Are Your Proposals Losing New Business?

Jacob Brain


Are you suffering from a low close rate on your proposals? Have you considered that your proposal, when held up to your competitors’ proposals, is losing your bid?

Here’s how to create a killer proposal.

Proposals are clearly one of those things that tend to get very little attention once we’ve created the first draft. The work that goes into the copy, content, and design is like the work that goes into writing a novel; we tend to want to change very little of what’s been working to this point.

That’s until what worked doesn’t work any more.

I estimate that a company should do at least an annual proposal review to make sure they are adjusting and staying on top of the competition. In addition, we should be striving to do our very best on our proposal package to make sure it stands out and presents our company well.

How do we do that? Here are some steps and thoughts to help you along the way.

Quote vs. Proposal

First, let’s start with a big mindset issue: a proposal is different than a quote. A quote is a pricing mechanism to help ship product in quantity to others. Quotes are for assets; proposals, in my mind, are for services. That does not mean that what we talk about here can’t be used for quotes, too, but I’m focusing on proposals.

The problem is that some proposals are attempting to be quotes. They offer very detailed itemized lists and services to be rendered. They become Magna-Carta-size documents of details around the services one firm will do for another, yet they never step back and discuss purpose.

The purpose of the proposal is to position your firm as the best choice. If you believe that pricing isn’t everything, then you are in the right camp. But if you believe that, why does your proposal focus on the price tag?

Now, I hear you all balk at that comment: “Of course you need pricing.” “We’ve got to be transparent.”

Both of these are true, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily deserve the weight they’re often given.

I’ll let you know right now, I was with you – until I invested in process and proposal crafting. Now, I have one line that discusses price. Yes, I have one number in my proposal. The point of that is to tell you it is possible to be more focused on value than on price.

As we focus on value, it’s your job in the proposal process to review, pitch and sell value to your prospect.

I guarantee that the value you present to your prospect can’t be expressed in digits. It’s far more nuanced and valuable – and it’s intangible in many cases. So why do we try to take that value and put it on a invoice?

Proposal Structure Has Meaning

We’ve all received an RFP that told us exactly what they thought we wanted to hear. That works about as well in services as it would work in marriage. So why do we submit to that type of ignorant behavior?

RFPs exist to help mitigate risk and blend differences from firm to firm. That is why we don’t do them* – they are taking the legs out on your very value, your position.

Back to the point: RFPs dictate how you are to be presented. Have you put that kind of thought into how you want to be presented to your clients?

How do you express your value to your customers?

I’d recommend thinking about what value you have. If you are a consultant, your personal experience and expertise is far more valuable than detailing every possible logistic surrounding what a consulting gig would look like. Could you do 5 pages on you, and one page on your service, pricing and terms?

That’s how it should look if you’re focused on communicating value in your proposal more than you’re focused on communicating price.

The point is this – the structure and focus of your proposal will express how you view yourself and your firm’s value. If you slap on a company bio and then rush into itemized pricing, you’re presenting yourself as a vendor and you’re seen as one of the flock of competitors out there. If you take the time to express your value, it will yield much more value.

Proposal Design Matters

So now that we have the big picture in place with structure, we need to talk about design. Word is not a design tool. Yet most proposals are created in there – and it’s because not everyone knows all the design programs.

Search for compromise. Can you have some professional design done on your most important areas that never change? Can you create templates in Word that keep most of your design in place?

You can also look at services like Proposify and Pandadoc that make your proposal templates online and give you some design control.

Once you have the details of the content and structure in place, have a professional design it. They can bring brand, image, and meaning to your words. They can add some feeling.

This serves to help set you apart. You can’t imagine some of the proposals I’ve seen that are 12pt font, no spaces, no color. Now imagine that next to a full-color, image-based proposal with a professional design. It’s not even a contest. If the pricing is even 10% higher, they are going with the designed proposal every time. I’ve been in the conversation, and it’s opened my eyes.

The Complete Package

As you roll all of these thoughts together, the big concept is to create a memorable, differentiating proposal that clearly defines your value against the competition.

It should serve as a complete package for anyone looking to engage in your services. Have you ever had a sales person or internal staff hand you a proposal to review? You’ve never talked to the sales rep, you’ve never attended the meetings, and now you’re making a decision based solely on what is in front of you. This is why the proposal needs to be a complete package.

It’s marketing, sales, and vision all in one document.

There’s a tendency to try to limit content to avoid being repetitive. But being repetitive is exactly what you need to do. Repetition gives birth to consistency and trust. Having a full proposal that reviews everything you’ve talked about previously is a great way to build that consistency and trust.

Ask yourself this question: can someone make a good decision to buy from your proposal? If not, go to work.

Don’t Let Your Proposals Cost You New Business.

There you have it. Follow this plan and get a real path toward proposal and closing success. There is so much more to closing, but this will get you a good start. If you are interested in talking more about your sales funnel and how to boost your conversion, let’s talk.

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