The proposal represents a critical junctures in your client’s buying decision.
It’s the moment when the ball is in their court and they decide whether to give you their business or not.
So what can you do to create a proposal that wins?
Answer one question.
Yep, one question. This isn’t business hocus-pocus, because its actually a complex and difficult question to answer.
The question is:
What is the critical business challenge your client is facing, and how will the outcomes of your project contribute towards solving it?
Spend time to generate a cogent and well reasoned answer to this question. It may take hours, it might even take days. But doing so will pay dividends.
Once you have an answer to this key question, you can connect everything in your sales process, your proposal, the language you use, the terms and focus points, all back to meeting the challenges of your client’s business.
The more intimately you can understand how your service offering will fit into the ecosystem of challenges, the better your chances of winning their business.
So let’s get specific. Here are 7 tips on how to go about answering that critical question:
1. Raw Materials.
So, if it’s such a difficult question to answer, where do you start? Where do you gather the raw materials for answering it?
The best source is first-hand discussion with your client. Specifically, your first client meeting(s).
Initial client meetings are where winning proposals are made.
These first meetings provide an opportunity to discover what business challenges your client is facing, and to understand where and how your service offering is going to fit into the wider scheme of those challenges.
Remember: your client’s business is not just a unitary thing.
It is a rumbling ecosystem of competing commercial concerns, internal and external challenges. Your proposal is going to serve some aspect of those concerns and challenges.
2. Research The Market & Competitors
While the focus of the first client meeting is to gather insight and understanding from the client themselves about their business – you need to have done some basic research into the market.
This will help you to frame and contextualise your client’s comments within the wider commercial landscape.
Some questions you might consider:
- Who are the competitors against which they are trying to differentiate themselves? And in what ways are they attempting to differentiate?
- Are there specific industry trends they have to contend with in the short to medium term?
- Are there macroeconomic trends they will need to deal with in the long term?
You don’t need a PHD in each topic, you do want to have a broad strokes understanding.
3. Have a Formal Investigation Process
It needn’t be a forty page dossier of questions. It can just be a handful.
Clients will appreciate your preparedness and professionalism. And you’ll ensure that you get what you need from the meeting.
Furthermore, this formalisation will help if / when you are looking to establish a more scalable sales process.
Some questions you might think about:
- What are the major business challenges you are facing this quarter / year?
- How are you currently looking to meet those challenges?
- How is this project associated with your business challenges?
- What KPI (key performance indicator) is associated with that challenge? And how do you measure it?
4. Be Upfront About Your Process
Don’t think you need to do this business detective work undercover. Be upfront about what you’re trying to achieve.
Clients appreciate commercial-mindedness in their service providers. Remember: the best client relationships are partnerships. They are built on a collaborative foundation.
It can be as simple as: “Part of our process is to ensure we understand the critical factors in our client’s businesses – so if it’s alright with you, I’ve got a couple of questions about the business”
5. Understand The Levers And How They Fit Together
Try to uncover the main levers in your client’s business. What aspects of their operation can you push and pull to have a multiplier effect on their key KPIs. The aspects of their operation they can push and pull to have a multiplier effect on a key KPI (i.e. revenue, or lead generation, or activation rates etc).
And once you feel you’ve mapped out these levers, push to understand how they fit together. How do these jigsaw pieces lock together in your client’s business, under ideal commercial conditions?
Start thinking – how and where can my proposal fit into this jigsaw?
6. More Listening, Less Selling
While it’s important to be confident in your services and the value of your offering, don’t make the mistake of falling into sales mode.
You’re liable to miss out on vital insights into the client’s business.
Let your client do the talking. And let the proposal you deliver afterwards do the selling.
7. Capture The Client’s-Own-Words
When clients engage a service provider, what they want (in an ideal world) is an extension of their own team. They want someone with all the accrued knowledge and intangible experience of having been there, building the business with them.
The more your client feels you understand the nature of their business, the more inclined they will be to do business with you.
So in your meetings, focus on capturing the client’s vocabulary and particular business idiom.
Obviously you don’t repeat these words verbatim in your proposal – but they will provide a useful vernacular for describing your offering. You’ll “speak their language”.
The One Question
So don’t forget – to win client work, there’s only one question you need to be able to answer, and answer well: what is the critical business challenge your client is facing, and how will the outcomes of your project contribute towards solving it?