Business-to-business firms constantly struggle with time to sale, whether it's putting together a proposal or estimate quickly, or just getting to close. The average complex high dollar sale can take 12 months to close, so after a prospect is interested why make the proposal take any longer.
Your proposal process is costly, it's time invested that you can't get back. I've combined my mentors advice from 1996 with advice from other mentors for these tips for getting more proposal out while saving time:
Have a proposal system in place early. Every sales person will create proposals the same way, from the same tested templates, using the same information. Your system will outline how to put together a proposal.
Have support staff trained in proposal setup. Because you have a system for producing proposals, you also have staff trained to support your efforts. Anything outside your core expertise (i.e. secretarial overhead) will be turned around quickly when it's a priority of staff.
Use a proposal outline covering common areas. So you don't forget anything, develop checklists and outlines to walk you through your proposal. Make a proposal step by step, even if each proposal seems custom tailored.
Create templates around core service offerings. The more you provide a certain solution, the less overhead it takes to bid it out. Package up proposals into products, find ways to reuse existing proposals by pursuing common leads. Make templates.
Place pricing in separate appendix or letter. Along the lines of reusing proposal content, move all tailored details to appendixes. The government contracting world has done a great job here. In many cases you can take a common proposal, tune the deliverable table and pricing, then be ready for presentation.
Provides sales people with project worksheets. In the discovery stage of your selling process, gather information necessary (including buying desires) to shorten research time for proposal development. Use these worksheets as selling tools to gather current loses and value of work to be done.
Survey customers for key service areas. You can get your customer to write your proposal for you by telling you exactly what they expect to receive. This is different than an RFP because it's presented in marketing, you can even gather this information over time in lead generation.
Provide consultative inspections and checklists. Help prospects know you are the provider of choice by being invited to look for common problems they face. This could be equipment inspections or efficiency audits, but it gets you in front of decision makers while providing details for your offering.
Focus on offers and results rather than process. Unless process is required for compliance, you don't need to detail it in the proposal. Instead start with what the customer gets in each phase, then time and materials, followed by a reference to your rates.
Design proposals in manageable parts. Larger proposals need broken down into either project phases, labor areas, or any other logical grouping whereby a prospect can read it in parts. In development, divide up these parts to specialists to move forward quickly.
Maintain a library of past proposals. Save time by reusing proposal parts across same types of jobs, have templates per part, and catalog winning proposals. The more reference materials you have available, the faster you can get started.
Obtain the proposals of your competitors and vendors. You don't have to steal them, but get your hands on other peoples winning proposals to find ideas that making presentation more appealing. Most often you can get these through open bid processes for state and local governments.
Find new customers for existing proposals. For everything you've bid on marketing can find 5 more prospects with a matched need. If you've already won the contract, doing the same work for a few more companies reduces your overall costs of acquisition.
Keep proposals short and focused. Remember, someone has to read through the proposal before they can make a decision. If your proposal is a burden to process, they may just skip it for someone else.
Make proposals decision making tools. Your proposal will share the reasons why and benefits of every step you'll take. It describes the project, but also tells why they benefit from this approach.
Write for multiple audiences. You can have pull out sections for technical staff, decision making tools for buyers, and specifications charts for purchasing. Each section talks in the language and to the needs of each department.
Present the draft for review and tailoring. Use a draft proposal to see if you are on the right track, talk with the buyer to make sure you address their every need. This step helps establish relationship value while showing you care about their results.
Prepare written and oral presentations. Be prepared to present at a moments notice, have excerpts available for conversations, and be on target to close. The more you know your proposals, the faster that same team can put together the next one.
Stay away from sealed bids when you haven't had the communications. You don't want your proposal to be the only decision making tool your buyer has, it's too much of a burden. Try to do business with people who know you, want you, and select you even before the proposal.
Always provide a fair price, never low ball. You've got to make money or break even on every contract. Sell value in your proposal, the price will be the last thing prospects read. Write to show buyers that no matter the price, what you provide is excellent value.
Ideally you'll use relationship selling to avoid the proposal process all together, or instead use it as a formality for project management. But if you have to write proposals, use these tips to save time which you can reinvest into selling.
Whether you write huge complex proposals or a few pages, you can improve your speed and results if you know how. Every proposal matters, you may not get a second chance to close the sale, use these strategies to turn them around quickly and accurately.