Q. Dear Zenagos,
I’m a software developer, and I’ve created an analytics software for development teams. A potential client asked me to send a proposal, and I realize that I actually don’t know anything about what you put in a proposal. What do I do?
The opportunity to send a proposal is extremely valuable, since it means that the prospective client is truly interested in your offering. It also suggests that they are ready to make a purchase and are gathering bids, so this is a highly qualified lead. Your chances of winning the deal at this point are typically better than 1 in 5, unless you are responding to a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) that has a lot of submitters. Nevertheless, we repeatedly see entrepreneurs wasting the golden opportunity of sending a proposal by sending a general, standard-looking document that tells more about their own company than it does about the client’s needs. If you really want clients to listen to you, you must first listen to them.
Summarize the situation
Before you customize your proposal, learn as much about the client as you possibly can. (What are their overarching goals? What is their primary pain?) Then, show the client that you have listened by including at least one slide or paragraph that summarizes your understanding of the client’s situation. If I’m the client, I want to be confident that you listened to me when we spoke about your service and that you fully understand my issues, my needs, and my goals. If you can succinctly summarize and articulate their problem, you will be well on your way to creating a persuasive proposal.
Explain your solution
Ideally, explain your solution by matching each element of the solution to the issues, needs, and goals that you detailed in the summary. This is where you will highlight the features of your solution relative to the competition. Make it clear to the client why they should choose you.
Sell your process
If you can determine your client’s exact goals and needs, then you should obviously tailor your presentation to show how you will meet the goals and fulfill the needs. If you don’t have enough information to do this, then sell your process. Make it clear to the client what it will feel like to work with you. Telling them what will happen and in what order will give them confidence that you know your craft.
Include proposed pricing and terms
Don’t beat around the bush with the client about price. The client expects that you will need to be paid for your offering. Explain the price (or the pricing method) and include any terms, such as method of payment, timing of payment, process for handling complaints, and so forth.
Put your credentials at the end
You do need to include a section about your credentials and experience, but put it at the end of the proposal. If the client likes what you have to offer, then your credentials can help close the deal. They are unlikely to win the deal on their own.
If you have testimonials, be sure to include them
If you just launched your company, you may not yet have referenceable clients who will provide you with testimonials. You will have to do your best without testimonials until you have a few satisfied customers who are willing to advocate for you. If you have testimonials or references, be sure to include them.
Start with an executive summary
When you have finished writing your proposal, go back through and make a one-paragraph summary that repeats it briefly. Put this at the beginning of your slide deck or written proposal. Your prospective clients are busy, and you will make it easier for them to evaluate your offer if you summarize it for them.
There are many ways to write a proposal. With practice, you will arrive at the method that works best for you. The key concept is that you demonstrate to your prospective clients that you understand and care about what they need and are able to offer a solution that will work for them.
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