Start your proposals from scratch

Oct 12, 2009

I was talking with an old acquaintance recently— a principal in a very successful international planning and design firm— about how things were going for him and his firm. In spite of some rocky times in the markets he served, he was very optimistic and upbeat about something he had been doing recently. That “something” was NOT using any of the firm’s standard proposal documents or components, but instead starting from scratch with something all-new and unique for the immediate situation. That got me thinking about my own experiences marketing and selling professional services. I recalled the period when I was most effective as a business developer, and realized I had done the very same thing. I threw out all the stale, old, awkward, overused boilerplate, and wrote up something that was new and custom-tailored for that client and that specific project. Here are some keys to writing all-new proposals that SELL the job: Show you really understand the client’s problem or opportunity by clearly restating what the situation is and what their goals or desired outcomes are. No one wants to hire an expensive design or environmental firm unless they are sure they understand them and their needs. This is crucial. Clearly explain your project approach and the process you will follow, and present a critical path and realistic schedule for doing the job. Show you have some unique insight or ideas that will help the client. Don’t just talk about all you have done before for similar clients on similar projects. Instead, tease the client with two or three of your ideas that you might want to employ for them. And, as far as the schedule goes, put some real thought into the critical path for the project so the client has a realistic understanding of what needs to happen and how long it will take. Show them the team that will really do the job for them. Don’t just throw every resume you’ve got (along with the kitchen sink) at the client— instead, show each team member and what they will do to help advance the client’s project. Use language the client will understand. Better yet, use terms that the client has used in your pre-proposal discussions. This way, they will understand you and also think you have been a good listener. More is not better. My experience is that 80-90% of the typical stuff in a proposal/qualifications package is “filler.” When you start anew, your packages will suddenly be one-third or half the size they normally are. That’s a good thing. You won’t be obscuring what’s critical or forcing the client to wade through anything that is boring or irrelevant to them. When you get the job, ask the client why they selected you. It’s good information to know because you want to be absolutely sure to not let them down based on their reason or reasons for hiring you. Throwing out all the old and starting fresh when it comes to your proposals is fun. It makes you rethink what you have always done and that relieves boredom. And, it will make you much more effective as a seller or business developer. Maybe it’s time you tried something new? Originally published 10/12/2009

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.