Petra Odak July 17th, 2020

5 Strategies to Write more Effective Business Proposals

Writing business proposals is hard. That is, it’s a time-consuming process with no guarantees that you’re going to get the results you want. However, there are plenty of ways you can sure up your chances of success.

Today we’ll look at some of the most important strategies to write more effective business proposals.

This is crucial. The average win rate for a business proposal is just under 50%. In other words, half of your proposals don’t work out. These five simple strategies will help you increase your win rate, and push your margins up in the process.

Better yet, none of them are rocket science. Let’s look at some simple ways to improve your business proposal win rate.

Understand What the Client Really Wants

The biggest mistake sales professionals make is failing to solve prospects’ problems. That is, an effective business proposal starts by trying to understand the client’s business goals. An effective proposal convinces the client that you can help them meet these goals.

Ultimately, they don’t care how you do this.

This is where an effective discovery session comes in. While listening to the client in these sessions is obviously important, it’s also vital to cut through to the headline issue they’re facing. Let’s think about an example scenario.

Say you run a marketing agency, and you get in touch with an eCommerce store to help with their SEO. But when you get under the hood, they’re traffic figures are actually pretty healthy. Rather, the problem is that their product pages are a disaster.

In this case, the prospect only thinks they want help with their SEO. Your task is to scratch below the surface and see that they really want more sales. Since you’ve already identified the pain point to fix, the task of your proposal is to convince them of this.

Of course, this is an extreme example.

To grasp what clients really want in every discovery session, you can use certain prompts. These include:

  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • What are the main problems facing your business right now?
  • What are your goals for this project?
  • How does this project fit into your wider business strategy?

The answers to these questions will then inform your next stage. You can also supplement this with feedback from previous clients.

Frame Your Introduction with Concrete Goals

An effective introduction achieves a few different things. First, and most importantly, it grabs the reader’s attention. They should be excited to read on. To achieve this, it’s best to start with a simple promise in your title.

This includes what you’re going to achieve, and how long it will take.

The key here is to reference the fundamental business problem that you identified in your discovery session. You should then quantify the value you can add to this. For example, double your sales or generate 10,000 more leads.

Now that you have their attention, the remainder of your intro has another goal. Specifically, you want to start convincing the reader that you really understand they’re business needs. Of course, this is also a great chance to hammer home your goal.

Essentially, what you want to do is briefly outline what they’re current situation is, and where they’ll be once you’ve worked your magic.

You might optionally want to add a brief reference to the method you’ll use to achieve your goal. However, this is only effective if it’s actually possible to do this in a couple of words. Unfortunately, whether you can do this or not really depends on what kind of business you run.

For instance, ‘web design project’ is easy to drop into a casual sentence, and it won’t put anyone off reading. ‘High capacity sewage management system’ does not have the same effect in an intro.

On the subject of grabbing your readers’ attention, here a bonus takeaway. Obviously most proposals are read on a computer. However, 34% are read on mobile. While this may come as a surprise, the implication is obvious.

You simply can’t afford to lose a third of your business just because your proposals aren’t mobile-friendly.

Use Detailed Timescales to Increase Buy-In

When they formulate project proposals, most sales professionals are afraid to use concrete time scales. In a way, this is understandable. There’s a certain risk to offering detailed timescales, as it’s easy for things to go wrong.

However, the alternative is much worse. In fact, omitting time scales completely makes your proposal seem amateurish and uncredible. To mitigate risks, it’s best to include time scales with an extra buffer for yourself when you need it.

This also means you’ll seem to be ahead of schedule during project delivery.

Besides this, the real benefit of providing timescales is psychological. To understand this, put yourself in the reader’s shoes for a minute. Whoever wrote this proposal has already put the work into figuring out every detail of this project, down to when they’ll deliver everything.

If you were in this situation, you’d likely feel two things. Consciously, you’d be impressed by the work ethic of anyone who did this much of a project before they’d even made the sale. Unconsciously, you’d feel like the project was already underway.

Therefore, when the time comes, it wouldn’t feel like such a leap to sign on the dotted line.

Add Proof Using Case Studies

So far in your business proposal, you’ve been trying to convince the reader that you can solve their particular business problem. The trouble is, that so far they’ve had to take your word for it. That is, they have nothing to go on except that you’ve told them you can solve their problem.

But how do they know you’re not just a smooth talker?

This is where proof comes in. Over 70% of people are more likely to make a purchase when they’ve heard a positive opinion from a stranger. This rises to over 90% when it’s a peer’s opinion.

You can leverage this fact to make your business proposals more effective. This works in two ways. First, it adds credibility to your claims. That is, it shows that you’re not all talk. When the time comes, you can actually deliver the goods.

Second, it adds an element of FOMO. This works best when you use a case study from a client who works in a similar sphere to your new prospect. Remember, you’re writing this proposal because the reader has a problem with their business.

Whether that’s poor sales or low lifetime customer values, the last thing they want is for them to suffer when they’re competitors are thriving.

Reference Value when Presenting Costs

In any business proposal, the biggest barrier is getting the reader to get over the costs associated with your project. Times are tough, and many businesses are wary about throwing cash around.

This is another chance to utilise a little bit of psychology.

Specifically, you can use an effect called anchoring bias. This is where people create a reference point in their minds when they hear a piece of information. This reference then influences how they think about new pieces of information.

To utilise this, always give a concrete figure for the value you’re offering before any mention of the price. This ensures that the reader is always referencing the amount they’ll have to pay to the larger gains they’ll receive.

Another great practice is using investment as a header instead of costs, or pricing. This emphasizes the benefit of doing business with you – it’s an investment for future success, not just a one-time cost.

Then signing on the dotted line is a no brainer.

How to Write More Effective Business Proposals

As we’ve already discussed, the core problem when writing business proposals is that they take a lot of effort, but there’s no guarantee they’ll pay off. However, this is something you need to overcome.

Indeed, effective business proposals are the only sure-fire way to score high-value clients.

To that end, we’ve looked at a few concrete strategies to make your proposals more effective. Even better, these are all things you can implement today. At their core, they all start by trying to understand the client’s fundamental business problem.

You then use the remainder of your proposal to convince them that you’re the person to solve this problem. We’ve looked at a couple of extra ways to sure up this approach, but at the core, it’s really that simple.


Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Petra Odak

Petra Odak is a Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals, a simple yet incredibly powerful proposal software tool that helps you send high-converting, web-based business proposals in minutes. She's a solution-oriented marketing enthusiast with more than 5 years of experience in various fields of marketing and project management.

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