Today’s guest post comes Michael Boyette, the managing editor of Selling Essentials newsletter and editor of the Top Sales Dog blog. Listen in on his insights about what it takes to create winning sales proposals.

Written sales proposals don’t get the benefit of the doubt. They don’t get second chances. They don’t get to answer questions from the audience or go back and explain something that wasn’t clear.

The key to an effective written sales proposal is anticipation. Since you may not be present to defend your proposal to everyone who will review it, you have to be sure it will be able to stand on its own.

Before you submit your next proposal, be sure to do the following:

1. Address it to the buyer you haven’t met.

The most important audience for your proposal isn’t the people you’ve met. With them, you have a chance to explain what you’re proposing. The most important people are the ones you haven’t met and have no relationship with. That may include the top brass, of course. But they’re not the only ones who can kill the deal.

Consider, for example, the end users (who will be suspicious about your “ease of use” claims and may be wedded to a competitor’s solution).

Also consider other indirect influencers you may have overlooked – especially those who might be threatened in some way by your solution.

For example, if your proposal could reduce head count in one of the prospect’s branches, that branch manager will offer 17 reasons why your idea won’t work. You need to anticipate and address those issues.

2. Make it easy to read

If the proposal is hard to follow, buyers will assume you’ll be hard to work with. Resist the temptation to use the proposal as a vehicle to show your prospect how much you know or how hard you’ve worked to arrive at your recommendations. If it looks like a dissertation, it’ll end up on a shelf.

Instead, demonstrate your expertise by focusing only on the issues that are relevant, your ability to make these issues clear to your buyer, and your new insights.

Don’t include every last detail. As mystery writer Elmore Leonard says, “Leave out the parts that everyone skips.” (Or at least put them in an appendix).

Also, provide a summary – preferably with lots of bullet points – that can stand on its own. Assume that many, if not most, of the decision makers will evaluate your proposal solely by what’s in the summary.

3. Make it about them, not you

Avoid the common pitfall that “the buyer wants to learn about us.” They do – but only if it’s relevant to their needs. What every customer really wants to know is how you’re going to help them. Present enough background and credentials to establish your credibility. Then move quickly to showing how your solution meets their needs and delivers benefits to them.

4. Address risk

Whether they admit it or not, all buyers obsess about the downside. Assess the risk that’s inherent in the client’s decision. Show how your solution will reduce those risks.

And don’t be afraid to discuss the downside of your recommendation. If you don’t bring it up, someone will. Better to raise the issue and address it yourself.

5. Include plan B

You know you can do the job, but not everyone will be convinced. Provide a clear implementation plan that shows how you’ll deal with major obstacles and presents alternatives if things don’t go according to plan.

6. Head off price objections

Think about how the customer might question the price, and present it in a way that puts it in context – for example, by demonstrating life-cycle costs.

7. Get your key contact to endorse it

Run a draft past your internal champion or sponsor before you submit the final version. To be sure your “draft” doesn’t become the one everyone reads, try to arrange for a sit-down to go over it with your contact, and take the draft back with you to finish it up.

Michael Boyette has managed marketing/PR programs for DuPont, Tyco Electronics, and US Healthcare, among others. In addition, he’s authored ten books on a variety of subjects for such publishers as Simon & Schuster, Dutton and Holt. Contact Michael via email at topsalesdog@rapidlearninginstitute.com.

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