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Paul Sloane


How to Write a Winning Business Proposal

Make the first impression count by taking the client’s point of view

Published: Monday, October 26, 2015 - 13:04

The business proposal is an essential document not only for sales people but also for anyone who wants to submit a serious proposition for internal or external approval.

The process starts with a thorough understanding of the stakeholder’s needs, problems, and priorities. If a request for proposal has been issued, then the document must be read carefully. The key elements in the request for proposal must be addressed and some of the stakeholder’s phrases and terminology should be reflected in your response. This seems elementary, yet many weighty business proposals have been rejected because they did not address the specific requirements in the request for proposal.

The more understanding you have of the stakeholder’s needs, philosophy, and decision-making criteria, the better placed you will be to submit a winning proposal. If possible, meet the client face to face and ask many intelligent questions.

The proposal should contain the following main elements:
1. Management summary. This is aimed at a busy senior executive; in less than one page it condenses the main elements of the proposal.
2. The background. This describes the current situation, the problem, or the requirement. It shows why a solution is needed, and why action should be taken. It might summarize the main goals of the proposition.
3. Your proposal. You now lay out in detail how your proposal would work and why it would specifically address the needs of the stakeholder. This section explains the methods, partners, and processes you would use.
4. The costs. This section includes details of the costs together with any projected returns.
5. The benefits. You now spell out the benefits of the proposal. These might include hard benefits, such as a profitable return on investment, and soft benefits, such as an improved reputation.
6. Why you? This essential element gives the reasons why the stakeholder should select you and your proposal instead of other proposals they’ll receive. What makes you and your proposal better and different? Refer to case studies and testimonials, which if numerous, should be detailed in an appendix.
7. Draft action plan. It’s often helpful to suggest an action time line—starting with the stakeholder giving the go-ahead. This is a subtle call to action and also shows that you are thinking ahead to the implementation.
8. Appendixes. Any detailed research, tables, or data should be included in separate appendixes.

After you have written your proposal, ask yourself whether it answers these three questions, since they are the ones your client is most likely to have:
1. Why change? Often your biggest competitor is not another supplier—it’s the stakeholder doing nothing. Have you demonstrated that action needs to be taken?
2. Why us? Does your bid clearly show what differentiates you and your proposal from other bidders and their offerings?
3. Why now? Does it provide a reason to choose you now?

Don’t just write your proposal and send it off. Get someone else to read it for errors or inconsistency. Put it aside for a day or two, and then re-read it; that’s when revisions actually are an improvement.

In many cases the stakeholder’s decision is based on the proposals they receive. Maximize your chance of success by making your proposal professional, accurate, timely, and focused on them and their needs.

First published Aug. 13, 2015, on the Destination Innovation website.


About The Author

Paul Sloane’s picture

Paul Sloane

Paul Sloane is an author and expert on lateral thinking puzzles and lateral thinking in business. He is a skilled facilitator and course leader who helps top level teams achieve breakthrough results in their meetings. You can see some of his innovation articles and videos on the Free Downloads page.