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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Eight Reasons Proposals Fail

Proposals are the backbones of business transactions. But, a proposal is a commitment. To help ensure that your projects succeed, proofread carefully before submitting a proposal or signing a proposal. Here are eight signs of problems.

The proposal writer hasn't done any homework. Successful vendors carefully research their prospects' companies, industries, and industry issues before meeting with the prospects. By coming to client meetings armed with insightful questions, you will show that you are ready for the engagement.

The proposal writer wrote the proposal too quickly. Do not write proposals until you have had detailed conversations with prospective customers. Learn as much as possible about the prospects' businesses, their goals and needs, and even their budgets. Meanwhile, establish a relationship with the people who own or influence the project or who sign off on the project. For example, a project may require access to the client's customer list. If the owners of the list haven't endorsed the project, they could withhold the list, and the project will fail.

The proposal is all about the vendor. Many proposals include irrelevant background information about the vendor and the vendor's qualifications. Instead, convey experience and competence during preliminary conversations with customers and through your ability to concisely describe the customers' goals for the project and how you will achieve these goals.

The proposal is a generic proposal. "Cut and paste" is not necessarily your friend! When people use templates or boiler-plate from previous projects, prospects think the vendor is lazy or indifferent. Hasty cut-and-paste proposals could mistakenly include details from one of your other projects.

Here are other pitfalls:

Wrong project scope. Many proposal writers over- or under- promise what they plan to do for the client. The fastest way to disappoint a client is not to deliver what the client wants or what you promised to deliver.

Not clarifying who will do the work. In large consultancies, prospects often meet with senior staff, only to discover later that less experienced junior staff will be doing the work.

Unrealistic schedules. To satisfy demanding customers, vendors frequently agree to unrealistic schedules. This often results in sloppy work or missed deadlines. Resist demands to provide partial results in mid-project.

Misleading or incomplete pricing. Customers do not like to receive invoices for unexpected project expenses, such as materials, shipping, and travel. Either build into the project a reasonable estimate for expenses or absorb these expenses. Including a price range for expenses or a "not to exceed" clause can be effective.

A good proposal, and, of course, work well-done, help to ensure that projects succeed and increase the odds that customers will invite you to bid on subsequent projects.

Winett Associates helps companies understand their customers and markets.

Copyright © 7/16 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.


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