An effective proactive proposal

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We all know the value of taking a proactive approach to sales and marketing strategy. But are you including proactive proposals in your thinking? A growing trend tells us sellers that use proposal skills earlier in their buyer interactions are reaping the rewards.

Ten years ago, almost all of our business focused on conventional RFP and tender processes. Today, more than 25% of our projects involve helping clients in proactive sales processes. As well as writing proactive proposals, this includes producing branded collateral like handouts, invitations, slides, infographics and walk-through posters. These changing engagements reflect a wider transformation that’s happening with some of our clients. But what triggered these changes?

Some of the answers can be found in the The Challenger Sale. Published in 2013, this excellent book analyses research from over 6,000 buyers. It concludes that the most effective sellers are those who challenge their customer’s assumptions and methods. To do this, sellers need to truly understand their buyer’s business and industry. And if they know this, the seller can control the conversation by sharing insights and making compelling suggestions. The book also highlights some other key trends:

  • Buyers are going to market later in their purchasing processes and so the chances of winning the cold RFP or tender is lower than ever
  • The involvement of more decision makers is a trend leading to ‘the status quo’ (i.e. no change) being the likely winner
  • The biggest influence on long-term loyalty is driven from how the buyer is treated in the sales process

This is where the proactive proposal brings real value. Acting as a vehicle to articulate your insights, they influence the buyer’s thinking. Done well they show the buyer you are serious about doing business with them. And it gives the ‘coach’ within the buyer something to share with other decision makers.

So smart sellers use a concise and impactful proactive proposal to gain a significant competitive advantage. But our white paper – ‘How the Best Win’ – shows us that only the top 5% of proposal organisations work with their sales colleagues to do this. Why is this? Perhaps proposal teams just aren’t asked for their help. But if you are, fundamentally it’s just like any proposal. It needs to tell a compelling story. Here’s a suggested proposal structure that will help you build your own proactive proposal:

  • A bespoke design that has a client-centric feel to it including covers with an active title
  • A short foreword to say why you have provided this document and what they will read inside
  • An executive summary structured to summarise your story, suggestions and why they need you
  • Your recommendations – show you know the buyer and their market, what they should be doing and how you can help
  • Commercials – the investment that the buyer will need to make, with the potential return
  • Credentials – a short, tailored overview of your organisation slanted towards your story
  • Next steps – a short concluding section with a clear set of follow-ups

In summary, an effective proactive proposal fits neatly within and is fully supportive of The Challenger Sale approach. Sales teams need the skills and experience of their proposals team, which will drive genuine competitive advantage for organisations willing to invest in proactive proposals.

This article was written by Graham Ablett.

Graham helps clients to win specific opportunities as well as implementing effective and efficient proposal processes. He is a former board member of APMP in the UK, holding APMP Professional status, and is an APMP Approved Trainer.

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