Why your tenders and proposals need a little order
A friend who works in advertising recently told me about a sales meeting she’d just been to with her boss, the agency’s owner. The owner spent the first thirty minutes of the meeting outlining why his agency was the absolute best in Sydney. He went into considerable detail about his company’s processes, clients and achievements. He took no time to ask the client what they wanted or needed, and failed to notice their body language – which was clearly non-receptive. Needless to say, the agency didn’t win the business. My friend subsequently resigned from the agency.
Self-centered selling is also extremely common in sales writing, marketing copywriting, and when you are called on to be a tender writer or a proposal writer and it's not your usual role.
Interestingly, this problem mostly comes down to structure and prioritisation of information.
So how should you structure your pitch, proposal or tender for maximum success?
Here are five tips:
1. Stick to the client’s structure
When you are presented with a request for proposal or tender, invited to make a pitch, or even receive an agenda for a sales meeting, stick to its structure. This shows you respect the prospect’s wishes and makes your information much clearer and easier for them to understand. They will be seeking answers to some important questions – so be up-front, and answer them in the order that they have asked you to.
2. Write an excellent executive summary
A good executive summary needs to include a quick outline of all the details in your proposal or pitch. Your prospect should be able to read your executive summary independently of the rest of your document – and still have a very good top-level understanding of everything you are presenting.
To make sure you don’t miss anything, I’ve found it’s often beneficial to leave the executive summary until last. Write it once every other piece of your document has been finalised. It will then flow quite easily.
Another tip for writing an effective executive summary is to use sub-headings. Make sure the sub-headings relate to each sub-section of your document, and then provide a one-paragraph outline of what you will be doing in the document. For example:
In our proposal, we outline the range of services which Acme can offer to organisation X – to help you create dynamic and effective campaigns. This includes online strategy, design, copywriting, programming and account management.
3. Make every paragraph about the client, not you
Start every paragraph with a message about how you are going to help your prospect. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Consider if the information you are writing is going to be interesting and relevant to them. Ask yourself, "why would they want to know this?" Or, "what’s in it for them?"
4. Follow every point with an example
Once you have explained how you are going to help and outlined your services, provide examples to back what you write. These could include something that you have actually done, some industry statistics, or even an outline of a future plan (e.g. a new service or strategy that you have in the pipeline). For example:
We understand that you require a robust and reliable content management system so your employees can publish content independently and quickly. Here at Acme, we provide content management systems to many of Australia’s largest businesses. For example, we recently implemented a system for Organisation X – which has since reported a 10% saving in the time taken to publish content.
5. Put the detail in the appendix
You might be interested in your business, but much of the detail about your products or services might seem dry or long-winded to someone else. For this reason, only include top level information in your tender or proposal, and add an appendix with more detailed information that the prospect can read if interested. Make sure you include accurate references to your appendix throughout your document. For example, “for more information relating to this case study, please see section 6.1 of the appendix”.
For more on writing tenders and proposals, download our free guide Tender Loving Care.