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Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Informal proposal selling

 May 28, 2019
by Paul Heron

This month we’re focussing on informal proposals—those submitted after conversations with a prospect, but outside a formal RFP process.

An informal proposal saves the buyer the time and effort of creating an RFP and managing the evaluation process. Meanwhile, the seller avoids the risk of an open competition—and retains control over the format and contents of the offer submitted.

For these reasons, it makes sense to invest ahead of time in building a modular informal proposal template and adapting it to each new opportunity.

Make the informal proposal part of the sales call

To realize the full power of your informal proposal, use it to guide sales conversations. The idea, illustrated below, is to (1) be familiar with the pre-built content (V1), and then to use the discussion (2) to inform customization, while (2) shaping the prospect’s expectations of the proposal (V2) he or she will receive.

Review the template before the meeting

Spend a few minutes reviewing the modules in your template before the call during which you expect to ask permission to submit a proposal.

Review any notes from previous calls and identify gaps in the information needed to adapt the template for this prospect. Pay special attention to modules that require high customization(e.g. understanding of needs and hot button issues, solution detail, implementation schedule).

Shape the conversation around the proposal

You can expect your primary contact to advocate for your offer generally—but not to address issues it doesn’t cover. For this reason, aim to leave the meeting fully able to adapt your template into a proposal that will create confidence in both your team and solution.

Once your prospect agrees to a proposal, state you want him or her to be completely comfortable sharing it with colleagues and decision makers. Ask if you can take a few minutes to make sure it addresses any questions others may have.

On this basis, you can say something like, “The proposal will address your requirements and issues, describe our solution and proposed timeline and provide information on our company and team. I just want to ensure we answer any other items you and your colleagues might have.” Then use your knowledge of the prospect and project to probe for gaps in your template.

Ask for input on optional modules

Depending on the situation, this may be a good time to get feedback on whether to include modules you consider optional. For example:

  • “For some clients we include a section on project risks and our mitigation approach. Is that something your team would find helpful?”
  • “If you are considering other options, we could include a pros and cons table comparing our solution with others. Would that make your job easier?”
  • “Should we include our standard terms and conditions—or will we do that as part of contracting?”

After confirming your prospect is comfortable with everything discussed, mention the number of pages you plan to submit and check that length is acceptable.

Worth the work

If this plan seems like a lot of work, consider your options. You can submit boilerplate proposals likely to lead to RFPs or invest in a fully customized proposal for each opportunity.

A modular template with one or more calls to guide customization is a more effective path to success.



Need help improving your proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Informal proposal content

 May 21, 2019
by Paul Heron

We've focussed this month on informal proposals—those 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.

Next week: Managing sales conversations around informal proposals


Need help writing high quality informal proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Informal proposal modules

 May 14, 2019
by Paul Heron

Last week we identified ideal situations for informal proposals and argued for pre-building content to enable fast responses without sacrificing quality. This week and next we'll show you how to approach pre-building content.

The payoff for following this model can be huge. Using prebuilt sections, one of our clients now spends just two or three hours to create proposals that used to take 15 hours or more. They now submit proposals within a few days instead of a few weeks—and the proposals themselves are winning more business.

Brainstorm the modules you’ll need

Start by considering the types of questions your proposal needs to answer. One way to do this is to analyze the three buyer types: the economic buyer, technical buyers, and user buyers, and the main concerns for each. Another approach is to analyse past RFPs for similar needs to find common section themes. 

Remember that the idea is to anticipate and address issues the prospect team might raise when reviewing your proposal. This proactivity relieves your primary contact of need to either defend your proposal, or come back to you for additional information. Removing barriers to a go-ahead decision is the aim.

The table below lists potential modules, recommended contents, and the selling purpose for each. Next week, we'll look at how to create and standardize these modules. For now, just think about which of these might make sense for your prospects—and additional modules you might need.

Introduction / understanding Shows you understand and are client-focussed. Connects your solution to the prospect's strategic goals and current challenges
High-level solution Enables the prospect to easily grasp your solution and its key benefits
Solution detail Shows evaluators you have a logical process that leads to the desired result
Your credentials Demonstrates you have the relevant experience and past performance to succeed
Checklist Shows that your solution meets all technical requirements and addresses the key strategic drivers and issues
Schedule Proves you have considered the steps required and have a plan for on-time implementation
Comparison table* Makes trade-offs explicit and positions your solution against possible options (including in-sourcing). See this post on trade-offs and ghosting
Risk table* Demonstrates your expertise at identifying and managing project risks
Team and qualifications Shows you understand the required tasks and skills needed and have filled all roles with qualified and experienced people
Price and breakdown Shows your price is realistic, reasonable, minimizes risk and represents the best trade-offs to address the prospect’s needs and issues.
Closing Includes a promise to reconnect by a specific date so you retain responsibility and timing for initiating next steps
Terms and Conditions* Provides clarity around contract expectations
Acceptance* Makes it easy to say "Yes"

*These items are optional, depending on the industry and offering

More is better

The aim of this work is to identify and develop enough modules to address 95 percent of the sections you're likely to need after promising to deliver an informal proposal. Think about how you sell and err on the side of more, rather than fewer, potential modules to reduce the need to write sections from scratch for a new proposal.

We use this approach internally at Complex2Clear, and we call the result our "kitchen sink proposal"—because it includes everything and the kitchen sink. Of course, no proposal we submit ever contains all modules.


Next week: Creating and adapting module content


Need help writing high quality informal proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Informal proposal basics

 May 7, 2019
by Paul Heron

Government agencies and most large companies require RFPs for all large purchases. But for all others, an informal proposal can avoid the time, effort and expense of developing an RFP and managing the evaluation and decision process.

Factors favouring an informal proposal include:

  • Existing relationship: Current clients are more likely to waive the need for a formal RFP—especially if they are satisfied and the requirement is well understood by both parties.
  • Strong value proposition: A strong ROI or cost savings compared to the current contract may be enough to avoid an RFP.
  • Time pressure: RFPs take time—and even well-organized RFPs seldom run on schedule. If the need is pressing, buyers can often find ways around procurement rules.
  • Disruptive technology: New-to-the market technology is a logical candidate for an informal proposal. In fact, it may be the only way to sell, since the solution may not comply with RFPs built around known approaches.

Never a sure thing

An invitation to submit an informal proposal is not an automatic sale. Many such opportunities have slipped away because a weak or incomplete informal proposal raised concerns that prompted the prospect to keep looking—or to take the less risky option of a formal RFP.

For that reason, devote the same attention to responsiveness and positioning as you would for a formal RFP response. Begin by learning. 

Learn as much as you can

Think beyond the key contact to consider other likely decision makers. Enlist your contact's help in learning as much as you can about the following and their issues:

  • Economic buyer—the individual who will focus on strategic fit and value for money, and who will make the final decision
  • Technical buyers—gatekeepers who will assess your offer against functional requirements, and advise on contracting and other risks 
  • User buyers—those whose daily work lives your solution will impact most

Instead of relying on your contact to advocate for you with each of these buyer types, anticipate and address their questions in your proposal.

Be sure to understand what size proposal is expected. You may hear “simple” and think 5 pages; you prospect may be thinking 25.

Prepare content in advance

Time is often an issue when a prospect invites an informal proposal. Even when there’s no rush, submit as soon as possible to forestall competing offers or a change of heart by your prospect.

To respond quickly without sacrificing quality, pre-build your proposal, and then tailor it to suit each opportunity.

In the coming weeks we’ll show you how to do this.

Remember the prize

If these ideas sound like a lot of effort, remember: The work it takes to build strong informal proposals is well worth a sale without the far more labour-intensive (and riskier) process of responding to a competitive RFP. Also, once built, much of the content in an informal proposal can be reused.

Next week: Informal proposal contents


Need help with your informal proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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