Writing Winning Proposals - With Bob Kantin

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Bob Kantin

Michael Platt: Welcome everyone to today's workshop. The session will be interactive, in that you can offer your questions at any time.

We are pleased to have with us today Bob Kantin, President of SalesProposals.com

Bob Kantin is founder and president of SalesProposals.com, a firm devoted to making a significant impact on the sales of its clients by improving the sales proposal process. Bob has extensive experience and consults in the areas of proposal design and sales process integration, marketing, and new product development. In 1991, he co-authored Quality Selling through Quality Proposals (11,000+ copies sold). Bob's second book, Strategic Proposals, Closing the Big Deal, recently hit the shelves. The company has also developed a software product, Sales Proposal Architect, which automatically builds proposals based on Bob's proven model.

Michael Platt: Bob, the floor is yours

Bob Kantin: Thank you.

Good afternoon, welcome to Strategic Proposals, Closing the Big Deals. In the next 60 minutes, I will present some concepts and ideas for writing winning proposals.

Here is a brief agenda of the program:

Strategic Proposals

  • Strategic Sales Proposal Structure and Components
  • Proposal Models and Sales Tools
  • Implementing Strategic Proposals
  • Benefits

    Let's start by comparing a transaction sale with a complex sale. I always think of the transaction sale as one that sells commodities. Certainly this is not the case with accounting and consulting services. Hear the characteristics of transaction and complex sales.

    Transaction Sale: -- one or two calls

  • one or two apparent decision-makers
  • low risk
  • relationships less important – “vendor”
  • technique-based

    Complex Sale

  • multiple calls
  • relationships very important – “consultant”
  • value-based

    At this point we should also compare boilerplate proposals with strategic proposals.

    Boilerplate Proposals

  • All buyers the same few variables
  • Low buyer empathy

    Strategic Proposals

  • Buyer-specific - many variables

    Let's compare strategic proposals and boilerplate proposals. As you will see, if your company is in a complex sales situation, your sales professionals should be writing strategic not boilerplate proposals.

    Boilerplate Proposals do not:

  • Include critical client information
  • Educate the reader by defining:
  • the buyer-specific application
  • the buyer value
  • Reduce the buyer's perceived risk
  • Help the buyer make an informed buying decision

    Strategic Proposals do:

  • Position the product or service in the buyer's business or operation by defining the buyer-specific application
  • Help top management make informed buying decisions

    Strategic proposals help buyers make informed by decisions rather than trying harder to sell. Boilerplate proposals are very ineffective in a complex sales situation.

    Now let's take a look at how to connect a consultant of sales process with the development of a strategic proposal.

    Sue McMaster: How much detail should be provided in both?

    Scott H. Cytron: Bob, when you say "complex sales situation," would you classify accounting sales in that category?

    Bob Kantin: I will discuss detail in the Strategic Proposal a bit later.

    It is important to connect the consultative sales process with the proposal development process.

    There are some key connections between the two processes. For example both processes must gather and understand buyer-related information:

  • Buyer background information
  • The buyer's business improvement opportunity
  • The application of the seller's product or service in the buyer's unique business environment
  • The value proposition available to the buyer
  • How the seller will implement or deliver the proposed product or service

    As you can see, consultative selling and developing strategic proposals should be very integrated. So if your sales professionals do a good job at consultative selling, they're prepared to write winning strategic proposals.

    Scott H. Cytron: How do you know if they are doing a good job of consultative selling? What should they be doing?

    Sue McMaster: Bob, what do you mean by consultative selling?

    Bob Kantin: You will see that the proposal will give you an indication.

    Let me present the proposal structure and content that I recommend to my clients:

  • Title Page, Table of Contents, Exec Summary
  • Section 1 Customer Background
  • Section 2 Proposed Product or Service
  • Section 3 Implementation
  • Section 4 Seller Profile
  • Section 5 Business Issues
  • Appendices

    Liz LaRose: Bob, how do you feel about putting the cost up front and early in the proposal. Many clients simply flip to the back w/o reading the proposal anyway.

    Bob Kantin: The cost should be in the Exec Summary.

    A winning proposal needs to have an effective title page, a table of contents, and an executive summary. As you can see, I recommend five main proposal sections. Will cover each section in detail in a few moments. A strategic proposal also uses appendices.

    Let’s take a look at those five main proposal sections in detail.

    The first main section, background information, reflects the sales professionals ability to follow a consultative sales process. More important this section sets the stage for seller's proposed product or service. If the sales professional does not have a clear understanding of the buyer's improvement opportunity, needs and objectives, it is very difficult to propose a viable solution.

    Purpose: demonstrate empathy and set the stage for the proposed product or service

    Subsections: Buyer profile, Improvement Opportunity, Needs, Objectives, and Purpose of Proposal.

    The second main section, proposed solution, as its name implies, presents the seller's proposed product or service. It is most important that this section define a buyer specific application of the proposed product or service. It is equally important that this section define buyer value. As you can see by the recommended subsections, this is not a complicated structure.

    Purpose: Present a buyer-specific solution, define the buyer specific application, establish buyer value.

    Bob Kantin: Subsections: Product or Service Description, Product or Service Application Benefits: financial and non-financial

    Before we go on to section 3, let’s take a look at the linkages between sections 1 and 2.

    Improvement Opportunity, Application, Needs and Objectives.

    Features and Benefits, Financial Measures, Financial Benefits.

    Remember that section 1 sets the stage for section 2. For example, if you can measure the financial effects of the buyer's improvement opportunity, you can use those measures to calculate financial benefits in section 2.

    Section 3 describes how the seller plans to implement or install the proposed product or service. This main section helps assure the buyer that the seller has thought through the implementation process. This section also helps minimize the buyer's perceived risk for making a change. Most professional services firms find that this section merely reflects their standard business practices. Therefore, they should be easy section to complete.

    Purpose: Define product or service implementation and reduce the buyer's perceived risk for change

    Subsections: Methods, Team, Activities and Deliverables, and Schedule

    Section 4 provides an opportunity for the seller to present their credentials. Many companies put this section first. However, the seller should first demonstrate their understanding of the buyer's situation and present a viable business solution before presenting information about themselves. Of all the sections in a strategic proposal to section contains the most standard wording.

    Subsections: Mission Stmt, Corp Overview, R&D, Facilities, References, Key Staff, Quality, Why Us

    The fifth and final section contains all the business-related information. Some accounting firms might title this section Costs and Commitments. Is very important that this section contains all the fees and expenses associated with the proposed product or service. It should help avoid buyer surprises.

    Purpose: present the business aspects of the proposed product or service and avoid buyer surprises.

    Mike Stigler: Have you had any experience with Firms using CD Rom for presentations or firm information ? If so, what do you think of this medium?

    Bob Kantin: CD-ROM presentations might be used to support a proposal. They are probably closer to boilerplate proposals.

    Subsections for 5: Assumptions, Prices/Fees/Expenses, Invoice Schedule

    That was a quick look at the five main proposal sections. Now let’s take a look at some other important proposal components.

    Liz LaRose: How do you differentiate between prices in the exec summary and in section 5? How does the presentation differ?

    Bob Kantin: Title Page
    A title page should reflect positive action. For example Reducing Employee Turnover Through Pre-Selection Testing. I think the title page should reflect positive action. Ideally, it should define in the improvement opportunity available to the buyer and the seller's proposed solution. Take a look at the example below. It could just as easily read “a proposal to provide employee testing.”

    Executive Summary
    An effective executive summary is a proposal in miniature. It should contain a brief synopsis of the five main proposal sections. Here are some writing tips: Write it last, use the five sections as a guide, 1 to 3 pages.

    Appendices can be another critical component of a winning sales proposal. They provide ideal place for preprinted information and help control the length of the main body. Here are some tips to follow. Place them in the order referenced in the proposal. No appendices that are not referenced in the proposal.

    Examples: Product and technical specifications and brochures, financial analyses, staff bios, case studies

    Let’s briefly talk about some other production considerations. A proposal should have a table of content to make it easy for the reader to find information.

    Page layout is very important. The proposal should be easy to read. There should be lots of white space on each page. Full pages of text our very tedious to read. These tables, graphs, and graphics to make material interesting to the reader.

    Use pre-printed dividers to make it easy for the reader to move through the proposal.

    Think about the buyer's perception of your company when they receive your proposal. It should have a professional appearance. Remember that it represents your company when the sales professional is not there.

    Andrea Pegg: Do you believe a PowerPoint presentation is more effective than a written proposal?

    Bob Kantin: A PowerPoint presentation might support a written proposal. Can a reader get enough info to make a decision?

    Sue McMaster: Bob, what do you think about a timetable matrix included in the proposal and where should it appear?

    Bob Kantin: Use it. Section 3 - Implementation

    Sue McMaster: Thank you!

    Bob Kantin: Now that you have an understanding of a strategic proposal's content and structure, let me show you how easy it can be to consistently write winning proposals. Let me introduce the use of proposal models and supporting sales tools.

    Sales Proposal Models and Sales Tools

    Proposal Models ensure consistency of sales message and identify buyer info requirements. I think most proposals follow the “80/20 Rule.” Eighty percent of a proposal's wording is standard for one buyer to the next. Twenty percent is very customer specific. Therefore, it is possible to build proposal models to help sales professionals write custom proposals. Use sales tools to help the sales professionals gather and process pertinent client information -- the 20%.

    Client Questionnaire and Product or Service Application Worksheet

    Questionnaire: Gather buyer-specific information, Support consultative sales process, and Input to a proposal model. Contents: Contact profile, Organization, Buying process, Selection criteria, Competitive analysis.

    An application worksheet as its name implies should help sales professionals define how the proposed product or service will be implemented in the client's unique business environment. It should help the sales professional become more of a consultant and less of a vendor. Contents: Application specifications, Financial and non-financial benefit analysis, Implementation specifications.

    Before going on to some implementation ideas, let me introduce the letter proposal format. I use this format in my consulting practice. It allows me to write a strategic proposal in letter form. A letter proposal still contains the five main proposal sections but only requires four to six pages. Obviously, it does not have a cover page, table of contents, or appendices. If you don't need to have a formal contract, a letter proposal might contain an acceptance subsection.

    You may find the letter proposal format works well for small engagements and follow-on business. This is the implementation process I follow when working with clients. It helps establish or reinforce a consultative sales process while integrating it with a strategic proposal development process. As you can see, step 3 is used to develop the proposal models and sales tools.

    Like any new system or process, testing and training is very important. You can't simply development some sales proposal models and give them to the sales professionals and expect results. You have to treat this as a project. You also have to constantly evaluate the entire process and measure results.

    1. Evaluate current sales and proposal processes and activities
    2. Implement a consultative sales process, if needed
    3. Develop proposal process tools:
    4. Integrate and test the integrated processes using the tools
    5. Train the sales force to use the integrated processes and tools
    6. Measure results: Proposal Close Ratio
    7. Periodically reevaluate and enhance processes and tools.

    Scott H. Cytron: Bob, I hate to cut this short, but the hour is almost upon us. We have about 8 more minutes left and I have "collected" a couple of questions we didn't get a chance to answer.

    Bob, how do you feel about putting the cost up front and early in the proposal. Many clients simply flip to the back w/o reading the proposal anyway.

    Bob Kantin: It belongs in the Exec Summary

    Scott H. Cytron: How do you differentiate between prices in the exec summary and in section 5? How does the presentation differ?

    Bob Kantin: No difference. The price might also be in Section 3 if you can cost justify the product or service. Maybe more detail in Section 5.

    Scott H. Cytron: Thank you for your time today. I know I learned a lot from you. Are there any parting words of wisdom you would like to pass on?

    Bob Kantin: Proposals are critically important. They represent your company when your professional is gone.

    Scott H. Cytron: Is there a place where people can buy your book or see more on proposal development?

    Bob Kantin: Please visit my web site at www.salesproposals.com for info on the books and my software product.

    Scott H. Cytron: Are there any questions anyone?

    Bob Kantin: Scott, thank you. A very fast 60 minutes.

    Scott H. Cytron: Have a fantastic and successful week! Thanks again Bob!

    Bob Kantin: Good bye.

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