Do you know why so many companies with business-to-business (B2B) models spin their wheels writing proposal after proposal without getting any results?

It’s because most view a proposal as a sales tool, when it should simply be a restatement of what the client already agreed they needed.

You must have an idea of what the client wants before even writing a proposal.

For years I’ve used a full-blown discovery process, aimed at getting the client to tell me exactly what to put in a proposal. It’s for that reason that responding to traditional requests for proposals is such a waste of time.

That doesn’t mean I just tell them what they want to hear. But I ask questions and get to the bottom of the true business needs. That allows me to provide solutions and a rationale for why they need what I’m proposing.

When I meet with a prospective client to discuss how I might help them, I’ve not done my job unless I walk away knowing exactly what their goals are, how they think we could measure progress towards achieving those goals, and what achieving these goals would mean in terms of overall value.

Armed with this information any proposal becomes more of a statement of an already established objective. When you come to that realization, your sales calls, discovery meetings, and proposals will never be the same.

Ask the hard questions first

Before you ever write a proposal you must fully understand your potential clients’ goals in great detail. Ask them big picture questions like:

  • What challenge are we trying to address?
  • Why do you want to do this project?
  • What would a successful outcome look like?

You also want to understand up front how they will measure success. What metrics will we use to measure progress? How will we know we’ve achieved the goal?

Finally, get at what value a positive result will have. This is a great point when it comes to establishing why they might view what you do as an investment rather than a cost.

Spell out the agreement When you focus your discussion on establishing agreement you can then use your proposals to restate goals, metrics, and value in context of deliverables and methodology for getting there.

Now when you propose a specific approach or project you can tie it to achieving a goal in very specific terms. You can also propose optional approaches that give flexibility in terms of pricing and timelines.

Nail down the terms

Use your proposal to also spell out exactly how you will work and what you expect of them, right down to the amount of CEO or department time and resources you’ll need. And, don’t forget to state very clearly how you expect to be paid.

When you start to look at proposals as a tool to simply document agreed-upon objectives, you’ll start to close more of the right deals on your terms.