Writing and Presenting Successful Business Proposals


Making proposals can be a discouraging task if there’s no clear presales process in mind. When we talk about IT business proposals in terms of selling solutions, a technical approach is often viewed as the best solution, but you need more than a simple idea to produce results.

Making proposals can be a discouraging task if there’s no clear presales process in mind. When we talk about IT business proposals in terms of selling solutions, a technical approach is often viewed as the best solution, but you need more than a simple idea to produce results.

To better understand what I mean, flirt with the idea of having to sell something that you are not able to demo to the prospective customer. You can only explain which benefits your solution will provide, but there is nothing more you can do beyond professing the promise of your product.

To better sway your audience, here is a list of key topics to keep in mind when performing good IT proposals:

  • Pain: Does the customer understand that he has a problem to be solved?
  • Power: Does the customer have enough power to make a purchasing decision?
  • Vision: Does the customer have the same point of view we have about the problem?
  • Value: Is the proposal a compelling solution?
  • Control: Do we have enough control over the solution selling process?

Note that the selling process must always comply with the purchasing procedure. Customers usually have a predefined process to purchase and we must never try to change it. Thus, the proposal must make this mutual understanding clear.

To step inside into this unique challenge, you need to split the proposal into two main parts: a commercial proposal and a technical proposal.

The commercial proposal should provide an executive summary where it’s clear that you’re aware of the problem the customer needs to solve. This includes a demonstration that explains to the customer their reachable business opportunity to convert this issue into something profitable. The proposed solution will not be valuable if we do not have a business case. Customers are not going to invest in any project if they do not have a clear profit-and-lose picture.

More often than not, a good way to start pursuing demand creation is to show the pain sheet our customers have to deal with in order to highlight the known issues. Following this idea, you need to show a clear economic loss for each issue stated on the pain sheet and clearly explain how you are going to revert this situation by offering the most suitable IT solution. It is vital to express each pain in terms of monetary issues, not necessarily talking about numbers, but addressing the ideas to show how the solution will reduce customer costs stemming from a poor business process definition, large post-selling efforts, old technology, etc. Be positive and compelling, avoiding negative terms.

Usually, the solution is shaped by the product vision. The product vision provides a picture of our ideal solution being developed, involving benefits and added value for each item in the pain-sheet. This presentation must be totally honest, but you should avoid negative meanings and crushing remarks. Keep in mind that your comments may hurt the customer’s pride.

When writing the executive summary, be cognizant of the terminology and information being provided. Any mistake here will push the reader to reject the proposal. As the readers of this summary will usually be senior managers, you need to correctly inform them on the topics they are going to be interested in, avoiding technical language and providing worthy data. Don’t beat around the bush.

On the other hand, customers will set focus on your experience. It is very important to include a chapter in which you talk about successful projects. Preferably, include projects that have a similar context. For instance, something with the same technology, a similar project goal, related project drivers, or related issues to be solved.

Additionally, you need to include a list that explains why your solution is the strongest, most profitable choice for the customer. Typically, you can title this chapter as, “Why we’re the best option.”

The goal of this chapter is to place your proposal on top of the short list. There you can share your company’s experience, knowledge, methodologies, resumes, certificates, best practices, suitable technology, short project timelines, low-effort costs, and low-selling rates. Highlight them as benefits.

When executing a solution selling process, it is very recommendable to involve the customers in everything stated in the proposal. This involves customers in the decision-making process. For instance, if you are going to include an estimate in the proposal, it is very useful to involve the customer in the estimation process. It will allow customers to understand the risks you face during the project execution, and its transparence will push them to fully rely on the project plan.

Also, it will allow you to demonstrate that you deeply understand the business and goals to be achieved. So, if possible, involve the customers in the estimation process and teach them how to take part of this task.

This is a good point to start talking about the technical proposal. This chapter could be part of the main proposal, or it could be presented in another document. Usually, there are different readers for each part of a proposal, and commonly, senior managers and people with commercial skills do not want to be involved in technical issues. Many times, these directives come from the request for a proposal.

This chapter must state and explain technical features and scope of the product and perfectly detail those items that are out of said scope. Typically, a preliminary list of main features is good enough. This list must comply with all of the customer requirements, and in case you are going to take one of them out, you have to be sure that you perfectly explain why. If customers realize that one of the requirements they asked for is not included in the scope and there is no explanation for doing this, they will immediately reject our proposal.

Additionally, a high level project plan must be included. This is a good option to demonstrate awareness of business needs. The project plan must comply with deadlines that the customer is looking for and deliverables must be planned according to business needs. Customers could also be included in the high level project planning process to allow you to set up all their expectations.

Finally, be totally honest and never set goals that you are totally aware you are not able to accomplish. Preferably, try to change the customer’s point of view by offering another proposal.

About the author

StickyMinds is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.