If you think of the proposal writing process as intimidating, daunting and time consuming, I want you to know that you are not alone. Daunting though it might be, you’ve got to learn to do it well, because writing proposals for almost every profession a key to securing business.

There are lots of reasons that we might be called upon to write a proposal. Perhaps you are a business owner or a sales person who needs to sell a product or service. You might work inside a corporation and need to create a proposal for a new business idea. Or you might need to request grant funding to support your non-profit organization. Regardless of the why, how you craft your proposal will make the difference between winning and losing your chance to get what you want.

For our purposes, I’m going to focus my suggestions based on the idea that your proposal is being written to “sell” something versus creating a proposal request for grant funding or a business loan. While many of the same tips apply, what I’m sharing with you here are the top ways to craft proposals that capture attention and close the sale.

1.Focus on the Customer

It sounds obvious enough, but it is a point that is often over looked. Many people begin their proposals focused on telling the customer what they have to sell, who they are, and why the customer should buy from them. At this point in the process, the customer doesn’t care. Instead, they want to know “what’s in it for them” and that’s where your focus needs to be.

You will kick off your proposal with an Executive Summary – no more than 2 pages in length – that focuses on what you have learned about the business opportunity. This is your chance to demonstrate to the customer that you were listening and fully understand their business need. Taking the opposite approach means you risk having your proposal quickly knocked out of the running. Remember, that the order of the information you include in your proposal is just as important as the actual details you include.

2.Use a Consultative Approach

A compelling proposal results when you approach the process like a consultant. This means you want to ask really great questions to help you learn as much as you can about each business opportunity, challenges and pain the customer may be experiencing, financial impact if they do nothing, their buying expectations, and objectives. Avoid the temptation to use a "boilerplate" proposal. Although the core elements of your proposals will typically remain the same, you want to be sure you take the time to customize each proposal based on the unique situation. Don’t forget to take great notes, because you’ll be using your “discovery” information to summarize what you know in your Executive Summary.

3.Define the Solution

“The amateur salesman sells products; the professional sells solutions to needs and problems.” Stephen R. Covey

This is where you have the opportunity to demonstrate to your customer how your product or service will solve their business need. You want to be approaching this from a solution perspective, which means you need to think about the value, the benefits and the results they receive when they hire you. This is much different than talking about the “features” of what you offer. Your goal is to create trust that you can deliver what you say you can. And you want to assure the customer that they are making an informed buying decision. One of THE best ways to do that is by crafting a solution oriented message that clearly shows them how what you offer delivers a measurable return on their investment. This is especially important when selling services that lack the tangibility of hard goods like a new computer system.

Remember to keep technical information and jargon to a minimum. Your buyer will make their decision based on the relevant business information that you provide to them, so your proposal should not overwhelm them with a lot of techno speak. The buyer wants to know how the technology will improve his business performance not why your new widget will make his computers run faster.

4.Describe the Implementation

Next you want to talk about “how” the process will work. In my proposals, this is where I define the project scope, objectives and deliverables. You need to include specific information about the methodology, schedule, specific deliverables, the associated tasks, any resources required on the part of the customer or staff required to implement the solution. This reduces the buyer’s risk – always a good thing! Make sure you tell them exactly what you propose to do, how you will do it and when you will get it done.

5.Tell Your Company Story

Your buyer needs to be assured that your organization can deliver on the contract. Including a company profile that defines who you are and how you differentiate your company from the competition is a must. You will also want to include an additional section about your management team. Even if you are a one person company, write a management bio that talks about who you are, your business experience (past & present), how you work with companies, partial list of your clients, references if required, your education, associations you’re affiliated with, and any community activities you are involved in. The key to writing this bio is to include information that is relevant to the proposal and supports WHY they should buy from you.

Finally, don’t forget to create a proposal template that you use consistently every time. To save yourself time, include standard information that you want included in every proposal. For example, your company logo, business address, company profile and management information, etc. Your proposal strategy is a core component of winning business, so take the time and learn how to do it well!

Author's Bio: 

Talent Builders CEO Barbara Giamanco capped a corporate sales career at Microsoft, where she led and trained sales teams and coached sales executives, before establishing Talent Builders, Inc. in 2002. She has more than 25 years of experience in selling to enterprise, mid-market and retail accounts and knows what it’s like to walk in the shoes of the sales person. During her career, her accounts have included American Express Worldwide, Motorola, Best Buy, Circuit City, Anheuser-Busch, Target, and Honeywell. Visit us on the web at www.talentbuildersinc.com