The best two words with which to start proposals…

When we are working with a client who is expecting to make some large sales, we often end up looking at the way they write or present proposals. The manner in which you present your price is at least as important as the number itself. For those that don’t know the difference; a quote tells the customer how much they have to pay, a proposal tells them why they should pay it.

We see some that are little more than a quote fired out of their computer system listing parts and prices, some that are elaborately bound documents filled with words and some that are creatively designed PowerPoint slide sets. However it is presented, there is one thing we are always on the look out for. This is our version of it:

We always start our proposals with the heading UNDERSTANDING CHECK

The heading is followed by a sentence or two something like this:

‘This is what we have learned about your business. Please correct us if we have misunderstood anything:’

We then go on to include 8-12 short paragraphs (or long bullet points) along these lines:

  • Your business provides [product/service] to the [definition] and [definition] market sectors…
  • Your overall corporate objective is to…. and this means that you…. and you hope to…
  • The way you go about servicing your customers is to…
  • The problem you sometimes encounter is…. when this happens it can cost you…
  • You are looking for a way to….
  • To this end you are seeking a supplier who can….
  • You told us that an ideal supplier would be able to….
  • Any potential supplier must meet the approval of….

These should be written using their language or jargon… or no jargon at all. The aim is to let them hear an echo of their own voice. It should contain no specifics about you or your product. That comes later.

If it is well written, when the customer reads this section a warm little sigh occurs deep in their breast and their inner voice says with a smile…. ‘At last!… someone has listened!’

The next Heading is Our Recommendations… or Our Approach.

Writing this bit is a piece of cake. You simply look at each piece of the Understanding Check and say how your company, product or service meets that particular need.

  • We have many clients in the [definition] sector and…
  • Our approach is designed to allow you to continue to….
  • Our product solves the XYZ problem by….
  • As per your requirement we are able to…

The process of writing the Understanding Check has a built in safeguard. If you find you are struggling after writing two or three bullet points then it means you haven’t done enough discovery and you need to ask some more questions. If you don’t, your product will probably not meet their needs (because you simply don’t know what they are).

Warning: Don’t copy and paste. Don’t prepare a generic template with the bullet points in place…. always write it from scratch. It is the discipline of thinking about meeting the customers needs that will win you the business, not the quality of the paper and binding.

Our recommendation is that a proposal of this nature should be delivered with a person attached to talk through it (and help the customer nod in agreement at every step). If we know that the primary contact is not the final decision maker then we sometimes say ‘I have brought a draft of our proposal to show you to make sure it is OK before we finalise it’ … it is still beautifully bound and usually doesn’t get amended.

PS If you need us to train your people on how to combine the discovery process with proposal writing, drop us a line at