in the section covering costs as the testimonial can do the some of the selling for you.
Finally; and I cannot stress this enough, get someone to proof read and sense check your document before sending it to the client. I am no grammatical wizard and certainly no writer so often a quick fly past of someone else’s eyes can really pay dividends.
P.S. Yes the P.S. not a post script, but powerful statement, put one in that offers something extra, nothing to much, just an extra point in this case; for goodness sake keep things tight and succinct. Don’t waffle and make sure you include the essential information. Anything extra can dilute your message unless it is of true value.
Thank you so much for reading The Write Stuff – Sales Proposals. It forms part of the Sales Training Journey offered by SerialTrainer7. If you have sales people and you need to tighten up a bit on this essential process then I can help you. Get in touch with me Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07979 537824 for an informal chat.