So why do so many marketers produce such poor sales proposals? I recently helped a client of mine prepare a request for proposal of business-to-business services. I also reviewed the proposals received in response to the request.
Although the request spelled out the client’s needs in detail and all the prospective vendors had the opportunity to learn more about those needs during the proposal preparation process, most of the proposals fell shockingly short.
Here’s what the vendors got wrong in their sales proposals and what you can learn for your smart marketing strategy.
Five proposal mistakes that can cost you the sale
The sales proposal is your best opportunity to demonstrate your desire for a relationship with a prospect. By creating a dynamic, well-written and insightful proposal, you can show your understanding of the prospect’s needs and your ability to deliver services better than anyone else.
But the opposite is also true. If you submit a bad proposal, you’ll have very little chance of winning the business. Here are five of the most common—and costly—mistakes:
- We are the goodest writers. Most of the proposals my client received were poorly written. One proposal, which offered writing services, had astonishingly bad sentence structure, misplaced commas and verbose language.
- I’m sorry, what was your business about? The worst offenders failed to offer any insight into the client’s business or demonstrate how they could help the client achieve success. Some appeared to have invested little time in learning about the client’s brand, industry, competitors or key points of differentiation in the marketplace.
- Hand me that cookie cutter. One firm noted with pride during the interview process that they could easily “whip out a proposal in a day.” And indeed they did, by using a one-size-fits-all template. What they whipped out had nothing to do with the client’s needs. It demonstrated their lack of understanding of the client’s business.
- It’s all about us. One 19-page proposal had exactly two pages that referenced the client: the cover page and the pricing page. The other 17 pages were about the firm and how they work, with no explanation of how those capabilities matched the client’s requirements or the services requested.
- No ideas for you. Though a vendor shouldn’t be expected to give away a lot of free advice at the proposal stage, a proposal is a chance to demonstrate a vendor’s eagerness to go beyond what the client is expecting, to build excitement about the possibilities of a future partnership. Ideas were few and far between.
Don’t waste a golden opportunity
Any sales representative will tell you that it’s hard work to nurture a prospect to the point that he or she asks for a proposal. So when you do have the chance to submit a proposal, it’s crucial to give it your best effort.
Always remember that your sales proposal is a reflection of the quality of your company. If you can’t demonstrate a high level of quality at the proposal stage, you certainly won’t be capable of doing it later on. More important, you probably won’t get the chance.
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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing which provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.