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Proposal Tips

The Quest for Zero Defect! Improving Proposal Quality
The cheapest way to improve the quality of a proposal is to make time to review it. Sounds obvious, but in the heat of the deadline, quality checks often fall by the way-side. This allows those last minute credibility killers to sneak into your proposal. Alas, they may lose you the deal. The quest for zero defect is worthy of pursuit.

What is a Good Proposal?
My usual answer to this question is: one that wins. For it to win, your proposal needs to convince your customer to part with their money. In our annual proposal award, the criteria we use to judge the winning proposal include:



Executive Summary (four-box method)


Persuasive Elements (NOSE)


Effective Proposal (layout, design, quality, flow)


Language of Success (no fluff, guff, geek or weasel)


Overall Impact (makes me want to say 'yes')


You can use this as a check-list to look at the quality of your own proposals.

Time for review

Time for Review
In our process, we allow up to 20% of the total time for strategy, and 20% for quality and production, leaving only 60% for the bulk of proposal development. If proposal development deadlines slip, then this affects quality. Poor quality proposals leave your customer thinking that you will deliver poor quality services. If you realize too late that your proposal quality is too poor to win you the deal, it may be better to write a well-worded letter explaining why you’re not bidding, rather than submitting a bad bid.

Horizontal and Vertical
When you do a horizontal review, it’s easy to check just one thing, for example all the headings or all the pictures or all the captions. In a vertical review, you read from start to end to improve language and persuasive impact. Look out for long sentences and big words so that you can shorten them. Find cliché’s and add some facts to prove them or delete them from your proposal. Watch out for too much technical detail that fails to explain benefits. Be careful not to use weasel words or qualify your statements. Your proposal needs to be direct and credible, not hypothetical or vague.

Colours of the Rainbow
You can build a variety of review milestones into your proposal plan. Blue team reviews check your win strategy. Black team reviews check competitor strategy. Pink team reviews are for storyboards and pictures. Gold team reviews determine the winning price. Red team reviews are for checking the proposal quality. I always imagine an editor with a red pen. Finally, white team reviews help you learn lessons from past mistakes.


Best practice advises checking the structure of the proposal early. In my experience, one needs to adapt the depth of the review to the time available. I start by turning on ‘track changes’.

Then I do a readability check to get a baseline. Next is a spell-check. I score the proposal using our checklist. Then I edit to improve and simplify the language. If there’s time, I work on improving the structure and layout. I add more headings and highlights and captions and pictures to make the proposal easier to skim read. Finally, I run another spell-check just in case my changes introduced new errors.

Voila! You now have a better quality proposal more likely to win. How will you improve your next proposal?

Work as a Team - bid skills and same-page reviews

Managing a bid is like building a house when you have a team of people working together towards a winning proposal before the deadline. Not only do you need a good plan and great raw materials, but you need to make sure that the right people do the right things at the right time. The bigger the team, the more complex the solution and the shorter the deadline, the more difficult it becomes to get the best result. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that may help.

Know the Mix
Even the most talented bid manager will lack some of the skills needed to win the deal. It’s very rare to find a single person that:

·         can write clearly and persuasively

·         AND gets sales strategy

·         AND is good at numbers to work out the winning price

·         AND has enough technical knowledge to craft the right solution

·         AND has a great relationship with the customer and understands their business

·         AND has enough legal knowledge to protect you from risk

·         AND has brilliant graphic design and layout skills to make a visual impact

·         AND is good at managing a team of people towards a deadline

·         AND has enough attention to detail to edit out all the mistakes and submit a compliant bid.

Phew, I’m out of breath just thinking about all the skills needed to win! Work out what you are good at doing, and find people who have what you lack. A winning team works to the strengths of each person, with some skill overlaps just in case.


Work in Parallel
When proposal deadlines are tight, never do in sequence what you can do in parallel. Work out dependencies early in the planning stage and try to have as many things happening at once as you can. Make sure everyone in the team has something to do all the time. Keep the jobs small and clearly defined with short deadlines to avoid late nights and frustration when the big submission deadline arrives. Never put 2 people on a job that 1 can do. Avoid long meetings with too many people attending. Save time where you can.


Beat the Drum
Progress meetings are a great way to keep the momentum going on a bid. Have them often but keep them short. Where possible, follow up with people in the team one-on-one outside of these meetings so that you can handle obstacles and keep the meeting focus on tasks not yet done.


Create an agenda and keep to it. Email action items as a reminder after the meeting. Schedule these meetings at the same time each day or week to ensure attendance. Book them in everyone’s diary. Progress meetings don’t replace review meetings, but can complement these. For example, in one progress meeting you can talk about pricing tasks, and invite only the people concerned with this part of the proposal, in preparation for the pricing review session.


Dangle the Carrot
Bid teams often contain people who have competing priorities in the business. For example, a solutions architect may not only have to help you with your solution, but may also be onsite with a customer delivering another project most of the time. The bid manager needs to motivate the team. It helps if there is some positive incentive such as a share of the profit from a win, but this is seldom possible. Get creative. Negotiate time off for the team after the bid, buy pizza for late night stints, or find a way to celebrate when the job is done. You may also need to get creative about consequences of non-delivery. People often promise but fail to deliver what you need to get your job done, putting pressure on you. If you keep tolerating it, then it won’t stop. Learn to say no, and be ready to decide a bid is a no-go if deadlines slip. Make a fuss of the people who do meet your deadlines and find a way to make it clear that non-delivery is not an option.


Live and Learn
Always make time to reflect after submitting the bid. Get the team together to think about what you need to keep doing, stop doing and start doing next time. It sure beats starting on the next deadline right away


Keep up morale
Say thank you. Don’t just ask for the next thing you need. Just as we teach kids not to be greedy by always asking for more, so you need to take a moment to breathe and look back before moving on. It will not only improve morale, but also helps you to learn from past mistakes so that the next bid is better.

Pat yourself and the team on the back for a job well done, then onward and upward you go.


Use Proposal Pictures... Paint a Thousand Words

People digest pictures 60,000 times faster than text. You heard me. Sixty thousand times faster! In an instant you will spot a shape or know a face, but you may need to ponder a long description to create the same mental image. Pictures certainly paint a thousand words. Use them in your proposals to make an impact and explain complex solutions.

First impressions count
The most important place to use pictures is right up front in your proposal. Put a client-focused image on the title page; maybe something related to his industry or to your solution.

Put at least one picture in your executive summary, preferably two or three.  Think about the key idea you want your customer to remember and use a picture to help him spot it and remember it. Adding pictures later in your proposal adds interest and makes your customer want to keep reading rather than just flipping to the price page.


Make an impact
Colour is 47% more persuasive. So if you want the deal then use colourful pictures. Not that we want to make our proposals too gaudy. Pick two or three colours for your titles and text, to help you emphasize the main points. Make sure that any graphics such as flow charts or block diagrams match your colour scheme. Treat all pictures in a similar way. For example frame all photographs with the same shadow style. Buy pictures online and build a library of images that you can use again.


Say it both ways once
Be careful not to use the same picture twice in the same proposal, unless it means the same thing and the point is important. For example you might repeat your executive summary picture of the solution at the start of the solution section and explain it there in more detail. But don’t use the same smiling face to mean both quality and satisfaction in different sections of the proposal. Use pictures to complement the text. Explain complex pictures in words, either before or after the picture, but preferably on the same page.

Don’t use horse titles
A horse title is one that adds no information beyond the obvious, picture a horse with the caption ‘Horse’, or a project plan with the caption ‘Project Plan’. Rather use action captions to explain why the picture is important to the customer. For example, if our project plan shows how we will deliver on time then an action caption may be ‘Delivered on Time’. We may expand on that by giving the customer a fact that discriminates our solution, such as ‘this project plan shows how our rapid methods will help you go live by 1 March’.

Keep it simple
A picture can be as simple as an arrow that tells your customer you’ll take her from where she is to where she wants to be. When you plan a picture you can start with a stickman drawing on a piece of paper. Give it to a graphic designer if you’re no good at graphics, or search for images online. I often see pictures that are trying to say too much. Pick one message for one picture. The best test is to ask someone else to look at the picture without reading the caption and ask them what they think it says. Ask a granny or a child for the most honest answer.


Some customers may need pictures more than others, and words may be more important in a proposal than pictures. But I hope these ideas will inspire you to add more pictures in your proposal because customers notice headlines and pictures before text, especially when they skim your proposal. Use pictures to win more.

And then ... have a winning bid process

The request for proposal (RFP) has been issued. Now what? Well, for a start you should read it with a highlighter and make a checklist of all the things required. AND THEN, you should decide whether to bid or not. AND THEN, you should follow a bid process.

Research by the Business Development Institute showed that winning proposal centres all:
Have a process
…that everyone in the team knows
... and follows

A good way to define that process is to start from the time your client issues the RFP. Now ask yourself ‘…AND THEN’ until you submit the proposal so that you can map your exiting process step-by-step. Compare your process to best practice methods like Tom Sant, Capture Planning and Shipley. Then adapt the process to suit your team and the types of bids you do.
At nFold, the live bids we are involved in often need a quick turnaround. So our bid process has only 4 high-level stages:

1.Kickoff - pull the team together to confirm the bid decision, review the proposal plan, discuss the RFP requirements and assign tasks.
Strategy - the core team uncovers client pains and gains and analyses the competitors. They also develop a winning theme, solution and price. This is the right time to write and sign off on the exec summary.
Write - create a template and storyboard, write the content, design the graphics, assemble a draft and schedule plenty of progress and review meetings.
Submit - check quality, improve layout and readability, sign off, package and deliver your bid on time.
For each stage we have a whole lot of steps we follow. This process works for big and small bids alike. If deadlines are tight, we can skip a few steps. But the process remains the same. It’s easy for everyone to remember and follow. Plus we allow enough time for each stage: almost 20% for planning and another 20% to review, package and submit the bid.

Remember that before the client issues the RFP you should be campaigning to win. Also remember to learn from your mistakes after submitting. Conduct a win/loss review with the client. But most of all, remember to celebrate when you win by following a great process.

The Game Begins with Kick-off Meeting you start to prepare a team based proposal, it’s a good idea to get the team together to make sure everyone knows what to do by when. At its best, the kick-off meeting inspires and motivates the team. At its worst, the hour you have set aside to meet flies by without achieving anything towards your goal: a winning proposal. So how do you get the best out of the kick-off meeting? Well, here are some ideas based on my experience. 


How to get the most out of your Kick-off Meeting

Be Prepared

Ideally, all team members should get a copy of the request for proposal and your detailed proposal plan at least one or two days before you meet. In fact, you might have a meeting with the core team a few days before the kick-off session to brainstorm the proposal strategy and compile the proposal plan. If you can, write the executive summary before the kick-off session. This will help you to make sure everyone in the team understands the business case you are making to the customer. Allow yourself about 15% of the total time to plan the proposal well.

Stay on Track

Draft an agenda for the kick-off meeting and circulate it to everyone ahead of time for comment. Make sure you stick to the agenda. It helps to appoint someone in the meeting as a time-keeper if that’s not your strong suit. For bigger proposals produced by bigger teams, you can start the kick-off meeting with the whole team, and have smaller break-away sessions for different sections of the proposal. Get off to a good start by running on time for the kick-off meeting. This will set the tone for the rest of your proposal effort.

Open with Muscle

Get an executive sponsor to start the meeting, even if they don’t stay for the entire time. Ask the sponsor to explain why this opportunity is important for your company to win. If needed, your sponsor can also help you to prioritize workloads for the proposal team members. If you have had problems with people meeting proposal deadlines in the past, get your sponsor to address this too; maybe by explaining the consequences of being late or losing the bid.

Cover the Bases

Thank the team for helping you put together a winning proposal. Get them excited about winning and keep them motivated.
Some of the items in your meeting agenda might be:

·     Opportunity Briefing (by someone close to the customer)

·     Proposal Strategy (how will you compete to win this opportunity)

·     Solution Overview (by someone who will deliver the work)

·     Bid Qualification (confirm decision to bid and uncover new details)

·     Proposal Schedule (who does what by when to meet proposal deadline)

Close with a Bang

Make sure everyone understands exactly what you need by when.
When you finalize the proposal schedule and allocate tasks, get commitment. It’s a good idea to ask people how soon they can deliver something to you within the context of the total plan, rather than imposing your own deadline on them. Check that everyone has the next meeting in their diaries. Make it soon, so that you can address problems early. Finish the kick-off session by recapping on next steps – only those things that need to be done before the next meeting.

When the whistle blows to start the proposal game, make sure that your winning team is working together to score the goals that will convince your customer to pick you. A strong kick-off gets you closer to that winning goal. Make it count.


Exec Summaries Lead the Way

Even though it appears first in our proposal, many people write the exec summary last. I want to convince you that there is a better way.

Does this sound familiar? It’s the night before the deadline and we’re starting to write our executive summary for that big bid. And that’s when we realize that we forgot to write some crucial part of the proposal, or – worse still - we got the strategy all wrong. Or, was your last exec summary a boring old cut and paste job all about you and not the customer?


To avoid starting with a blank page and facing writer’s block, I teach people two ways to write exec summaries:

     1. Tom Sant’s persuasive structure(For more details on Tom Sant’s persuasive “NOSE”, read one of my earlier Proposal Tips "Use your NOSE to write better proposals" further down.)


     2. Shipley’s four box method

Here’s my modified version of the four box method:


Strong Title – come up with a slogan that relates to the customer’s primary gain. Optionally also come up with a sub-title relating to your win theme or your solution.




Vision – a sentence describing the customer’s primary goal (quantify if you can).

Theme – a win theme sentence explaining why the customer should pick you.



Statement of Compliance - write how you comply with the requirement.

Introduce Hot Buttons – introduce the customer’s most important issues and outcomes. 

  • Hot Button 1
  • Hot Button 2
  • Hot Button 3



  • Hot Button 1

Solution & Benefits - what will you offer to solve the issue, and what will be the result for your customer.

Discriminators & Trade-offs - how does this compare to alternative ways of solving the problem and why is this way better?

Picture & Caption - find or create a picture to explain how your approach solves the problem. Give it a good caption explaining the benefit.

Proof - provide facts that support your unique positioning.

  •  Hot Button 2

Solution & Benefits - what will you offer to solve the issue, and what will be the result for your customer.

Discriminators & Trade-offs - how does this compare to alternative ways of solving the problem and why is this way better?

Picture & Caption - find or create a picture to explain how your approach solves the problem. Give it a good caption explaining the benefit.

Proof - provide facts that support your unique positioning.

  • Hot Button 3

Solution & Benefits - what will you offer to solve the issue, and what will be the result for your customer.

Discriminators & Trade-offs - how does this compare to alternative ways of solving the problem and why is this way better?

Picture & Caption - find or create a picture to explain how your approach solves the problem. Give it a good caption explaining the benefit.

Proof - provide facts that support your unique positioning.



Costs & Value - quantify the payback for the customer.

Proposal Preview - explain how you have structured the proposal.

Next Steps - ask for the business by saying what you expect will happen next.

Contact Details – make sure your customer knows how to contact you.

Contrary to its name, an exec summary should present a business case rather than a summary of your proposal. By writing it first, you let the business case inform the rest of the proposal rather than the other way round.

Your exec summary is more likely to win you the deal if it leads the way. You might need to revise it when you finish the proposal, but please write it first.

February 2012

Old Habits Die Hard

Getting proposal writers to change bad habits takes time.

Sometimes, proposal writers prefer their way of writing to what proposal best practice teaches. After all, it’s taken them a lifetime to develop their habits. We need to offer them a convincing reason to change. Unfortunately, “I think your customer will prefer my version” doesn’t cut it. The more senior or successful the person, the more difficult it is to convince them. Their way has worked for them so far, so why should they change?

For starters check the readability statistics. Did you know that MS Word can easily do this for you?  All you need to do is tick the readability statistics in Word Options. This dialogue box will pop up after a spelling & grammar check.


Readability Score

Proposal readers are busy people. They skim read. We need to make it easy for them to read our documents by using clear, direct language that doesn’t trip them up. That doesn’t mean our writing is casual, but it probably seems less formal than the average business document. A document that is easy to read doesn’t use much fluff, guff, geek or weasel. It uses the active voice because we know this builds trust.

Go the extra mile by re-writing the offending document in a way that improves readability to show that one can say the same thing using shorter words and sentences. Let's convert the die-hards. The battle is worth fighting for the poor customer.

October 2011

Wow Answers

Evaluators are looking for three star answers that give them the WOW factor.
Zero stars put your proposal in the bin. One star complies – barely. Two stars are responsive. But three stars blow them away with your insight into their needs.

When a customer asks you how many customers you have, the answer 30 may comply but is not responsive to what the customer really wants to know: have you helped people like me? We teach Tom Sant’s A-P-S structure to help proposal writers to convince customers that their answer is the best answer to the question.


A - Acknowledge

Restate the client’s need in general terms and empathise with the concern the client probably has behind the question.

P - Persuade

Incorporate a benefits statement into the description as early as possible – something the decision maker cares about.

S - Substantiate

Provide a factual answer. Describe the product/service, outline the process steps or add meaningful details.

Dr Tom Sant


Don’t worry. You don’t have to use this structure for every answer of a 500 page RFP. But you should use it for the questions that matter most to the customer. Or use it to highlight the key points in a section of your response.

If we apply this to the boring question “How many customers do you have?” then a 3-star answer might look a bit like this one...

A - Knowing how many customers we have gives you the comfort that we have done the same type of work for companies such as yours.

P – 10 of our 30 customers are either the same size as your company, from the same industry or wanted the same services. We have more customers like you than any other company in our sphere.

S – Here is a list by industry, size and service of our customers. We include case studies for the 10 similar projects, highlighting the customer problem, our action and the business result.

It takes a bit of practice to refrain from directly answering a question with a simple response like “Yes” or “30” or “See attached”. But I’m sure you will agree that these one word answers are not three star responses that will WOW the evaluator of our proposals.

September 2011

To Bid or Not To Bid

The  best kept secret in proposals is that you can double or even triple win rates by simply deciding whether or not to bid.

Rather than bidding for everything, why not bid only for deals you can win? This way you can use your limited resources to make a bigger impact on your customers and improve the quality of your bids. The result will be a much higher win rate.

Consider this scenario; Widgets Incorporated takes the shotgun approach to bidding. They submit 100 bids, even though they can only win 50. Because their proposal team is so rushed, they do a shoddy job and only win 10 of the 100 bids. So their win rate is 10%. Acme Corporation takes the missile approach. They qualify their bids and identify that they can only win 50. Their proposal team has twice as much time to produce a better quality bid. Let’s say they win only 15 of the 50. Their win rate will be 30% - three times that of Widgets. Which would you rather be?

Bid Less Win More

At nFold we use a matrix to help customers qualify whether or not to bid. We ask questions about how well this deal aligns to your strategy, how good is your relationship with the customer, how well you are positioned against the competition, what is the risk to your company, and how well can you deliver the bid in the time allowed. It’s a bit like playing 20 questions. As you can see, the stakes are high. So take the time to choose when to bid, then step back to enjoy the results.

August 2011
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Pitch Like the Client Thinks

Decision-makers follow a predictable thought process when they are making a buying decision. By delivering your content in a way that matches that process, you can increase the clarity and impact of your message and improve your win rate.

The brain is hard-wired to make decisions in a particular way. People who master the art of persuasion know how to use the insights of cognitive psychology, neurolinguistics, and neuroeconomic behaviour to make their points clearly and effectively. Read more...
This month's Proposal Tip was written by Tom Sant

Tom Sant
July 2011


First Things First



The primacy principle holds that when people make a decision, they first look for the key factor that matters to them, then stop and decide. If we know this, then we can improve our sales proposals. We need to understand the key messages our customers need and put those first. Here are some ways that you can do this in your proposals…

  • Add a strong title to your proposal that relates to the key outcome your customer wants. For example, if he wants to cut costs, use these words in your title. This will help him to pick it up before any other proposals. He will read the first proposal with more attention and compare all other proposals to it. You want it to be yours.
  • Whatever she reads first is what she thinks the proposal is about, so use your customer’s name before yours in a sentence – and make it the first word of your proposal. For example, “Acme can cut costs by using our widgets, 10% cheaper than any others on the market.”
  • Put the customer’s pains and gains before your solution. This makes the customer relax, knowing that you understand what they want to achieve. That way, they trust you by the time they start reading about your solution, so you don’t have to be quite as persuasive. Don’t forget, once you’ve outlined your solution to point out to the customer how you are different from your peers.
  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that explains, similar to a headline, what the paragraph will be about. This will make your proposals easier to skim read. The easier and more pleasing your proposal, the more likely you will get the deal. Your customers are busy and have lots of other things to read and do. They will appreciate a short sharp proposal with key points up front.
  •  There’s a reason our executive summary is at the beginning of the proposal. It’s our chance to make a business case to the customer. It needs to be persuasive and make an impact. It should entice the customer to read more to discover how we will do what we claim in it. Write it first because it will help you to get your messages clear and keep your proposal structure logical.

I’ll never forget seeing Stephen Covey demonstrate how he could fit more rocks in a fish tank by putting the big ones in first. This is not only a useful lesson in managing your time, but can also make a difference to your proposals. Always put the most important things first in your proposals - what’s most important to your customer, of course!

Listen to this Proposal Tip on your ipod or play it to your sales team.. download here

June 2011
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KISS Proposals


We all know by now that we need to love our customers. But kissing is important too. I mean KISS in the sense of Keep It Short and Simple, of course.

KISS Principle


How do you keep it short? Well, use short words for a start. Never say 'accelerates' when 'speeds up' will do. Also, limit your sentences to 15-18 words and your paragraphs to 2-3 sentences, with a clear topic sentence up front.

Keep your proposal short too. 25 pages is enough for most proposals, even if the value is millions. In fact, Patrick G. Riley who wrote 'The One Page Proposal' claims one page is enough for billions too. For smaller deals, write smaller proposals. 1, 4 or 10 pages feels right for the average simple solution. I suppose it's a bit like your elevator pitch. If you can't grab the client's attention on the way up from the 1st to the 10th floor, then you might as well get out of the elevator.

Apart from short words, sentences and proposals, it's also important to keep your solution simple. People don't buy what they don't understand. Use pictures to explain complex ideas. Then use action captions to explain your pictures. Use stories or analogies to make your solution simpler. Then use headlines to tell the story and paragraphs with tables, pictures and bullets to expand on the headline. A classic story line for a proposal is 'how we get you from A to B via C while avoiding D'. But you can also try others, such as suspense or action. Remember to delete all that fluff, guff, geek and weasel and you'll do just fine.

Listen to this Proposal Tip on your ipod or play it to your sales team.. download here

March 2011
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Make Key Points JuMp

Executives skim read. They’re busy people with lots to do. So your proposal needs to catch their attention and keep it. I hope that you read every word of your proposal to check it, but don’t expect that from your customer. People read proposals a bit like newspapers. They start with the headlines, then look at the pictures and captions, then start reading an article that interests them before turning the page when they know enough to move on.


Here are some ideas that will make your proposals easier to skim read:

Key to Success

1.  Use dynamic headings that tell your story. Instead of ‘Costs’ say ‘Return on Investment’, then live up to that heading with your content.

2.  Use pictures and captions to support your key points. People process pictures 60,000 times faster than text so you really can paint a thousand words.

3.  Use white space. Your eye is automatically drawn to text surrounded by white space, even if the text says ‘This page left intentionally blank’. Use this knowledge to create impact on your divider pages and in the margins of your proposal.

4.  Use formatting. Highlight important words or phrases using bold text. Make different levels of headings a different font size. Use colour, but never in isolation in case your customer prints your proposal using black ink to save money. Borders can emphasize a message. Italics provides contrast.

5.  Bullet or numbered lists and tables are easy to skim. But be careful not to make the lists or tables too long. People can only remember about 5 things at a time. So either shorten your list to include only important items, or group 3-5 items under subheadings to make a long list easier to digest.

Remember that you’re persuading your customer to part with money in your proposal. So if you lose his attention, you lose the deal. So get those key points to jump.

Listen to this Proposal Tip on your ipod or play it to your sales team.. download here

February 2011
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All about me.......Who Cares?

I teach sales teams to avoid lengthy corporate histories in their proposals. We love to tell the customer all about our company from the date it was founded. But none of our milestones matter to the customer. What does matter is our credibility to provide the solution he wants, and how we are different from our competitors. So in the ideal world, you would write a different company profile for every proposal.

What’s more, don’t put your company information at the front of the proposal. What people read first, is what they think the proposal is about. What the customer wants to hear first is how you solve her problems and deliver value to her. Then she wants to know that you can deliver and why to pick you.


So delete those long, boring histories about your company from the front of your proposal. Select only the information that matters to your customer. Put it at the back of your proposal with compelling reasons to pick you. Then watch your win rates improve.

November 2010
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How to say No

“You don’t have to be the parent of a teenager to realize that saying YES is always potentially more dangerous than saying NO.” Tom Sant
Did you know that you can double or triple win rates by simply saying NO more often?  If you’re tired of the shotgun approach and you’re under pressure to improve your win rates, then it’s time to upgrade to missiles. Rather than chasing after every opportunity badly, why not cherry pick the ones you can win and pursue them well? A simple decision tree can help you choose which bids to pursue.

How to say No

If you already supply the solution to the customer and you have a good relationship with them, you should be sure to bid. Also consider your competitive position, the strategic value of the deal and how well your solution matches the need. Last but not least, if you win the deal can you deliver it and make a profit? If the answer is yes to all of these factors, then say YES. Otherwise say NO and watch your win rates improve.
October 2010
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Ask for the Business
“Bringing a deal to closure can take forever.  It may be even more difficult today than ever before” Tom Sant
Imagine a salesperson on bended knee with a pen in one hand and the deal in the other, begging the customer to “Please, please, please” sign. It’s rather obvious that at some point the deal gets done. And yet, we don’t always ask for the business and make the close at the right time.
In sales, the right time is at the end of your sales cycle and the end of the customer’s buying cycle. In proposals and presentations, it’s at the end too - as long as you’ve also overcome those objections and get those buying signals. Ask for it at the end of the cover letter, ask for it at the end of the Executive Summary, and ask for it when you deliver or present the proposal. Being passive doesn't work. You have to ask.
August 2010
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Ask for the business

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Judge a Proposal by its Cover
Never title your proposal 'proposal'."  Tom Sant
If all the books in your favourite bookshop had white covers with the title 'Book', how would you know which one to pick up?
It's the same with your proposals. You want your customer to consider your proposal first because he will read it more thoroughly and will compare all other proposals to it. The way to entice him to pick it up is to choose a strong title.


"Proposal" doesn't say anything clients can't figure out themselves. Instead write a title that states a benefit to the client. For example, "Increase Network Reliability" or "Cut Legal Costs". Your subtitle can emphasize how your offering is unique. For example, "Unbeatable Service Levels" or "Faster Turnaround". If you also co-brand the cover of your proposal with your customer’s logo and mention the decision-maker’s name, then you’re well on your way to being the first proposal he will pick up.
July 2010
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Killer Presentations
“Say the right things, in the right order, to get the right response.” Tom Sant
You're nervous.  You've been short-listed for that big deal and need to present to the client's board tomorrow.  So what should you say, in what order, and how should you say it?  Research has shown that what you say is only 7% of the meaning that your clients absorb, the rest is how you say it and your non-verbal cues like body language.  According to the webinar by proposal guru Tom Sant and Nicholas B.Oulton, author of 'Killer Presentations', there are 5 key things that will help you win:

Killer Presentations

1.   Get attention
2.   Communicate
3.   Don't Waffle
4.   Rehearse Well
5.   Finish on time
Sounds like common sense, doesn't it.  Yet we often forget the basics.  So breathe deeply, relax, smile, open with a strong message, keep your message persuasive and close with a clincher.  If all else fails, bring out the kitten.  Everyone loves kittens.
May 2010
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Don't claim it, Prove it!

“Marketing fluff destroys credibility and undercuts trust. We need to filter it out.” Tom Sant

Customers are tired of reading vague generalizations in your proposals. Do you tell customers that you’re ‘leading edge’, state of the art’, ‘best of breed’, ‘world-class’, or ‘uniquely qualified’ without proving it? If you make a list of your unique factors, can you cross out your company’s name at the top of the list and insert your competitor’s name? Then it’s time to delete those trite phrases, rethink your unique factors and find some proof.

Prove it

For example, are you first to market with something? Did an independent analyst rate you as the best in your segment? Or have you consistently delivered 99% customer satisfaction over the last 10 years? That’s the kind of proof customers want. It substantiates why they should pick you over your competitors. Having a great brand is no longer enough in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Use facts and evidence of your uniqueness to persuade.

March 2010

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Mirror the needs of your customer

Mirror Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest proposal of all?

My uncle was a sales trainer and he taught me to mirror the body language of my customer in meetings to establish a connection and make her feel more comfortable with me. In the same way, your proposals must mirror what you have heard from customers before offering a solution. Address what they care about the most, and show you've listened and considered their interests and are not offering a canned approach.
The most deadly of proposal sins is failure to focus on the pains and gains of the customer. Do this first, because what your customer sees first in your proposals is what she thinks the proposal is about. A customer focused proposal identifies the customer’s needs and goals, solves business problems for her, analyses payback and communicates value. By way of contrast, product centred proposals are focused inwards, describe product features, provide line item pricing and have no controlling strategy. To deliver the fairest proposal to your client, and win the deal, remember client focus rules.
February 2010
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Mirror your customer

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Use your NOSE to write better proposals
Winning proposals present the right information in the right order to create the right impression
Customers want to know that you understand their Needs, issues or business challenges. Will your solution help them to achieve the business results, improvements or Outcomes they seek?  As the expert in your field, they are looking to you to recommend a specific Solution rather than bragging about your product features and confusing them with irrelevant technical details.  Last but not least, provide Evidence of your ability to deliver and give them compelling reasons to select you rather than a competitor or alternative.

Use the NOSE method

Describe the pain your customer feels. Be sure to understand what he needs for his business.  Usually this has nothing to do with your solution.  For example, he lost revenue because his accounting system failed and he was unable to issue invoices.
Why is the problem worth solving?  What will your customer gain by addressing his pains?  For example, by buying a new accounting system he will be able to issue more invoices in less time an improve continuity.
Make it clear to your customer how your solution is the best one to meet his needs and achieve the outcomes he wants.  He doesn't care about features, only benefits. For example, your accounting system allows clerks to view orders while they invoice so they make fewer errors.
Now prove to your customer that you are the best way for him to solve his problems.  Avoid vague claims like "best of breed".  Use facts he can verify independently.  For example, your accounting system won an award or was rated by customers as the fastest.


October 2009

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Prioritize your 'Uniqueness' factors

“1.  Brave. 2. Clean. 3. Reverent.”

“Brave, clean and reverent” sounds a bit like a scout’s oath. Imagine promising your customers you’ll be brave and strong and true. The example is extreme, but it shows that your customers want to know how you’re different. And some differences matter to them more than others.

Think about what you have to offer and select a few qualities, prioritized in terms of what your client cares about. If possible, tie them to the return on investment you're demonstrating. If you’re a big 5 consulting firm competing against other big consulting firms, your customer may not care. But if you’re up against a small specialist firm, your breadth of knowledge and experience may be important.


What you mention first, is what your customer will think is the most important selling point. So make it good.
August 2009
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Ghost the Competition

"Boo!" says the competition ghost...

It’s bad manners to mention competitors in your proposal, but nothing stops you from ghosting them. Your customer needs to know what makes you different from the competition and what’s in it for her. So, depending on what’s most important to her, you might highlight different discriminators. For example, it makes no difference to the customer that you are a top 5 firm if your competitor is one too. If you know who you’re competing against, raise issues in your proposal that strike at their weak points. If you know their software is susceptible to viruses, make a big deal about the importance of protecting against viruses.

Compare apples

If they’re expensive make a big deal about being cheaper. And if you don’t know who you’re competing against? Find out. Rate yourself against them from your customer’s point of view and you’ll soon see how to ghost them. Happy haunting!
April 2009
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Quantify the Payback

Ka-ching goes the slot machine and the cherries roll...

Just as you want to see the coins come flying out of that slot machine when you see 3 cherries, your customer wants to know the payback of investing in your solution. A good proposal shows the decision maker how much he or she will save, or how much more productive the organization will be. A convincing calculation of their return on investment is more compelling than a slogan or cliché. A picture paints a thousand words, so show the payback in a picture or a graph if possible, rather than only shosing facts and figures. Ultimately, your customer is weighing up the value less the cost of your solution. And this must exceed the value less the cost of doing nothing or choosing your competitor. Happy hunting!
February 2009
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Customer Benefits

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