Informal proposal content

Informal proposals arethose delivered after you’ve had sales discussions with a prospect, but outside a formal bid process. A successful informal proposal does two things:

  • Arrives quickly, while the opportunity is still warm; and
  • Anticipates and addresses the prospect’s key needs and issues.

Earlier posts covered informal proposal basics and ideas for informal proposal modules. This week we’ll explore how to build content you can tweak to fit each specific prospect and situation.

Minimizing customization time

The challenge in pre-building proposal modules is making them easy to adapt while avoiding the appearance of boilerplate. Localization and structure are powerful tools for this purpose.

  • Localization refers to organizing a module’s content, so the client situation and needs are contained in one or two places. Company profiles, team member resumes and project sheets are examples of good candidates for localization.
  • Structure refers to organizing content in a format (usually a table) to speed content creation. Using an Excel matrix to present an implementation schedule is a familiar example.

Localization and structure are not mutually exclusive. Resumes and project sheets are excellent candidates for combining these tools.

The table below shows the modules suggested in last week’s post with tips on drafting and customizing. The right column indicates relative effort/time needed to customize each module, based on our experience.

Introduction / understanding Heading: Our understanding of your needs. Use an intro sentence or two to frame the situation e.g. “XYX Co. requires a solution that satisfies the following requirements”, followed by 5-8 bullet points identifying a combination of pain points and needed solution features. Start with the pain points, followed by the features. These come directly from your call notes. Close with a promise that your solution will address the prospect’s need. HIGH
High-level solution Heading: Key Recommendations. Outline your general approach in 3-5 very short bullet points. Effort will depend on range of solutions offered LOW
Solution detail Heading: Proposed Solution. Use a 3-column table list 1) name of a process step, 2) actions you will perform, and 3) the outcome and benefit. Stay high level, describing the solution in 8 or fewer steps and using 1-3 bullet points to describe each step. If your process is highly standardized, this table will not require customization for each client. MED
Your credentials Heading: About our company. Introduce with a short paragraph affirming that your experience is a good fit for the prospect’s requirements. Use standard content to describe your company. Focus on your project experience and the results achieved. Use facts, not empty claims. Keep this section brief. LOW
Checklist Heading: XYZ Co will satisfy all its objectives with our solution. Use a standardized table format to cite the prospect’s needs and issues and specifically how your solution satisfies each item. MED
Schedule Heading: Well-planned implementation schedule. Use a standardized Excel Gantt chart to provide a high-level implementation schedule (5-8 milestones). Mirror the solution steps above. LOW
Comparison table Heading: Compare our solution against others. Use a table with columns for alternative solutions (technologies or vendor characteristics) and rows for criteria that matter to the prospect, such as technical features, cost, risk, time to implement, etc. Rate each solution against each criterion using check marks or a numerical value. Limit the number of rows to 6 or fewer. Create a standard table and brainstorm all possible rows, and then delete least applicable rows for each proposal. Do not call out other vendors by name. LOW
Risk table Heading: All risks are expertly managed. Use a table and this post on risk analysis to explain how your team will manage risks associated with the project. Build a standard table of risks common to your business and reuse as required. LOW
Team and qualifications Heading: Well qualified and dedicated team. Identify key team members and their experience in their project roles. Use facts and client testimonials to showcase your experience and past performance on similar projects. Degree of standardization possible will depend on your business. LOW/
Price Heading: Investment and terms. Present your price and terms. Break down price by work completed and/or value created. Include any added value components that may be missing from alternative solutions. Cite the milestones for progress payments. LOW
Closing Close your proposal with a standard paragraph acknowledging the importance of this project to your prospect promising to contact your contact within one week to discuss next steps. LOW
Terms and Conditions Heading: Terms and conditions. Get legal advice to develop a standard section, using plain language and a limit of two pages if possible. Make this an appendix. LOW
Acceptance Heading: Acceptance. Use standard language to make it easy for the prospect to acknowledge that he or she has the authority to bind the prospect company, and formally accepts your proposal LOW
Resumes / Project sheets See this post for how to create standardized team resumes and project sheets. LOW

Evolve and polish your modules

As you encounter prospects with new issues, update your proposal sections and add new candidate sections. In time, you will become much faster at drafting custom sections, because you are using a structured approach in many cases.

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