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How to Write Winning Proposals. Using the science of persuasion to win more business. When The Economy Slows Down, Selling Becomes More Difficult. People pull back from completing “transactions” But they are eager to find solutions Selling solutions requires: broad business perspective

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How to Write Winning Proposals

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How to write winning proposals

How to Write Winning Proposals

Using the science of persuasion to win more business

When the economy slows down selling becomes more difficult

When The Economy Slows Down, Selling Becomes More Difficult

People pull back from completing “transactions”

But they are eager to find solutions

Selling solutions requires:

  • broad business perspective

  • alignment with the customer's


  • an ability to demonstrate value that

    matters to the customer

Why do solution oriented proposals and presentations fail

Why Do Solution-oriented Proposals and Presentations Fail?

Because they are NOT…

  • Customer centered

    • Sales people resort to “clone and go” proposals

    • Boilerplate, “checkbox” proposals

    • Focus on the vendor or the product

  • Value based

    • No value proposal

    • No differentiation

  • Decision oriented

    • Wrong structure

    • Wrong emphasis



  • Assumptions and observations

    • What makes for a good proposal?

    • The seven worst mistakes you can make

  • Four principles to improve your win ratio

    • Persuasive structure

    • Customer-centered persuasion

    • Value proposal

    • Personalize the message

  • Summary

Assumptions and observations

Assumptions and Observations

What’s a proposal?

And why are they usually so bad?

The function of sales proposals

The Function Of Sales Proposals

  • A proposal is NOT:

    • A price quote

    • A bill of materials

    • A technical specification

    • Your company overview or history

A proposal is a sales document

What is a good one

What is a Good One?

  • Evidence that you understand the customer’s problems, needs, issues

  • A recommendation for a specific solution

  • Evidence of the ability to deliver on time and on budget

  • A compelling reason to choose your recommendations over any others


Why do these elements matter the most

Why Do These Elements Matter the Most?

  • Because evaluators are looking for three general criteria:

    • Responsiveness: Am I getting what I need?

    • Competence: Can they really do it?

    • Rate of return: Does the pricing represent good value?

The bad news most people hate writing proposals

The Bad News:Most People Hate Writing Proposals

So they start looking for escape routes…

and it shows!

Escape route 1

Escape Route #1

Cloning previous proposals

Escape route 2

Escape Route #2:

“Data Dumps” or “More is Better”

Escape route 3

Escape Route #3:

Talking about what we know and love best

Common writing errors that can destroy your proposal

Common Writing Errors…That Can Destroy Your Proposal

  • Failure to focus on the customer’s business problems and payoffs

  • No persuasive structure

  • No clear differentiation

  • Failure to offer a compelling value proposal

  • Key points are buried—no highlights, no impact

  • Difficult to read—full of jargon, too long, too technical

  • Credibility killers—misspellings, grammar errors, wrong customer name, inconsistent formats, etc.

Four principles

Four Principles

Using best practices to create proposals that win more frequently

Doctor doctor give me the cures

Doctor, Doctor Give Me the Cures!

  • Use persuasive structure

  • Create customer-centered proposals

  • Focus on the decision maker’s hot buttons

  • Write to the audience

  • Automate

Principle 1

Principle #1

Build your proposals on persuasive structure

How do people make decisions

How Do People Make Decisions?

The modern assumption

  • Decision making is a rational process

  • Involves systematic weighing of the evidence

  • Franklin’s “moral algebra”

The problem nobody does it that way

The Problem: Nobody Does It That Way

Making decisions in the real world

  • Complex

  • Confusing

  • Huge amounts of information

  • Conflicting evidence

  • Tremendous time pressure

How people actually make decisions

How People Actually Make Decisions

The process

  • Quick

  • Using the least amount of evidence possible

  • Seemingly impulsive or irrational, to an outside observer

How quickly do people decide

How Quickly Do People Decide?


How long does it take, on average, for a person to decide if a proposal is worth looking at in detail?

  • Less than 5 minutes

  • Between 10 and 15 minutes

  • About half an hour

Factors of choice

Factors of Choice

  • Recognition

    • Recognition is assumed to be a positive value

  • Single factor decision making

    • Use any criterion and select first options it fits

    • Use the last criterion that worked when making a similar decision

    • Use the criterion that has produced the best results in previous circumstances

  • Estimation

    • Estimate the probable rate of return and choose the option giving the best ROI

What are the implications

What Are the Implications?

  • Persuasion is a process, not an event

    • Continuous messaging is more effective than isolated documents

    • Importance of branding, advertising, repetitive contacts

  • Structure is more important than style

    • Using the right cognitive structure will produce the right results

    • Put the important point up front

  • Show compliance with the customer’s requirements and values

    • This will facilitate selection when it’s “take the best”

  • Demonstrate a high rate of return

    • With no value proposal, there may be no persuasion

The key to persuasive structure

The Key to Persuasive Structure

  • Needs: Demonstrate an understanding of the customer’s key business needs or issues

  • Outcomes: Identify meaningful outcomes or results from meeting those needs

  • Solution: Recommend a specific solution

  • Evidence: Build credibility by providing substantiating details

The trust equation

The Trust Equation

Trust = Rapport x Credibility


What should you work on first

What Should You Work on First?


Of the three elements of trust, which one should you focus on first?

  • Rapport

  • Credibility

  • Risk

Principle 2

Principle #2

Create customer-centered proposals

Proposals should be customer centered not self centered

Proposals Should Be Customer-centered, Not Self-centered

  • Self-Centered

  • Focuses on products, technology, etc.

  • Presents information in reaction to a request

  • Short-term focus

  • Vendor/buyer orientation

  • Builds on profit margin

  • No controlling strategy; line-item selling

  • Customer-Centered

  • Focuses on customer’s needs

  • Presents solutions to business problems

  • Looks toward long-term relationships

  • Partnership orientation

  • Analyzes payback, ROI, impact on business

  • Integrates value-added offerings into strategy

Seven questions to keep you customer centered

Seven Questions to Keep You Customer-centered

  • What is the customer’s problem, need, or opportunity?

  • Why is this problem a problem?

  • What outcomes or results do they want?

  • Which results have the highest priority?

  • What solutions can we offer?

  • What result will each solution produce?

  • Which solution is best?

The best place to use your customer centered insights

The Best Place to Use Your Customer-Centered Insights

  • The Cover Letter

  • The Title Page

  • The Executive Summary

  • Case Studies

Effective cover letters

Effective Cover Letters

  • Make them persuasive and brief

  • Highlight key points from the proposal

    • The customer’s most important need or issue

    • The solution in extremely high level

    • A couple of key competitive advantages

  • Ask for the business

    • Avoid closing with “If you have any questions, please feel free to call”.

The title page say something meaningful

The Title Page:Say Something Meaningful

  • State a benefit to the customer in your main title

  • Use an action verb

  • Put the decision maker’s name on the title page

  • Avoid letting your logo dominate the title page

Which one would you read first



Norms Distribution

Opening New Markets Through Remanufactured Parts

Presented to:

Norm Weathersby

Vice President, Sales

Norm’s Distribution, Inc.

Presented by:

Ivan Smith, CEO

The Smith Group

May 2002

Which One Would You Read First?

Proposal titles

Proposal Titles


What is the most frequently used title for proposals in the English-speaking world?

The executive summary keep it brief and relevant

The Executive Summary:Keep It Brief and Relevant

  • Write simply and clearly

    • Readability should be easy

  • Focus on bottom-line issues and outcomes

    • Unless the buyer is strictly technical

  • Keep it short

    • Two pages is plenty for most proposals

Effective case studies

Effective Case Studies


  • Keep them short

  • Use the PAR format

    • Problem

      • Business problems, not software requirements

    • Action

      • Focus on your unique delivery process

    • Results

      • Quantify results if possible

Principle 3

Principle #3

Focus on the decision maker’s hot buttons

Fact if you don t show value winning is a game of chance

FACT: If You Don’t Show Value, Winning Is a Game of Chance

You must establish superior value based on technical, contractual, managerial, quality, or service differentiators.

Otherwise the customer will choose based on price or maintaining the status quo.

Maintaining the status quo

Maintaining the Status Quo


How frequently do current vendors win on re-bids?

  • 50%

  • 66%

  • 75%

  • 90%

Showing value is always important but sometimes it s really important

Showing Value Is Always Important,but Sometimes It’s REALLY Important

Your value superiority must be greater when-

  • You are displacing an accepted incumbent

    • Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t

  • You are changing a process

    • People resist changing the way they earn their living

  • You are relocating control of a valuable process or asset

    • Control = power, prestige, and job security

  • Doing nothing is a viable alternative

    • Inactivity and passiveness sometimes seem safer than taking action

Value improving performance or eliminating pain where it matters

Value: Improving Performance or Eliminating Pain Where It Matters

  • Financial gain

    • lowest price, highest total value, lowest total cost of ownership

  • Quality

    • maintainability, ease of use, fewest problems/rejects

  • Infrastructure improvement

    • most flexible, most advanced, most open solution automating a labor-intensive step

  • Industry trends

    • keeping up with market leaders

  • Minimizing risk

    • financial stability, solid management plan, relevant experience, high ethical standards

  • Competitive advantage

    • simultaneous improvements across the organization

Creating the value proposal

Creating the Value Proposal

Four basic principles

  • The payback measurements must be customer-focused

  • The presentation of payback is more persuasive if it’s quantified

  • The value proposal is more likely to be noticed and remembered if it’s graphical

  • To bullet-proof your value proposal, you must base it on your differences from the competition

Principle 4

Principle #4

Personalize the Message

Good advice from a noble roman

Good Advice From a Noble Roman

“If you wish to persuade me,

you must

think my thoughts,

feel my feelings,

and speak my words”


Get out of the comfort zone







Highly Informed

Somewhat Informed


Get Out of the Comfort Zone…

And into the persuasion zone







Highly Informed

Somewhat Informed




…And Into the Persuasion Zone

Cicero s three points

Cicero’s Three Points

Audience Level- Expert

(Speak my words)- Highly informed

- Acquainted

- Uninformed

Audience Type- Analytical

(Think my thoughts)- Pragmatic

- Consensus-seeker

- Visionary

Audience Role- Check signer

(Feel my feelings)- User

- Gatekeeper

Boilerplate proposals may do more damage than good

Boilerplate Proposals May Do More Damage Than Good

  • How many times does your name appear in the Executive Summary?

  • How many times does your customer’s name appear?

  • Are your product’s features linked to specific customer needs?

  • Have you used the customer's terminology?

  • Have you eliminated your own in-house jargon?

Clear messages convincing messages

Clear Messages = Convincing Messages

Use the KISS principle:(Keep It Short and Simple)

  • Simple words and short sentences

  • Use their name throughout

  • Refer to the customer as “you”, never as “it” or “they”

  • Avoid using your jargon

  • Aim for the right level of expertise

  • Provide content specific to their market or industry

  • Use lots of graphic illustrations

  • Highlight the text so your key points JUMP off the page



  • Customer-centered proposals are more effective than self-centered proposals

  • Selling solutions require clear and compelling value proposals based on your differentiators

  • Personalizing the proposal to the audience helps get your message across

Our understanding of the issues you face

Our Understanding of the Issues You Face

  • Respond effectively to RFP’s

  • Increasing sales force productivity

  • Improving the quality of your proposals

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