The Development Source

How is Writing a Proposal like Selling a Product or Service?

In sales, there are tried and true skills that determine whether or not you will be successful.  Many of the same skills that lead to success in the sales arena also will help lead to success in proposal development.

According to Geoffrey James in Inc. (, there are eight essential sales skills.  I will apply them to proposal development.

Research prospects.

You cannot expect to persuade a prospective customer to accept your solution in a proposal unless you learn a great deal about that customer, the customer’s mission, and the customer’s current needs and challenges.

Plan meetings with the potential customer.

In proposals, customers are best persuaded in face-to-face meetings.  Arrange meetings so that you can learn more about your prospective customer while he or she learns more about what you have to offer.

Create rapport.

To create rapport in a proposal, you must give the customer a reason to care about you.  The best approach is to really care about how you can help that customer.

Ask Questions.

You can only learn about prospective customers by asking respectful and thoughtful open-ended questions.

Listen actively.

Encourage your prospective customers to talk about themselves.  Keep your mouth closed and your mind open, and you will learn a great deal while earning their respect.

Present solutions.

Too many proposals are long on qualifications and experience and short on actual solutions to the customer’s needs.  Make your solution the focus of your proposal once you have figured out what the customer really needs.

Ask for commitment.

In sales, you should always be closing (ABC).  In proposals, you must learn the art of how to ask for a contract.

Build relationships.

Win or lose, your short-term goal always should be to build mutually beneficial relationships with prospective customers.  Your long-term goal is to become part of your customer’s business network.  Customers do not give contracts to pieces of paper.  They give it to people and companies that can demonstrate their usefulness.

Both salespeople and proposal teams are involved in the same exercise:  convincing people to buy their service or product.  Apply these eight essential skills to your proposal development process, and your proposals should improve.


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