Monday, December 29, 2008

Book review - Joe Sugarman - Triggers

The subtitle of this book is “30 Sales Tools You Can Use to Control the Mind of You Prospect to Motivate, Influence and Persuade”. I’ll give you one of those sales tools for free later in this article. All you have to do is keep reading.

But first some caveats, “Triggers” is not a book on how to write better proposals. But it will help write better proposals. “Triggers” is not a book on closing, but it will help you close.

“Triggers” is a sales book and as proposal writers we are all salespeople – after all, what all of us do in any kind of business development is to try and persuade a prospect to buy from us whether that’s on the phone, face to face or on paper.

What Sugarman does, in a very accessible and pleasantly narrative way is to list 30 psychological triggers that make someone commit to a sale. It may be going a bit far to say that you can control someone’s mind in the hypnotic sense, but it’s not going too far to suggest that using some of these techniques can help you lead your prospect in the direction that you want them to go.

What is interesting to the proposal writer is that Joe Sugarman, apart from being an exceptional salesperson, came from a direct marketing background, using written words to create advertising copy that would dramatically improve the results for the products and services he was asked to advertise. It wasn’t the power of his personality – it was the power of his words.

Each of the 30 triggers are presented in just a few pages,making each technique easy to digest and apply before you come back and try another. Or it makes it easy to quickly find a new technique that you aren’t using yet. Sugarman explains the trigger with a sometimes folksy narrative that importantly ensures that you understand how to apply it.

At the end of the book there are worksheets that give you a summary of each trigger and space to do some of your own preparation on how you can use it – a very useful feature that many other improvement books could take on board.

So what are some of these magic triggers? What about the example that I said I would give you for free earlier on. Well that was it. Let me explain this way - you kept reading this article didn’t you? And some of you carried on reading because you were promised something that you thought would help you for free.

Sugarman describes this trigger as “curiosity”. Here is the summary:

“This very powerful tool can be used in the beginning of a sales presentation to kepp the reader or viewer glued to the advertising message. Use this trigger to keep the prospect interested and involved until the very end of your presentation.ACTION STEP: Early in your sales presentation, use seeds of curiosity and promise payoff that will cause a prospect to keep reading and pay attention.”

There’s plenty of other good things here, all within an easy to read book. I’d add it to your reading list right away.

Buy Now: "Triggers: How to Use the Psychological Triggers of Selling to Motivate, Persuade & Influence"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Answering good questions about how to write a business proposal?

I enjoy asking and answering questions about proposal writing and some of these are often quite complex. I recently had the opportunity in a very short space of time to and write an answer to this question...which really gets straight to the point:

How does one write a proposal? Are there any specific guidelines or format to follow?

Here is my one minute answer - trying to think about what a proposal really is about: 

There are a lot of things to consider when writing a proposal. The most important thing is that you have to remember that the proposal is about the customer not about you - and that you are trying to persuade them to buy your products and services. 

So make your proposal persuasive - that means demonstrating you credibility, showing the value of your services and if you can provide evidence that you can do what you say.

The easiest trap to fall in when writing a proposal for the first time is to say "I can do this" and "this is what I've done before". Yes, that's important but not as much as writing about what problem the client has and how you intend to solve it.

Put a one or two page Executive Summary at the start of your proposal - some people aren't going to want to read 10, 20 or more pages - they read the beginning and skim the rest if you're lucky. More likely they just skim the beginning! So get you key selling points across here.

Match you solutions to what the client need is. Show that you can fix a problem and back it up (use examples of previous clients if you have them).

Go through each of your products or services one by one, listing in a table the features and benefits. Use colourful graphics - showing the before and after use of your products - again visuals will help you a lot here. If you are unsure about graphics ask a graphic designer for help.

With you pricing try and show some return on investment. Show the hidden costs and consequences to the client of they choose to do nothing. 

Providing evidence of your capability is a key to persuasion. If you have a testimonial from a previous client saying how great your product is other customers will buy it.

Just a thought about the format issue. Check the request for proposal (if you received one) from the client and match their document structure and answer their questions. If you need a proposal template get one for free here:​ew-all-products.html

Hope this helps - these are just some quick thoughts. If you want more information on proposal writing and business proposal resources, including ready to go templates and more, then please visit my website

Monday, December 22, 2008

10 things not to do when you write a business proposal

10 things not to do when you write a business proposal

OK…11 things not to do when you write a business proposal - remember to also check out the top 10 proposal tips from Learn to Write Proposals .
  1. Don’t talk about yourself too much. When you write a business proposal it is about solving problems for the client – don’t just go on about your achievements, show how they relate to the client.
  2. Don’t answer the wrong questions. What questions do the client really want your business proposal to be about? You need to know what pushed the clients buttons. If you aren’t sure ask for a meeting
  3. Don’t miss questions out. It may be a hard question to answer, but is you want to know how to write a business proposal then start by answering all the requirements.
  4. Don’t make it difficult to read. Your proposal should be a structured story and well presented. If it’s difficult to read, it’s difficult to evaluate. Always proofread and edit.
  5. Don’t hand it in late. Just don’t do it – four weeks work on bid can go in the bin without being read.
  6. Don’t make assumptions. You may be the biggest supplier of widgets in the world – you still need to provide your details and your history. It’s the proposal being evaluated, not the buyer’s general knowledge.
  7. Don’t make it boring. Avoid pages and pages of text. Use whitespace, graphics and boxes to present your ideas visually. It will get noticed more and be better remembered.
  8. Don’t forget to give them a reason. Remember to persuade your clients – so do this by giving them a reason. You can start by asking yourself ‘so what?’ about each statement you make. If there’s not a clear answer then it’s time for ‘because…’ to be included.
  9. Don’t get the client’s name wrong.  Yes, it sounds silly. But does the client have lot’s of divisions with different ways to spell their name? Spell it correctly (like they spell it) and do a search in your document if you’ve copied boilerplate from an earlier client proposal. Nothing will lose you work quicker than sending a client a proposal that looks as if it’s for someone else.
  10. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. The client may ask for 10 rocket ships in 2 months, but keep your business proposal realistic. If you need to contact the client and ask for clarification on why they have that specific requirement. Getting to the bottom of the need may uncover something that will give you an edge.
  11. Don’t send it without getting the financials checked. Get sign-off on the numbers. If you don’t know why, don’t write proposals for a living!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Killer Executive Summaries

Getting the structure of an Executive Summary right is vital. Just like the structure of your proposal, it needs to make sense. It also needs to demonstrate your understanding of the client’s needs, a viable solution and your ability to deliver it with value. It needs to be digestible enough for someone to understand it in only a couple of pages or so. So keep it short and to the point.

Here is our Executive Summary structure:

  1. The client's name. Make the opening words of your Executive Summary your client’s name. Like the entire proposal the Executive Summary should be about the client, not about you so don’t go on right at the beginning about your suitability for the job. Make sure their name appears more often than yours throughout - some guidelines make a recommendation of a 3:1 ratio.
  2.  Summary of the customer’s goal and business need. Don’t just re-hash the information from the RFP. Use the knowledge that you have garnered from the Account Managers relationship with the client and other information from your existing sales process. Demonstrate your understanding of their business drivers for the procurement and the implications to the client if they do nothing. 
  1. The ideal situation. What would be the client's ideal situation if they solved their problem? What benefits do they expect? Don't waste too much space on this - but demonstrate your knowledge of their desired outcomes and goals, focusing on the top three things that are their priorities and drivers. 
  1. How your solution solves their problem. What will you deliver to alleviate their business problem and help them achieve their goals? Make sure you use this section to present win themes - elements that make the client think you are uniquely capable of delivering this contract – that directly correlate to the client’s top priorities and drivers. You need to include all the key parts of your proposed solution here. 
  1. Why you? Provide information on your organisational strengths, your unique offering and how these benefit the client. Use just one example if possible (there can be more in the actual proposal) and remember to make a statement, emphasise the benefit to the client and then back it up with evidence. 
  1. Summary of timescales, costs and return on investment. This is where you can emphasise the value of your solution. Don't just list numbers - give top level numbers and show that you can offer exceptional value in a realistic timeframe. 
  1. Call to action. If your proposal is the last stage in the sales process, ask for the business. If it's not, then state your desire to move forward to the next stage (e.g. proof of concept or fact finding consultancy) 

Want to create Killer Executive Summaries? Then get the Learn to Write Proposals Killer Executive Summaries Toolkit at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

10 important laws to know about when writing business proposals

1. Hofstadter's Law 
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take Hofstadter's Law into account

2. The Fundamental Theorem
New systems generate new problems

3. The Peter Principle
Employees rise to their level of incompetence

4. Rothbard's Law 
Everyone specializes in his own area of weakness

5. Hutber's Law 
Improvement means deterioration

6. Amara's Law 
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run

7. Parkinson's Law
Work expands to fill the time available

8. Sturgeon's Revelation
90 percent of everything is crap

9. The Dilbert Principle
The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management

10. Sutton's Law 
Go where the money is

One more:
11. England's Law
The chances of winning a proposal are directly in proportion to the number of hours between finishing it and the time it has to be submitted.

OK, so I just made the last one up.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

So do salespeople make good bid writers

This is a follow up to my last post here and some thoughts on whether salespeople don't like writing proposals and why.

I think that this comes down partly to personality types and skillsets. Many salespeople are great at face-to-face relationship selling. They are great at following their structured SPIN or Solution Selling process and getting the client to where they want them to be.

Then the client asks for a proposal. Not unreasonable as they have to sell the solution to their bosses and the holders of the purse strings. That's when some salespeople say "great" and mean it - they know they can write a killer proposal. Other salespeople say something else, because they know they struggle to convey their sales message in the written word.

This may be a hangup from school - that although they are a "people person" they weren't strong academically and can't spell well (yes it happens); it may be the way that some salespeople have climbed up the greasy pole that is a career in sales - they've always been in front of people, thinking on their feet, sensational at overcoming objections but seriously uncomfortable when the close results in being required to be back in the office writing words that aren't part of a dialogue.

So are different skills required to be a salesperson and/or a bid writer. Yes, undoubtedly. But that doesn't mean that some people can't be great at both, but great salespeople want to be with the clients.

In smaller organisations everyone on the management team can be responsible for sales - they simply have to get on the phone, meet clients, write the proposals etc to stay in business...and at some level this is true in every organisation. But as the organisation gets larger a salesperson is hired to do the leg-work of finding leads, prospects and clients - and fulfilling the entire sales cycle. 

It's only later that as the organisation grows that thoughts start leaning towards having a designated bid writer. Yet the Capability Maturity Model for Business Development shows us that the better processes and structure that we have, the better our proposals and results will be.

But as more and more clients require written proposals, shouldn't we think about ensuring that our salespeople have this structure and support early on? OK I'm not saying that for an organisation with 6 people 3 of them should be a bid team, but there's no reason why a structured approach to sales and proposal development can't be in place.

In fact, as most small companies need those sales and a structured process would help get more work isn't it important that they do? That would help the salesperson spend their time doing what they need to do - be seeing clients. It would help them get proposals prepared quicker. And those proposals would be better proposals and win more work.

Sounds too good to be true? No. That's what Learn to Write Proposals is about.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interesting question...and answers

Thanks to proposal expert Chris Whyatt of Practical Bid Solutions who asked a question to the combined minds of LinkedIn - it was this:

Producing a proposal for a prospective customer is the stage of the sales process that most sales people dislike/avoid the most? True (If so, why?) or False?

My experience (based on nearly 10 years of running Practical Bid Solutions and 20 more is sales) is that sales people hate proposals, either proactive (no ITT / RFP etc) or reactive (with ITT / RFP etc) because a/ they get little support from their employers b/ they are not trained to do it, and finally c/ their writing skills are probably rusty.

It's a good question, as many people who are great persuaders in a face-to-face setting can't do the same when they have to put pen to paper. That's why people like Chris exist and why Learn to Write Proposals exists - to try and help people and businesses improve their proposals and win more work.

(Oh, and by the way - I have no affiliation with Chris or Practical Bid Solutions but plenty of respect).

I hope no-one minds me revealing some of the highlights to the wider world. Here are my favorite two answers to the question - If you want to know more then go to LinkedIn and search for Chris and view his questions. 

I think this is true but only in part. Proposals and ITT / RFP's are often significant endeavours involving many man days of effort not just from the sales person, but also from many people from other parts of an organisation, for example pre-sales, delivery, legal, support, etc., etc. To put a high quality response together involves coordinating, leading and bringing together the efforts of a virtual team, many of whom are focused on other things. 

The talents that lead a person in to sales, and which help them excel there, are different from the talents required to project manage and respond to a proposal, diligently follow a bid process, assess/balance resource effort and commercial risk against the reward the endeavour may bring - if it proves ultimately successful. 

On top of that Sales Management usually expect a sales person to maximise their customer contact time. Sales people are expected to be out in front of customers, not back in the office, coordinating and writing. If they spend too much time at it it can, ultimately, be to their career peril.

And another...

Sales people put their priority where they have more probability to win. This means, working with customers they already have a developed and good business relation and selling company solutions that are habitual. 
Your question is absolutely the opposite from these two previous factors, which means increasing the risk from loosing a lot of time and at the end, not closing the business. Why? The prospective sale cycle is not known by the sales person, the customer needs and decisions makers, either. The Sales person has to teach everything about its company, the product and create connection with the customer, all this involves a lot of effort. Additionally, a sales person knows that is easier to sell and have a happy recurrent customer if the solution is a usual one from the company’s portfolio. 

At the end is it all “Time x winning probability x Amount of business” and a good sales person knows how to make these calculations. 

Getting away from this opportunity is probably the best decision a Sales Person can do, because at the end the opportunity cost will be huge from not working in other businesses where the sales person has better position

I'll be giving my thoughts to this question in my next blog because there are a lot of important issue that this question (and the answers) raises. 

Once we've analysed this a little more maybe we can find a way of making writing proposal slightly less painful for our salespeople.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buy later

So we had our mini-budget (if it could be called such a thing) and it seemed to me to be a buy now, pay later scheme...though admittedly slightly more sophisticated than that.

And many businesses will have thought "how does this help me get through the next 12 months?" to which I thought - well we want to make our situation better, but is our model of working much more sophisticated than buy now, pay later. I'm thinking about how we write proposals.

There is a tendency sometimes to throw mud at a wall when it comes to proposal writing. Write proposals and hope that a few of them stick. It's heavy investment in a sales or bid team that writes proposals when you know that you won't win all of them. But you need to win some to stay in business and pay for that time and investment in the sales process.

So what can we do to make things better for ourselves?
  • It would be nice if we could produce better proposals for starters - that's got to help a little more of that mud stick. 
  • Produce our proposals quicker (but not if it's going to hurt quality) so that we can send more proposals to potential new clients or spend more time giving better service existing accounts (and trying to help them stay in business). 
  • Qualify leads better and quicker. Don't keep wasting time on that lead that doesn't have a prospective  piece of business at the end of it.
There are other things of couse, but if we could do that we mght have a chance to look after our existing clients better, spend time only on opportunities that might benefit us and respond better to those opportunities.

It's not only the budget that made me think about this - it's why I started Learn to Write Proposals and developed tools and methodologies that enable you to do just that. 

Isn't that what you want to be able to do?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Template and e-book available for free download

As promised, there's a free e-book and template available for download from Learn to Write Proposals. We've created a simple, contemporary looking template and the accompanying e-book shows you how we did it and let's you create your own.

Feel free to use it, edit it, distribute it - just don't try and make money out of it. If you want more comprehensive templates and guidance text to help you complete your proposal, then visit our online shop or become a lifetime member of Learn to Write Proposals.

You can download the template and e-book here:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Creating a business proposal template

One of the common questions I get asked and some of the commonest proposal related search queries are about proposal templates. Everyone wants a proposal template...preferably free! Well, I have some news there...soon I will be making a free simple proposal template available via the Learn to Write Proposals website. My other news is that I'm going to give you  the steps you need to make your own proposal template and use it effectively.

A good proposal template is useful because, even if it changes later, it gives you the initial structure that you need to insert your content. It's also useful because if your template really is good, then it will save you an awful lot of time and problems with formatting at a later date.

So here's what you need to do to create your proposal template. These are pretty much the same steps whether or not you use MS Word or OpenOffice Writer:

Open up a new document and name it straight away (as a template file, not a document file)
Set up the styles for each proposal element. How to do this? Simple go to the menu, select styles and formatting and edit the properties of the element that you need to change.

Here's an example. How do you want each section heading to look? Write some text (for example ("Executive Summary") in your word document, then adjust the Font, shading, border, indent - anything that you want to make the heading look like you would want it in your proposal. 

Then in the Styles and Formatting bar, click on the style (Use Heading 1) and click on "update to match selection". The style is then just like you have created it. 

Do this for again for heading 2, heading 3, normal, bulleted and numbered. I fact any other proposal element that you night need. Remember to set the numbering for the heading styles-  X for heading 1, X.X for heading 2 and X.X.X for heading 3.

Next think about front page look - and create an attractive layout.  Remember to use the headers and footer to use graphical and text elements that you want throughout the document.

Always save this file as a template, not a document.

Check back here soon and I'll have a link to an e-book showing the step by step process of creating a proposal template - including the basic sections you need in your proposal.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More on open source software - keeping costs down

We all need to keep costs down at the moment, so let's look at some tools that you can use to write proposals that keep the costs down - In fact, they don't cost anything.

Let's look at what you really need to do when writing a proposal. It's usually a mixture of text and graphics, with maybe some numerical tables in there too. So first and foremost we need a good word processor. MS Word is still the best (and I still use it), but we all know that MS Office is anything but free. But there are good alternatives, that whilst not doing everything Word does, can sometimes do the things that Word can't do - and these days the document formats are completely transportable.

Graphics applications. Let's be honest - free graphics applications used to be crap. In fact most free software did. If you wanted to do graphics stuff you needed Corel Draw and Photoshop (OK, so I'm going back a bit). Not anymore. There are free graphics packages out there that give you all the functionality you need to create your proposal graphics, if not to satisfy the whims of the out and out graphic designer. Here's a big tip - use proper diagram creation software for your diagrams and stop fiddling around with the terrible drawing features in Word. You'll have more easily re-usable diagrams, more control over them in your documents and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble when it comes to consistent formatting and making them look good.

Sometimes we may need to have an online meeting with bid teams or clients. Want a free alternative to WebEx? OK, it may miss out some of the top features unless you are  in the paid version, but DimDim is good enough for the Learn to Write Proposals free consultations, which means it's pretty good.

The free and open source market is mature and is full of good products that don't fall over every time you click on something. Take the leap of faith and start using some of them - you may take convincing to buy the commercial equivalent again.

Office applications - online office applications. Google Docs is another that will allow you to share and collaborate with others on a single document at the same time. I prefer the greater functionality and product set of Zoho - it's very feature rich for an online application and allows to to also use it offline.  - office suite. OK - I admit that I still use MS Word, but that is the only Microsoft Office application that I use as there are some functions that Word provides (especially Proposal Accelerator - maybe I should create a version for Open Office?)  that still makes it the best word processor around. As for the rest of it, Open Office is more than powerful enough for me. - pdf maker. Need to create a .pdf file - this is the best tool to do it free, with no adware. Works as a Windows printer driver (so you can use it from virtually any application) and has lots of features including quality settings, watermarks and more.

Graphics applications  - photo image editing. I used to be a Photoshop user, now I just use this - it has more than enough features for what I need and I find it very easy to use. Only downside is that you need to install Microsoft's .net framework on your computer first. - diagramming software. An alternative to Visio if you need to create  flowcharts and basic diagrams. I always recommend creating these graphics separately and then inserting them as a graphic in MS Word - it gives you far greater control and will save you time in the long run. There is also a very usable drawing/diagramming programme in the full install of Open Office.

FastStone Capture  - screen capture. (Last free version here) Don't underestimate the usefulness of a screen capture tool to instantly make new images from your desktop - this programme is just great! I use the last free version (5.3). It has all the features I need.

Web conferencing This is a great free service that allows you to hold online meetings, web conferences, product demonstrations etc.  I use it for the Learn to Write Proposal free 1 hour consultations. 

Want something else? Then check here: 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tribes in proposal production

Seth Godin (and if you don't know him you should, though I admit sometimes he can try too hard inventing the cliches for the next marketing generation) has just released his free e-book which is a series of Q&As about how effective "tribes" are. Tribes are one of Godin's concepts - communities with leaders and followers - and rules - that can drive ideas. 

So can tribes help proposal development? There are the tools available now to potentially create tribes - you don't need to look further that Facebook , Myspace or perhaps more appropriate to bid writers, LinkedIn (if you aren't a member, why not?).

Is the Association of Proposal Management Profesionals a tribe - sure - and it helps through the dissemination of best practice throughout the industry. But what about in your organisation? Can we make a tribe out of the bid team.

Part of the problem with bid teams is that some of the peripheral members, who have a minor contribution to the finished work don't have the buy in - they see themselves as part of another team, who unfortunately has to squeeze in 30 minutes extra work to "give the sales guy some text".  OK - so it's no always like that, but why can't we get enthusiasm when asking for help on our proposals.

The proposal kick-off meeting can help - the tone of it being upbeat about the potential project. It needs to be prepared - it's not a 'let's brainstorm' (read "fantasize" - I'll cover more on brainstorming later).  It should be an allocation of ownership - people who feel ownership of their part are more likely to feel part of the tribe. Maybe have the meeting off site. I know it's only a short meeting, but try a coffee shop. The person who site at their desk all day might start welcoming the opportunities to work on the bid team as it gets them out of the office every now and then...who knows they might want to start writing content for you. 

Buy in, ownership, leading, tribes. It's all about getting the desire of those your are working with and leading to be as committed to the same goals your are.

And remember, as in any tribe...all the members share in the success. So do your proposal writing well (remember that you can find out how to do it better at and plan on taking another trip (maybe somewhere better than the coffee shop) when the work is won. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

What wins work?

It's the obvious question...what do I really have to do in order to win the work.

You may think that you are doing everything right. You've done your homework, worked up a relationship with the client, done your bid/no bid analysis and qualified the opportunity. Everything seems good...but sometimes we get caught up in things and forget the basics.

Basics such as answering the questions. Maybe this blog entry should be entitled what doesn't win work because this is about something that can sometimes get overlooked. There is more than one large organisation out there who spent a lot of time, effort and money preparing the groundwork for a large piece of work that they thought that they would have a good chance of winning, yet not only did they not get the work, they were dismissed by the commissioning organisation at the pre-qualification stage.

Why? That's easy - they didn't answer the questions properly. It's unusual to be writing a proposal an not refer to the RFP to make sure that the proposal is answering the questions - not so unusual that the questions aren't answered fully or in a persuasive manner - but a PQQ is often left to a junior member of the team who just cuts and pastes from other documents. It can be a costly error to not even get invited to tender for an opportunity that suits your business strategy.

The moral of this story. Take care and take time to check that what you are doing is in fact what you were supposed to be doing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is showing value that hard?

Maybe demonstrating value is hard - there's lots of proposals out there that never demonstrate good value.

What is value? Value is showing the customer that what you are selling is worth more to them than what it costs to buy it.

So why do so many proposals stop at just showing the client what it costs to buy it? Go that one step further and show them how much money you can save them or how much time you can save them. Put a value on it (get the information from the client, if you know them well enough) and work out the return on investment.

Showing a client how they can make or save money could be the key to keeping you in business. Use it. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Know the client...early on

It's often said that a race is not won at the beginning but it can be lost. Is it the same with proposal writing? Maybe you cannot win your proposal at an early stage, but you can certainly put yourself in a position not to win it.

This really comes down to re-thinking your proposal development strategy, in that it ceases to be about just writing a winning proposal but encompasses everything you know about customer relationships. Having a good customer relationship won't necessarily help you win new business, but having a poor customer relationship puts you at a severe disadvantage.

It's important to get to know the client and what drives there business. There have been many great books recently on the idea of consultancy selling - not just doing a product pitch to show off features and benefits - but in you providing a service through your sales. This requires you to understand the clients business, knowing how to solve their problems and being able to express how your solution will avoid the negative ramifications of both inaction and choosing an alternative and inferior solution. 

You need to understand the client well enough to be able to put forward a solution, a clear position on the benefits and advantages of your solution and a return on investment model.

Now we approach the end of the race - where you can not just lose, but you can win. Knowledge is not enough and client relationships are not enough (most of the time). This is where your proposal development skills need to come to the fore.

The proposal must reflect your knowledge and your client relationships and your solution. It is here that you in-depth, long-time cultivated understanding of the clients business can be exploited. You proposal is there to persuade the client that they must change the direction they are going in by moving in your direction - that is where the race is won.

If you truly have taken the time and effort to know and understand the client's needs and you truly believe in the product and/or service that you offer it should be easy to be passionate and persuasive. You have all the tools - use them because in this race there are very few prizes for second place.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Late night last night?

So it was Thursday last night, the day before many proposals have to be submitted at the end of the week.

How many proposal writers were on their third slice of cold pizza and second cup of warm coke still trying to get their proposal finished before getting up early this morning to get to the office print it out before the last minute courier delivery on Friday afternoon?

Sound familiar? Most proposal writers at some point in time have had close calls - the ones which were got in just in time. Many proposal writers may even have a story of running to hand deliver a proposal in order to meet the submission deadline.

There are a lot of proposals put together this way, that miss out on important review and quality checks. And if you have ever put a proposal together tis way how successful was it?

Then think about the pother way, the proposal that was planned and executed early. It gets reviewed properly - the financials are checked (you better hope late night guy didn't mess that part up) and then it gets edited. It's printed and bound to look professional and is sent early to ensure that it gets there on time.

You may have won work preparing proposals both ways. But I bet you won more being better prepared and by re-reading, improving and re-writing.

It's a far more enjoyable way to work too.

Learn more about how you can get your Thursday evenings back with the Learn to Write Proposals bid management and quality review tools.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Power words

I like power words - really good descriptors or triggers.  

I'm going to include some of my proposal power words soon and talk about how to use them. In the meantime, Learn to Write Proposals Members can check out the Power Words Section in the Member's Section.

Here though are some of the most important power wrods in sales history. What else would you add to the list?


Friday, September 12, 2008

How to improve your win rate

Writing proposals can be expensive. In large corporations a dedicated team with a dedicated budget will work on putting together each discrete complex solution. In medium sized organisations there may be a dedicated bid team to work alongside account managers to produce proposals. And in the small organisation maybe the owner/manager works late each night putting together the proposals.

However proposals are produced they take time and resources...and that means money.

How often has your organisation done a precise calculation of the cost of producing one proposal? Do you have any idea? or is it just included in the overall sales/cost-of-doing-business overhead?

In the Learn to Write Proposal Survey the average time to produce a proposal is around one week. Assuming one member of staff working on the proposal for that length of time the cost is in the thousands of dollars...and for small business that's a lot of cash.

Then think about your win rate..and multiply that by the cost of each bid to produce. Chances are, it's becoming a lot of money for no reward. Let's hope that the work you win is delivering good margins.

Now analyse which proposals you won. What was the differentiating factor? Customer knowledge? Better solution? Was it just a better proposal?

So what if you could win all the work you went for? OK...that might be unrealistic, but you should at least be able to cut down the number of the proposals you lose - and that is going to benefit you in two ways - firstly it will save you the money it costs to produce the proposal but secondly it will allow to utilise you time finding better opportunities and working on winning the opportunities that you do decide to bid on.

So how do you decide which bids to go for? Better qualification. At regular points from when the opportunity has been identified to when the proposal is submitted you should qualify the opportunity.

The Learn to Write Proposals "Prospect Qualification Toolkit" is an interactive tool that helps you identify where your prospective opportunity is weak based on some typical criteria (explicit or not) that buying decisions are made on. This helps you identify early on non-starters or opportunities that were initially pursued that should be shelved.

Using this tool also helps you prioritise your opportunities 

When you've reached the point of no return (when you are always going to submit the bid) it helps you identify weak points that require work in order to maximise your chances of success.

The easiest way to improve your win rate, improve the ROI of your bid team investment and lower your costs isn't just to throw extra resources against every opportunity, but to analyze opportunities to decide which ones you can realistically  win.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

3 things that annoy clients

Here are three things that annoy clients. Maybe they're obvious, even outrageous...but they do happen.

Not answering the specification. How many times has a client received a proposal that doesn't really provide a solution to what was proposed?

Not including all the required information. How does the client make an informed decision?

The wrong name in the proposal. Who is the proposal for? Did the proposal just use a load of cut and paste from an earlier proposal?

Elementary and stupid mistakes maybe. But now ask yourself...have you ever done any of them? I bet you didn't win the work.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Do RFPs lead to bad proposals?

Some organisations are incredibly concerned with the appearance of impartiality and fairness in the RFP process. Yet, I believe that this is potentially damaging for them.

Don't misunderstand me...I'm not against fairness. I don't want my competitor holding an advantage over me that I don't know about. Although I do want to try and mine my relationship with the client as far as I can for valuable information and to ensure I'm not at a disadvantage.

It's the approach that some organisations go through. We all know the potential gains of working with people you know and trust. So why create a procurement system that denies any contact with the client other than online forums? Why have a response template sent out that counts exactly the number of characters in each response section? Why use an expensive e-procurement system that is frustrating and seems irrelevant for for many suppliers?

Why? Several reasons. Firstly - transparency and audit trail. If there's a complaint about the process or preferential treatment, it's easy for the buyer to say that it isn't so...look at the Chinese wall we surrounded ourselves with.

Secondly - evaluation. If every response is the same style and format, it should be easier to objectively evaluate and score that response.

Thirdly - management of suppliers and procurement opportunities. It's easy to control and manage external relationships and supplies, especially when the e-procurement function is within a larger corporate ERP system.

Fourthly - Cost. If all proposals are equal, then surely it makes it easier to procure the supplier with the lowest price...especially when using a reverse auctioning system.

But at what cost to the client. Surely some flexibility to allow one of your suppliers to demonstrate some out-of-the-box thinking, to come up with a creative solution for your need. To show that just because it's big business purchasing it doesn't mean that small supplier entrepreneurship needs to be quashed. 

Creative proposals are better for creative and bespoke solutions. OK - if you need 1,000,000 widgets then a system like this might work for you (though I know that the widget suppliers find them overkill). But when you have an opportunity to get new, fresh ideas from new, fresh business and individuals, don't stop the lateral thinking before it's even begun by only allowing proposals that don't have graphics. Treat yourself to new thinking by opening to the possibilities that a completely open response format would allow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Free (and open source) software that you can use

There's a lot of good stuff out there. Good stuff that can potentially make our life easier.

The vast majority of use use MS Word to write our proposals, our letters - pretty much everything, but with the development of some great web services there are some tools that can help make your life easier. 

One of the biggest problems with MS Word is, and always has been, the difficulty of effective collaboration on a document. When everything is created with an application on your machine (often with you storing the files on your machine) it's hard to work on a document with someone else. There are ways round it - splitting up the document, version control etc, but wouldn't it be fantastic to have two people working on the same document at once?

Well, there is a pretty impressive suite of business apps at, one of them is an online word processor. Just starting the application makes you realise that this isn't a cut-down web-based alternative to MS Word, this is a serious application in it's own right. 

But the feature I love about this application is the ability to invite users to share the document with you and allow them to work on it simultaneously in real time. 

Have you ever been working on a proposal and due to resource limitations had to email a copy of a document to several contributors and then spend another half day (or night) inserting it into the final proposal template and re-formatting it?

Or when you are in a hurry to get the document complete and you need to make changes to a section whilst someone else works on another section...whilst someone else is proofreading...

The opportunity for a genuine collaborative tool such as this to cut down time on proposal writing is massive.  There are other toosl - document history and the ability to go offline with documents (and the application) for work away from the web and synchronisation when you return online.

Combine this with online chat or Skype; use the new Google Chrome web browser and save Zoho Writer as an application on your desktop and this is what the web is about. This is what collaboration is all about.  

This can only make your proposal writing easier and your proposals better.

This is where we are now and for sure there are some features that we need from MS Word that are missing (mail merge for example). At the moment I'll be writing proposals in MS Word using the Learn to Write Proposals "Proposal Accelerator" and using Zoho for the collaborative elements but how much longer before we don't need to buy that expensive word processing application any more.

I'll be discussing how you can get some of my favorite and free time-saving, proposal-helping applications soon here in my blog. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Where to start with a proposal?

Proposal writing can be a scary thing. I remember the first time that I was asked to write a proposal...I hadn't got a clue where to start. I didn't know what content should be put it there, how it should be formatted let alone how to develop some win themes and a customer benefits-driven message.

Fortunately I got better at it over the years and wanted to be able to help those new sales people, bid team members and project managers...eveyone who gets asked to write or contribute to a proposal who doesn't know where to start.

I would have loved to have the opportunity to have good tools to help prepare that first proposal, indeed many later proposals. That's what I've done. I've made available tools and resources to help get new people started and established proposal writers improve.

Using the right tools is important. How much time have we all wasted, not managing the proposal development well (we are often do salespeople manage projects where you work?) not having the right content on hand (have you emailed colleagues asking for some text on that something-or-other project we did a couple of years ago?) and ending up a few days before the proposal has to be submitted eating cold pizza and drinking warm Coke at 12:30 am trying to get it finished.

I always thought there was a better way, that wouldn't cost $1,000's to get access to. Something for the micro, small or medium sized business.

There is now...Learn to Write Proposals. And plently of the content, including this blog on writing proposals better proposals and learning how to write better proposals is free for everyone.

It's not going to cover only the content and resources at (though it will sometimes) and if there are topics you'd like me to discuss let me know.

Otherwise, I hope that you get something useful from my posts.