Writing A Winning Proposal

By Geoffrey James

Many large software contracts can be won only through the proposal process. Unfortunately, most software salespeople hate writing them. So to make proposal writing easier and more likely to win the business, Tom Sant, author of Persuasive Business Proposals (Amacom), suggests breaking the writing process into four steps.

1. Lay the groundwork. To ensure that your proposal will be taken seriously make certain you have positioned your firm as a viable contender for the business. To bring credibility to your firm, call the customer’s attention to your firm’s advertising, public relations and trade show efforts. Make certain you add value during your sales calls and contacts, as if you were a paid consultant rather than a salesperson.

2. Do the research. While the request for proposal (RFP) might define the customer’s basic requirements, you need to dig to discover the customer’s real concerns, which may lie deep within the customer’s business model and business operations. This deep understanding is important because to win the business your proposal must show exactly how your proposed software will solve all aspects of the client’s problem, not just those that are reflected in the RFP. Gather this information by meeting frequently with the customer and asking probing questions that reveal the full extent of the problem.

3. Write the executive summary. The executive summary is a sales document that focuses on the bottom-line results of your proposed solution. It should not be simply a summary of the contents of the proposal. The executive summary should demonstrate that your firm has a thorough understanding of the customer’s business situation. It should describe the positive impact your solution will have on the customer’s business by solving the customer’s problem. The executive summary should provide a brief, nontechnical overview of your proposed solution with each element of the solution tying back to the customer’s problems. Finally, the executive summary should ask for the business. Keep it short, simple and to the point.

4. Write the proposal body. In most cases key decision-makers will read only the executive summary and depend on detail-oriented underlings to confirm whether the proposal contains evidence that your firm can perform as promised. The body of the proposal should provide detailed explanations about how your solution will work and how it has been effective with other customers. Start each section of the proposal body with a summary statement that indicates what the section will cover and reinforces your key value propositions. Your responses to specific points in the RFP should positively position your products and services against your competition.