5 Ways to Blow the Sale with a Bad Proposal

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5 Ways to Blow the Sale with a Bad Proposal

The quality of your sales proposal can make or break your ability to close the deal. So why do so many business-to-business marketers produce such poor sales proposals?

Missed-Target-300x225I recently helped a client of my Cleveland marketing consulting firm prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for professional services. I also reviewed the proposals received in response to the RFP.

Though the RFP spelled out the client’s needs in detail and all the vendors had the opportunity to talk with us to learn more during the proposal preparation process, most of the proposals fell shockingly short.

Here’s what these B2B professional services marketers got wrong in their sales proposals and what you can learn for your smart marketing strategy.

5 Proposal Mistakes that Can Cost You the Sale

The sales proposal is your best opportunity to demonstrate your desire for a relationship with a prospect. By creating a dynamic, well-written, and insightful proposal, you can show your understanding of the prospect’s needs and your ability to deliver the services the prospect wants better than anyone else.

But the opposite is also true. If you submit a bad proposal, you’ll have very little chance of winning the business. Here are five of the most common — and costly — mistakes:

  1. We, are such good, writers: Most of the proposals my client received in response to the RFP were poorly written. One proposal that offered writing services as a capability was astonishingly bad with poor sentence structure, misplaced commas, and verbose language.
  2. I’m sorry-what was your business about? The worst offenders failed to offer any insight into the client’s business or demonstrate how they could use that insight to help the client achieve success. Some appeared to have invested little time in learning about the client’s brand, industry, competitors, or key points of differentiation in the marketplace.
  3. Hand me that cookie cutter: One firm noted with pride during the interview process that they could easily “whip out a proposal in a day.” And indeed they did, by using a one-size-fits-all template. They got it done, but it was so obviously a templated proposal, with references to services that had nothing to do with the client’s needs, that it demonstrated their lack of interest and their lack of understanding of the client’s business.
  4. It’s all about us: One 19-page proposal had exactly two pages that referenced the client: The cover page and the pricing page. The other 17 pages were about the firm and how they work, with no explanation of how those capabilities matched the client’s requirements or the services requested in the RFP.
  5. No ideas for you: Though a vendor shouldn’t be expected to give away a lot of free advice at the proposal stage, the proposal is a chance to demonstrate eagerness to go beyond what the client is expecting and get them excited about the possibilities of a future partnership. Ideas were few and far between in the proposals we received.

The B2B Marketing Lesson: Don’t Waste a Golden Opportunity

Any sales representative will tell you that it’s hard work to nurture a B2B prospect to the point where they ask for a proposal. So when you do have the chance to submit a proposal, it’s crucial to give it your best effort.

Always remember that your sales proposal is a reflection of the quality of your company. If you can’t demonstrate high quality at the proposal stage, you certainly won’t be capable of doing so if the prospect selects you. And you probably won’t get the chance.

How can you create a great business-to-business sales proposal? Here are some tips for success from a previous post: How to Create a Sales Proposal that Wins the Business.

  • Cathy Traynor

    If responding to RFPs from government agencies, another SUREFIRE way to blow a proposal is simply not following directions!

    Stick to the RFP sequentially, adhere to page limits for sections, use a specific font, keep it double-spaced, use 1-inch margins, etc., etc., if those are in the directions – right down to the type of binding or clip to use.

    ANYthing amiss immediately results in the application being placed in the “circular file.” Reduces # of apps reviewers have to plow through.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm
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