How to begin a proposal

Studies on recall have found that we tend to remember the start of something, the end, and any high points in the middle. Take a moment to consider this for yourself. You’ll find it’s true for most things, from jobs and relationships to movies and multiple-course meals.

If you’re in the business of writing proposals, what do you think your readers remember about yours? What immediate impression do they get of you?

If you’re in the habit of beginning yours by describing your company’s history or by saying how delighted you are to be sending the proposal, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You run the risk of being perceived as samey – and if a business is looking for a new supplier, that’s not a good thing. Your prospect is looking for something new, and they need to be wowed.

So, here’s a simple three-step process you can use to make a strong first impression. You can apply these steps to executive summaries, introductions and any other sections where you are introducing a new product, solution or idea.

Step 1: Go through a process trying to understand what your prospect really wants, needs and desires from you

When I work closely with clients, we spend a lot of time on this step, filling in worksheets that get to core of what’s needed. After that we create messages and identify the key things about the company, its people, products and services that will give the prospect what they need.

You need to ask questions such as:

  • What are my prospect’s key problems and ‘pains’?
  • What is the added-value of my expertise?
  • What benefits do people get from this?
  • What do I want people to do, think, feel and say after reading my proposal?

Step 2: Introduce the prospect’s problems in a compelling, clear and catchy way

Don’t assume that because your prospect knows all about their problems, that they don’t want you to tell them. On the contrary, restating, describing or expanding upon the issues they face helps you to connect with them, which is the first step to building their trust.

You want them to be nodding, and thinking ‘aha – now here’s someone who understands what we’re all about.’ So grab attention by deliberately crafting an opening that allows you to connect in this way. Here are some ideas to get you started.

You could open with:

  • A highly interesting or unusual story
  • A surprising or interesting statement, question, fact or opinion
  • A quote from a significant person
  • A current news story

These techniques work in any industry – even very technical ones. For example, if you were proposing an IT cloud server solution, and you knew that your client was extremely concerned about safety, you could begin by referencing a recent news story. You could write about the current scandal where over 100 celebrities have had private photos leaked, after a hacker broke into the iCloud server. And you could then link this to your prospect by stating that you would never leave your prospect in a situation where they would be exposed in this way. Whatever approach you choose, be creative and bold.  

Step 3: Write a summary paragraph that shows you understand the prospect’s core needs, wants and desires

You’ve captured their attention, so it’s crucial to succinctly summarise what they want. This is why step one is so important. If you’re not sure what they want, revisit the request for proposal, if you have one, or try to have a brief, informal conversation with your prospect to discover what they want.

Doing this paves the way for your solutions, products and services to be viewed in the best possible light. Remember, your proposal needs to be viewed as a dart hitting a bulls-eye, not a general showcase of you and your company.

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