Proposals That Win Business
Too many request for proposal (RFP) responses offer boilerplate examples and canned marketing materials. Differentiate your business with customer-specific solutions and relevant end user references.
F or many VARs and integrators, your first chance to impress is often made on paper, rather than in person. Requests for proposals (RFPs) are a common way for end users to seek out technology solutions. Companies use RFPs as starting points to narrow the field of potential technology solution providers. So, how do you make sure your proposal is among the chosen few?
I gained some insight into this subject during a panel presentation I moderated at the Channel Connection event at the AIIM 2002 Conference and Exposition, March 6 to 8, in San Francisco. The panel provided input from different industry members (a consultant, a software company, and a distributor). It consisted of Dan Elam, a consultant with eVisory Consulting; Paul Davis, national sales director for Hyland Software; and Arsenio Batoy, president of Optical Laser.
The ABCs Of Proposal Writing
Elam, who has been involved in more than $3 billion in technology procurements, outlined the basics of a good proposal. Every proposal should include an outline of the customer's problem, a description of the proposed solution, a project plan, references from customers in a similar line of business, and the corporate background information of the solution provider.
When describing the problem and solution, be customer-specific, said panel members. They warned VARs not to use boilerplate explanations or canned marketing summaries that could be found on any proposal. That approach is not personal and doesn't speak directly to the customer. Additionally, keeping references relevant to the business that you are vying for is crucial (e.g. don't give a prospective insurance company references of customers in banking or government).
Lastly, the corporate background information is your chance to make your business shine by playing up your strengths. Make this a formal document - like a description you would read in a Fortune 500 company background piece.
Common Proposal Mistakes
There are many traps VARs and integrators fall into when preparing proposals. The biggest mistake solution providers make is they do not follow the requester's desired proposal format (e.g. section C should describe the solution, but you describe it in section D). This makes it difficult for the end user to compare different solution providers and usually counts against you.
Proofreading your proposal is also extremely important, said Davis. Many proposals have spelling, grammar, and pagination errors, and even have information from another customer's proposal pasted inside. Proposals riddled with errors give the potential customer a poor impression of your business and its attention to detail.
Present The Proposal Face-To-Face
Even if you master proposal writing, it's still tough to represent your business and solutions on paper. Try to convince the potential customer to allow you to present the proposal in person, said Batoy. Product demos customized to a customer's business make a huge impact. Batoy also recommended taking the prospect's "temperature" before, during, and after the delivery of the proposal. This way, you can adjust your presentation according to the response. In the end, if your business masters proposals, your company can use them as sales tools to grow business.