Create better business proposals by being more like Santa


Nobody delivers the goods like the big jolly man himself—from research and development to delivery and final presentation. Yep, Old Saint Nick would’ve made one heckuva new business guy, as he excels in the very areas needed to create winning proposals. Let’s see what we can learn from Santa’s strategies, and how we can apply them to make our proposals stronger, ringing in more profits in the New Year.

He gets their wish list long before the delivery date.

While we wouldn’t recommend that you ask your prospects to sit up on your knee—sitting down with them for an hour and using your best research tools (your ears) will help you in all kinds of ways.

Remember to ask smart questions, ones you wouldn’t be able to find answers to on your own. Show your passion for their brand and their unique challenges. Take good notes and follow up with a thank-you e-mail and any additional questions. The goal? To find out what keeps them up at night; to learn what technology/ creative/business solution will work best for their company and at what price; to get the scoop on the background players and the politics… information that, down the road, will allow you to create much more than a standard RFP response. You’ll provide a solution and an approach to partnership that’s tailor made, meeting every single request on their wish list.

He believes in the “many hands make light work” philosophy.

elf-stockings-and-giftsWhile responding to an RFP will never be as difficult as delivering gifts to 7 billion people in one night, it can give you gray hair just the same. Like Santa, who spreads his work among dozens of magical elves, getting contributions from your whole team can mean the difference between making your deadline or not. Be sure to divvy up responsibilities on day one, giving each person an appropriate assignment.
Remember to meet early and often with your team and schedule several brainstorming sessions to tackle the highest weighted RFP questions. Even when your employees are swamped with client work, be sure to at least have a 15-minute stand-up meeting each morning to ensure things are progressing and no one’s dropping the ball. Your proposal manager should run the meetings and whip the reindeer (er… “motivate your team members”) as needed until you have a 100% compliant and compelling proposal—signed, sealed and on the sleigh for delivery.

He makes sure there’s something in there for everyone.

gift-bagSanta is superb at remembering gifts for everybody—right down to the family dog (assuming he hasn’t been naughty, of course). In the same way, you want to have
something in your RFP response for every proposal evaluator. When you have the luxury of knowing who they are (which happens more on the commercial side), you can shape your proposal accordingly. For example, if you learn that the company president is a numbers guy, and he has a big voting influence, you may want to have your proposal writer feature compelling statistics throughout your document. Keep in mind that the more senior an evaluator is, the less time he or she may have to review your proposal. (Often, high-level executives will only have time to read your executive summary.) Make sure yours does a great job encapsulating the highlights of your qualifications and experience, your proposed solution, your hand-picked team and your secret weapon—that exciting thing that your company can bring to the table that others can’t! Be as succinct as possible with your proposal. Use headlines, subheads, pictures, diagrams, call-outs and other communication tactics to get your most important points and differentiators across quickly. If you can tell a great story in fewer pages, you’ll almost always earn extra points with evaluators.

He knows that presentation is everything.

santa-holding-giftA business proposal—like a gift—is much more appealing when it’s presented in a unique way. For whatever reason, proposals are often the ugly stepchild when it comes to a company’s array of communication touch points. This shouldn’t be the case. When opening your document, recipients should instantly know you’ve created something special for them. Beyond brand consistency (correct logo, colors, fonts, style, etc.), the information and visuals in your proposal should be served up in an effective, stylized way. After all, the last thing you want is to blend in with your competitors. Try to make every part of it look and feel unique (from the front and back covers, to the executive summary, to the ending summary). As part of your copy & design presentation, be sure to add features that revolve around your prospective client. Evaluators will see that yours isn’t a cookie-cutter proposal and was created with their specific company and culture in mind. Make sure your proposal is error-free by having a proofreader go through it, line by line. Your attention to detail will be noticed. Assuming you’ve done an excellent job creating a persuasive story, with a great plan and compelling pricing, your proposal’s unique presentation will be the icing on the cake. Or on the cookie, as it were.

George Brumis is president of RFP MD, a Los Angeles-based proposal writing company that serves clients nationwide. The company helps organizations win business by developing innovative sales and marketing touch points. For more articles and videos on how to write a business proposal, seeing RFP responses through the eyes of proposal evaluators, and other business development best practices, visit RFP MD’s website.

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