Is the traditional narrative (typed) proposal relevant to today’s prospects? If not; how can we get our offer across?

proposalAs with most other aspects of business life, technology provides many options to those who need to make an “offer” to a prospective customer. Typically an offer has been contained in a proposal document and is a statement of; the supplier’s understanding of the problem, what the supplier is offering to do, how long it will take, how much it will cost and probably some form of performance commitment.

For many decades word based documents have provided a great way to present proposals but now with so many technology based options there are alternatives. Of course text-based documents have progressed enormously from the days of manual typewriters through word processors and now computers. It is now possible to incorporate engaging presentational features such as pictures, diagrams, charts, etc. One of our customers, who sells LED lighting solutions to industrial customers, incorporates simulated 3D diagrams showing a before and after picture of the warehouse or factory. Very impressive it looks too.

It is common that if the “document” is sent it will be done electronically rather than physically although many people still print out such documents before reading.

If the document is in electronic form it is possible to embed URLs, video clips and other “active” content which may help to illustrate the proposed solution benefits.

As with all aspects of selling, the most important consideration is what the prospective customer might want to receive rather that what the supplier wants to produce.  If your prospect really does want a word based proposal then you still need to be able to produce such.

One very important thing to bear in mind; the proposal is not the place to present selling arguments for the first time or to make new offers. Regardless of the means of presentation, the proposal should be a confirmation of what has already been offered and accepted, at least in principle, by the prospect.

As indicated previously we are dead against just “sending” proposals as we think they should be presented. However, there are industries that still insist that proposals are in the form of documents and that they are sent rather than being presented. In some cases the process is very formal perhaps being structured according to the format of the prospect’s tender document which makes it difficult for any supplier to personalise the content or the way it is presented. Most companies that sell into such industries have bid departments who are used to working with the formality of strict tender processes.

proposal1Presenting a word based document can be challenging so using technology facilitated approaches can have greater benefit. To illustrate the point, here are some sample uses of technologies.

Slide show: A proposal should provide a logical sequential selling story but there is nothing to stop the prospect flicking through a document as they wish. So at the most basic level a PowerPoint slide show is a good tool to facilitate the controlled presentation of a proposal. There are other similar tools that can be used for this purpose and one we have reviewed recently is Prezi. We may comment further on Prezi in a future article on selling tools.

Webinar: If you cannot physically get in front of your prospect, on-line environments such as GoToMeeting or other webinar technologies enable live interactive presentations. This also helps when co-ordinating a presentation to people from multiple locations.

Video: Now that you can present on-line you could try video clips to illustrate key points. If a prospect was interested, for example, in your factory which is in Australia you can help to bring it alive through a video.

Screen capture: Two real examples of incorporating live or captured images to reinforce the message:


  • When presenting on the effective use of LinkedIn James Potter (The Linked In Man) will of course use LinkedIn as its own sales aid.
  • Guy Levine was one of the first to recognise the commercial value of the web and during presentations he would bring up the websites of volunteers from the audience and provide constructive feedback based on his observations.

Mobile computing tools: such as tablets provide another useful medium for live interactive presentation.

  • One of our customers, selling Solar PV solutions to householders, had the entire presentation on a tablet which the sales person used to conduct the complete sales cycle whilst with the householder.
  • Another customer of ours uses a tablet app to enable the sales person to create a comparison between their prices and those already being paid by the prospect. Changes can be made in real time to arrive at the solution the prospect wants to buy. Which then leads to the ideal closing question “If we can do that will you buy it?”
It's not about your features but making the proposal a feature in itself

It’s not about your features but making the proposal a feature in itself


In summary, typed proposals still have a place but with the many technology-enabled options available to us it is worth consider other approaches.

If you can create a better customer experience whilst also maintaining control of the selling cycle everyone wins.