Proposals – first impressions count


In times past the sales person would engage with a number of people in the prospect’s organisation but would rarely get to meet the senior executives who would be involved in the decision. This lead to the provision of a short, easy to read, section that those executive decision makers could use to gain an understanding of the key points of the proposal without the need to read the whole document. It has become common practice with written proposals that the first section is an Executive Summary; but is it still good practice?

Regardless of whether, as previously recommended, you have met all decision makers before submitting a proposal, there is still an important role for an executive summary as everyone is time poor these days so providing a concise overview of the key points of your proposed solution for all readers makes perfect sense. But, should it be an “Executive Summary”? We recommend Proposal Overview or Solution Summary.

The summary should always be created before the rest of the proposal; yes before!  I am always horrified when I hear that a proposal has been written by a number of people in the supplier’s business then passed to the sales person to top and tail; to add the summary and financials.  The sales person should own the solution being proposed and the way to make this happen is that they describe that solution in the summary before any other work is done on the proposal.  The summary is then used by the sales person to brief everyone else that will be involved in creating the proposal.

When the proposal is presented to the prospect, some people will read just the summary, others will read the summary and the sections that cover their area of interest and others will read the whole document. So, the content needs to be structured to ensure whichever approach is used, the reader will understand fully what you are proposing and the implications for them.

Here are some tips on creating and presenting a good proposal summary:

  • The sales person should by now have a clear picture of the problem the prospect needs to solve and an equally clear idea of what they need to do to win the business – the win strategy.
  • Having established that a formal written proposal is what the prospect wants to see, agree what the proposal will cover and whether the prospect has a preferred structure.
  • The sales person should now create the proposal summary that will address the following:
    • An overview of the problem the prospect needs to solve and their vision of the desired outcome
    • An overview of the supplier’s understanding of that problem which will include their experience of solving similar problems
    • All the key selling messages that will be expanded upon throughout the document.
    • The key points that differentiate your solution
    • A summary of the financial offer
    • Embedded navigation aids to help people find further detail in the rest of the document.

The sales person can now use the summary to walk through their proposed approach with their key contacts and coaches in the prospect and take the opportunity to:

  • Identify any points which may be contentious and test them; if they are uncomfortable agree how you will re-word or re-present the point.
  • Leverage their knowledge of the other people who will read the proposal to ensure everything you are saying will be well received.
  • Take the opportunity to conduct a trial close – effectively asking the question “based on this summary how likely are you to go ahead and award us the business?
  • Agree a date and time when you will present the final document.

The sales person now has all the guidance they need to complete the document ready for that presentation deadline.

One final thought

If the prospect doesn’t want a written proposal, perhaps preferring our recommended approach of an interactive workshop as the vehicle to present your solution, how can you provide a proposal summary?

Basically nothing changes.  The sales person should still summarise the proposed solution and use it to brief colleagues, they should still walk through what they will be saying with the main contact in the prospect and finalise it ready for the interactive workshop.  The workshop will be built around a number of presentation slides, one for each main section, commencing with the summary.  Following the workshop the sales person is in a position to write and present the final proposal based on the original plus modifications agreed during the workshop.

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