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How to write compelling business proposalsStijn Schutyser
Writing compelling business proposals is vital to the survival of your business. A business proposal is compelling when it tells the reader why they should pick you instead of one of your competitors. But writing a compelling business proposal is far from easy. This blog post lists a few concrete tips and offers some more explanation on how you can write better, more compelling business proposals so you can do more business.
A great business proposal has at least 3 clear themes that differentiate you from your competition. That way, potential buyers know why they should choose your organization over anybody else’s. To get to these 3 themes, think about your business proposal story (or strategy) before you start writing. What is the story you’re going to tell the buyers? Think about these fundamental areas:
- the customer and their key drivers,
- your capability to deliver a solution that meets that customer’s requirements,
- and your competition, keen on winning the deal themselves.
Understanding the customer
If you want to tell a compelling story to a potential customer, you first have to understand your customer. It’s a good idea to first get to know their organization and the opportunity you’re bidding for. You should be able to answer these 3 questions:
1. What do they really want?
What is the customer looking for? It’s essential to get behind the specifications in an RFP and understand the real drivers for the project. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself this:
- What are my hopes?
- What do the people on my team want to be seen to achieve?
- What would I be saying about the project if it had gone really well?
2. What don’t they want?
This really is just an extension on what I’ve explained above. Again, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and show that you understand and are able to mitigate the risks associated with the project.
- What are their fears? Show how your solution addresses these fears.
- What could go wrong?
- What would be the impact on them as a business if the project failed to deliver?
3. What do their bosses want?
The customer’s team will need to convince their management that their recommendation to choose your solution is the right one. You should therefore also keep in mind what the ‘higher-ups’ are likely to ask about your organization and your solution. If your story deals with their likely issues and challenges, it’ll make it so much easier for them to sign you for the project.
Aligning your capability
You should already have a profound understanding of what your organization’s capabilities are. All that’s left to do is aligning those capabilities with what the customer is asking for. You can do that by covering the following things:
- List the customer’s key requirements in order of importance. Limit the list to about 10 items.
- Identify the requirements that you can address particularly well (better than your competition) and think about how you can illustrate this in the business proposal.
- Identify the requirements that might give you problems and work out what you need to do to address these. If any of these issues are total show-stoppers, you shouldn’t write a business proposal for that particular project. There’s little point writing a proposal if you know you won’t be able to meet some of the customer’s key requirements.
Next, it’s useful to map out the journey you’ll take the customer on between now and implementing your proposed solution. Show them how you’ll take them from A to B, via C while avoiding D. A is their current situation, B is where they would like to end up. C is the way to get there, the key activities that need to take place to achieve the change. Finally, D stands for the major hurdles that you need to overcome throughout the project or the risks you need to mitigate. We call this a transformation map.
Below this blog post, you can download a document that helps you visualize these steps.
Beating the competition
If you want to win the business, your business proposal needs to be better than that of any of your competitors. It’s a good idea to map out the competition you’re up against, why you’re better than them and how you can beat them. Luckily, there’s a tool for this called a ‘bidder’s comparison matrix’:
To complete this tool:
- List your competitors or your best guesses as to who else might be bidding.
- Write down the top few strengths and weaknesses the way the customer is likely to perceive them. Do this for your own organization as well as your competitors.
- Rank your competitors in order. Put the competitor that is most likely to win the bidding first and poses the greatest threat first, then go down for the second, third, fourth, … competitor. If you don’t put yourself at the very top of the list (and thus not the most likely to win), you might want to ask yourself why you’re doing all of this again. 😉
In your business proposal, make sure that your story exploits your strengths as well as your competitors’ weaknesses while mitigating your own weaknesses and their strengths.
Wrapping up: why the customer should choose you
From the above, you should be able to work out your business proposal story. Why should the customer choose you instead of the competition? You should be able to explain this in a short paragraph we call a ‘value proposition’:
<client> will achieve <benefits> by selecting <your solution/organization>.
Whenever possible, the benefits that you describe in this value proposition can of course only be achieved if the buyer selects your organization.
After writing down the value proposition, write down the three or four key messages that you want the potential buyer to remember from your business proposal, the things that really set you apart. Perhaps you offer the lowest risk, the most innovative solution, the best value for money, most future-proof approach, …? Writing down the value proposition and key messages takes a lot of work, creativity and patience, but don’t stop reiterating on them until you’ve got something you feel truly happy with.
A great business proposal tells a story about why the customer should pick you and not the competition. You need to be clear on that story if you want to write a business proposal that really convinces them. Therefore, think about your proposal strategy before you start writing the proposal and consider
- what the customer really wants and the benefits they want to achieve,
- your capability in making the project a success,
- and what differentiates you from your competition.
Then write a paragraph that sums up all the benefits the customer gets when they choose you. Include the value proposition and the three or four key messages that convinces them you’re the right choice.
You can use our free template to map out the journey you’ll take the customer on between now and implementing your proposed solution, plus a bidder’s comparison matrix.
I have a ton more writing tips for compelling business proposals, but I wanted to start with tips on business proposal strategy before anything else for two reasons.
- Writing the bulk of a business proposal and then wondering about the strategy is the world upside down. A good business proposal strategy dictates the content of the business proposal and therefore, you need to develop the content with a clear story in mind from the very start.
- I’d like to get some feedback from you, the reader. Are you interested in some more tips on business proposal writing? What topic would you like me to cover next? Are there any questions you have or things you’re struggling with? Please comment below and let me know how I can help you in the next post! 🙂
Thanks for reading!