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Are Your Business Proposals Losing You Sales? 10 Steps to Get the ?Yes? You Deserve

Your ability to write an effective and persuasive business proposal directly relates to your level of success. Write a great proposal and you'll get the contract or make the sale. Write a ho-hum proposal and your prospect will go elsewhere.

Regardless of the product or service you're pitching, your prospect makes his or her ultimate decision based on how you write the proposal, not the product or service itself. That means even if you have the best product in the world, if you write the proposal poorly, you probably won't get the deal. A lesser quality product or service may very well beat you out just because the other person knew how to write persuasively.

For any proposal you submit, realize that your prospect is likely reviewing at least twenty others. Therefore, your job is to make your proposal not only stand out, but also get selected as the bidder of choice. To increase the odds of your proposal winning, follow the proposal writing guidelines below. Doing so will enable you to get the "yes" you deserve.

1. Always use the prospect's correct name, title, and company name. While this may sound obvious, many salespeople and business owners send proposals to the wrong person, or they misspell the prospect's name or company name, or they write an incorrect corporate title. Such oversights make a negative impression and alert the prospect to the fact that you're careless. If you don't know how to spell someone's name or his or her exact title, call the person's office and ask. While you're at it, verify the street address and company name. Is the prospect's title that of Sales Director or Sales Manager? Is the company an Inc or an LLC? Are they located at 41 Buckingham Street or Avenue? Prospects look at these details to get a feel for your professionalism and attention to detail. Pay attention to the details every time.

2. Always include a cover letter that includes the reason for your proposal.

Since your prospect is likely reviewing more proposals than just yours, include a brief cover letter that recaps any conversations you've had and that clearly states why you're presenting your proposal. After all, if you don't state why you're sending this 10-30 page document to someone, why should they bother reading it? For example, you could write, "I am enclosing the proposal we discussed on June 1 that will introduce you to the ABC widget. Based on your stated needs of (state the needs), you will see in the proposal that this widget will (state the benefit)." Too many salespeople fail to state a reason for the proposal. But if you don't give people an immediate reason to keep reading, you'll miss your chance to capture their attention. A lonely proposal in an envelope or attached to an e-mail gets absolutely nowhere.

3. Always include an immediate, brief overview of your product or service.

In one opening paragraph, state what your product or service is, what pain or challenge it solves, and how your prospect will benefit from what you offer. Stick to the facts. Resist the temptation to make your product or service sound grander than life. Phrases like "first," "only," "greatest," revolutionary," and "groundbreaking" typically raise red flags and indicate that you're exaggerating.

4. Always include research and development information.

Your company has likely done plenty of research into your product or service, so highlight the findings in your proposal. Show your prospects that they're getting more than just any old product or service. Show them all the benefits they'll get when they invest their time and money into your solution, and why that investment is worthwhile. Highlight any intriguing findings or principles that relate to your prospect's challenge. Show them that your company knows what they're going through, have done the research for them, and now have the best solutions for their needs.

5. Always write in chunks.

A business proposal is not a book or a magazine article. Structure your proposal so your prospect can skim read it and pull paragraphs out as needed. Think in sound bytes and text block chunks. Why? Because studies show that people have greater comprehension and longer retention when printed information is presented to them in bullet points, numbered lists, or some other format that sections out pertinent details.

6. Always include all the important technical details.

Make sure your proposal lists the small but important technical details your prospect will need to know. How many items come in a case? How many user licenses does it include? How long of a warranty is included? Does the price include service calls, consultation, or training? If so, how much? Don't let your prospect guess about anything. Make it easy for them to get the facts so they can make a quick and informed decision.

7. Always state the obvious.

Remember, the prospect reading your proposal does not know much, if anything, about your product or service yet. So just because you know that an accounting computer program can calculate and create employee paychecks, don't expect your prospect to make that assumption. They need to read everything, even the obvious, or they may not realize all the features and benefits your solution provides.

8. Always write for an eighth-grader.

Most mainstream and business publications are written at an eighth-grade level, so no matter how complex your product or service is, keep your proposal geared so that an eighth-grader can understand it. This is not to imply that your prospect is dumb or uneducated; rather, he or she is a busy professional who is pressed for time. Your prospect wants the information presented in the simplest way. So resist the temptation to impress people with your big words and over-complex solutions. Instead, impress them with your knack for making a complicated solution easy.

9. Always use good grammar.

Sure, you want your proposal to gain attention, so breaking some grammar rules for added impact or emphasis is okay. But don't overdo it or you may appear careless. Remember, you're selling a professional solution. If your proposal is riddled with errors, your prospect may think your solution is too. Always have a co-worker or professional editor read your proposal prior to sending it. In today's marketplace, bad grammar could cost you the sale.

10. Always make a compelling call to action.

What do you want the person reading your proposal to do? Buy your product? Contract for your services? Stock your merchandise in his or her store? Whatever action you want your prospect to take, state it clearly. "I recommend you begin by placing an introductory order for 500 piece." "I suggest we start with a three-month consulting contract." "I recommend you devote three shelves to this product." Tell them precisely what you want.

The Winning Proposal

As any business owner or salesperson knows, "you're only as good as your last proposal." So commit to enhancing your business proposals, and focus on writing effectively and persuasively. By following these pointers, you'll be 10 steps closer to landing that next deal.

Dawn Josephson, the Master Writing Coach?, is President and founder of Cameo Publications, LLC, an editorial and publishing services firm located in Hilton Head Island, SC. Dawn empowers leaders to master the printed word for enhanced credibility, positioning, and profits. She is also the author of the book Putting It On Paper: The Ground Rules for Creating Promotional Pieces that Sell Books and the co-author (with Lauren Hidden) of the new book Write It Right: The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros. Contact her at dawn@cameopublications.com or at 1-866-372-2636.

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