A self-closing proposal is written so that it is easy to say yes to. This means that after reading the first paragraph, or even just the first sentence, your case has been made.
Saying ‘no’ is always easy. It is rare for someone to get blamed for a choice they didn’t make. Saying ‘yes’, on the other hand, can be difficult. Your client may have to seek the approval of others or get you through an intentionally difficult vendor approval process. And, if something doesn’t go well, they are on the hook for it.
While every proposal is different, here are a few of the principles I use to give my proposals the best chance
1) Don’t make the reader search for the benefit.
If a person can’t tell why your proposal is worth saying yes to in the first few sentences, something is wrong. Especially when you consider — as awful as this may be — that there is a good chance they are giving it a first look on a mobile device.
Sure, you have to fill in the details, key personnel, terms and conditions, timing and all of that, but what’s most important is that everybody who glances at the document can clearly see a substantial benefit.
For example, when I received a request to do a module on writing and messaging as part of a larger talent development program. I could have set up the proposal like this:
Because, REDACTED, INC. would like to include a module on message development and written communications… etc, etc.
It’s exactly what they asked for. But this is better:
REDACTED, INC. wants to help it’s high-potential executives increase their performance. To do this, they are taking 12 executives through two days of business communications training. They would like to include a module on message development and written communications.
The second way (with the detail that comes after) gives the entire why. It more effectively arms your client to argue for it, and it more effectively delivers the why when it is read by a third party.
2) Make sure to show how the benefits exceed the costs.
Even if what you are selling is highly qualitative, you can always do a rough estimation. Like this:
Our ultimate goal is to help everyone have greater clarity in their thinking. The way we do this is through written communication. This can seem hard to put a discrete value on, but here’s a back-of-a-napkin calculation.
We have 15 people. If everyone saves 15 minutes a week in writing time, then the yearly time savings per person is 12.5 hours (50wks x .25hrs/week) or 187.5 man-hours across the whole cohort.
At a labor cost of $50/hr, the value of this training, from time savings, would be $9,375 in the first year. And more, if we take into account the time that readers will save due to increased document clarity.
If the cost of the engagement is anything less than the estimated value (in this proposal it most certainly was) then it makes sense.
3) Remember that, in business-to-business, there are always two benefits.
There is the benefit to the organization and then there is a benefit to the individual. In a perfect world, these two benefits line up. But in the real world, they hardly ever do.
Never forget that saying yes to your proposal has an impact on another person’s career. All business is personal. You might have missed it in my last example, but here was the most important thing to my client:
“the time that readers will save due to increased document clarity.”
The personal benefit was that my client wouldn’t have to read confusing and long-winded reports from his people. And he wouldn’t be embarrassed by the emails and documents that they were sending out. He would have more time and fewer headaches.
My proposal had to be good for his organization, but making sure the personal benefit is obvious, made it easier for my client to say yes.
4) Use the discipline of writing proposals to improve your offering and your sales process.
Writing a self-closing proposal forces you to think through the deal at all levels. Can you increase the benefit? Can you lower the cost? Can you find a better way to communicate the value? Can you find a better way to allay their fears?
Answering all these questions might not be the easiest, or the sexiest work, but, if done correctly, writing proposals can be a profound way to sharpen a sales process, an offering and an organization. And, having done it, you have a deep understanding of the deal and are well-armed for the negotiation process.
5) If you are not comfortable with the deal, fix the deal, not the writing
People seem to think that a skilled salesperson or copywriter can pour a honeyed potion of language into a potential customer’s ear and lead them to do anything they want –selling proverbial ice to the over-referenced eskimos. It ain’t so. Anything that you cover up or omit will come out in the end. But, when writing, you can get stuck trying thinking it’s your fault that the proposal doesn’t sound very persuasive when it’s really the offer that’s not very good. And trying to hem and haw around a bad deal will only make your writing wordy and ineffective.
Tell the truth, as clearly as you can. And if that doesn’t work? Maybe it’s not time to write a proposal.