If you’ve ever been in a sales or marketing position, or if you’ve ever been an entrepreneur, you know what it’s like to lose a bid. You put hours of work into a sales proposal, including everything you’d want (if you were in the buyer’s shoes), and you still came up short of the win. Was it because you forgot to include something? Did a competitor undercut you on price? These questions are hard to answer, and can be maddening for those new to the industry.
It’s rare that one factor makes or breaks a proposal. For example, if you’re high on price, you can make up for it by showcasing your value, or if you don’t have a lot of experience, you can make up for it by offering additional benefits or a guarantee. Some buyers may even make decisions based on a gut feeling or preexisting relationship, which is totally beyond your control.
For now, let’s focus on the factors you can control. There are certain elements that every proposal needs if it’s going to stand a chance of winning, and you have the power to include them in every quote you send.
1. An aesthetically pleasing format.
First impressions are critically important, and the first thing people are going to notice about your proposal is its aesthetic value. This is somewhat subjective, but you don’t need to get fancy here. Properly aligned boxes, a unique (but legible) font, colors that match your brand, and ample white space are all fundamentals that can help your proposal be better received immediately. Consistency is also important here—don’t jump back and forth between styles.
2. A strong, concise opening.
Your opening—whether that’s a cover letter, a headline, or a statement of work—needs to be powerful. It’s going to be the first thing your buyer reads, finalizing their first impressions, and what they refer back to when they need a summary or reminder of your proposal. Make it as compelling as possible, avoiding buzzwords or jargon, and keep it concise. Spend some time polishing this.
3. A detailed scope of work.
Don’t just list your products; explain what they are, why they’re important, and what value they hold. Don’t just list your services; explain how you’re going to approach this specific client and propose a timeline for completion. Be as detailed as possible in your scope of work, highlighting exactly what your company plans to do and leaving no room for miscommunication or subjective interpretation. It shows you’ve thought far ahead (and reduces the potential for disagreements later on, assuming you win the bid).
4. A unique value proposition.
Assume you’re going up against several competitors who are offering nearly identical products and services for a nearly identical price structure. Why are you any different? Don’t go for obvious, generic choices like “we’ll work really hard” or “our products are top-of-the-line.” Be specific about what truly sets you apart from the competition—any differentiating factor here can be good.
5. A personal view.
While your proposal exists as a message from one company to another, ultimately your proposal is going to be read and considered by people. Accordingly, a personal appeal is necessary to help you close the deal. Introduce some of the most important members of your team (especially your account manager or customer service rep), and explain who they are, what their experience is, and how they’re going to make this deal favorable for the buyer. A little personality goes a long way.
6. References or testimonials.
You probably talk a big game and clearly explain why your business is a good one—but everybody does. If you want to stand out, include third party reviews, references, and testimonials that objectively highlight your abilities and past performance record. If you’re relatively new, this could be hard to find, so favor quality over quantity here.
7. Itemized, detailed pricing.
What you charge in a proposal doesn’t matter quite as much as your justification for charging it. For example, if you’re proposing a new web design and your pricing page is simply the number $10,000, you won’t attract nearly as much favor as a page that breaks down the phases of work, estimated hours to be spent, and individual services rendered, eventually totaling $10,000. Explain why you’re charging what you’re charging, and break out every line item you can.
8. A return on investment statement.
Proposals are about more than just an item and a cost. They’re about why an item, at a certain cost, is beneficial to the buyer. If the buyer goes through with this deal, how will they ultimately benefit? How are they going to make money, save money, or reduce risk by following through with this deal? Consider this a return on investment (ROI) statement, and include one as a follow-up to every pricing page you create.
9. A call for next steps.
Let’s say your buyer is interested in moving forward. What happens next? Your proposal should clearly articulate the next steps of the process, including whether you need more details, how soon you could be ready to begin work, and how to contact you when the buyer is ready to make a decision. It’s also a good idea to have a formalized plan or timetable (though you might have already included this in your scope of work section).
10. A thank you.
We live in an advanced age, but simple etiquette is still important. Be sure to include a dedicated thank you page with all your proposals, thanking your prospective buyer for the opportunity and their time in reviewing your bid. It could make the difference.
You owe it to yourself—and your business—to include these elements in every proposal you send. To make things easier, consider adopting a CPQ (Configure Price Quote) software platform—it will help you ensure the consistency, proper formatting, aesthetic value, and accuracy of all your quotes (no matter who’s doing the creating). If you’re interested in learning more, iQuoteXpress is currently offering a free demo of its CPQ software—sign up and find out how it can help you win more bids.