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.