TR AINING FILE
Interested in closing more new business? Have you considered
improvements in your proposal process? It might be time to take a
fresh look at how you develop and present this essential document.
BY L IS A RH AT I G A N
TANDARDIZE THE process. prospect’s business as you can before responding. This gath-
ering of information occurs through a process called needs
There are several benefits to standardizing assessment. It will help you to identify a prospect’s current
the proposal development process. It: situation, and identify opportunities that respond to their
• Reduces uncertainty over who should
write proposals, how long it should take A face-to-face meeting is preferred. If that isn’t an option,
and how to maintain quality. have a conference call, email exchange or attend the bidders’
• Allows for better process management and increases meeting. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to
internal efficiencies. research the company and prepare a list of high-gain ques-
• Helps ensure consistent quality. tions beforehand.
• Consistent language builds brand and image for your
firm. High-Gain Questions are always open ended and structured
to create dialog. By phrasing your questions in high-gain
As you can see in the flow chart opposite, proposals can, and manner we avoid short, one-word answers that don’t produce
should, move through a systematic process. While not every the conversation we are trying to initiate. By gaining valu-
proposal will follow exactly the same process, there are some able information through conversation, you’ll eventually be
basic steps you should always consider: able to offer solutions that fit the prospect’s needs.
Needs Assessment: Many times you receive an RFP or
other type of letter requesting quotes. In these cases, there Not High-Gain (Yes or No answers):
has been no direct conversation and additional steps are “Do you receive your monthly financials in a timely man-
required for a needs assessment, one of your initial phases in ner?”
any sales cycle.
High-Gain (Open Ended): “What kinds of decisions do you
After receiving an RFP, you need to learn as much about the make using your monthly financials?”
8 Professional Marketing www.PMForumNA.org September 2005
Proposal flow chart
Define the Current Situation: Use information from the
needs assessment to define the current situation. It should be Follow-up, Work the Sales Cycle: It’s important to control
unique to each proposal and cover specific areas of help the next steps. Contact the prospect in advance of the deci-
needed, desired outcomes and important service attributes. sion date to see if they have any additional questions.
Develop the First Draft: Either the firm’s marketing depart- Developing an effective proposal is not as easy as it seems.
ment or the team assigned to the prospect can complete the Reviewing your proposal process and actual proposals can
proposal from this stage. The structure should be set up as help identify ways to increase efficiency and make your pro-
follows: posals more inviting. Consider these tips:
• Current Situation
• Proposed Approach Personalize it: I have seen too many proposals that have a
• Benefits derived from approach cookie-cutter introduction with the prospect’s name just
• Business case for taking action (if necessary) dropped in. Prospects are looking for someone they can trust
• Why hire your firm who cares about their company. Begin with a summary of
• Fees/Arrangements their current situation and explain what you know about the
• Acceptance company. Focus on the prospect, not on your firm.
What do they really need? Using a needs assessment as the
Review: Appropriate team members should review the first foundation of the proposal allows you to develop copy tai-
draft internally. Next, review the first draft outline with the lored to your firm’s strengths while still focusing on the
prospect or client if possible to ensure you have accurately prospect’s needs. The difference between delivering a bene-
reflected their needs. Incorporate changes and prepare the fit-driven proposal, rather than a feature-oriented proposal
final draft with fees. can make a big impact in the eyes of the reader.
Submitting the Proposal: Present the proposal in person Don’t reinvent the wheel: Develop copy blocks for stan-
whenever possible. dard parts of your proposal ahead of time that you can drop
September 2005 www.PMForumNA.org Professional Marketing 9
into proposals. Create urgency: It’s important to understand how the
prospect moves toward making a decision. Use the proposal
Give them what they want right away: If your prospect is to explain the benefits and provide a business case for taking
looking for audit and tax work, don’t spend five pages of the action. By pointing out the opportunities and threats (“If you
proposal explaining succession planning and cost segrega- do not do this you will pay more in taxes than required”) you
create urgency and make the prospect move to a decision
I have seen too more quickly.
many proposals that
Make it easy to accept: Make it as easy as possible for the
have a cookie-cutter prospect to sign on with your firm. Provide a clear place for
introduction with them to sign the proposal and a way to return it. Something
as simple as a “Fees and Acceptance” portion of the proposal
the prospect’s name allows the prospect an easy way to sign and send while the
just dropped in. commitment is fresh in their mind.
You can increase your firm’s proposal win-rate. Creating a
standardized proposal process can save time and positively
tion. Providing too much information will only confuse the influence how potential clients perceive your company.
reader and make it harder for them to determine how you Proposals are essential aspects of winning new business –
will help them with their immediate needs. Stick to what and a window for the prospect to see how your firm operates.
you are proposing to do – and what it will cost. Know what image you want to portray.
Lisa Rhatigan is the Vice President of The Whetstone Group, Inc. The Whetstone Group helps professional service firms
develop and implement effective growth plans. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit