The Structured Proposal

Writing a proposal is one of the most difficult things many of you must do as agency principals or managers. It is headache-inducing, trying to get inside your prospect’s head so you can slant your pitch in the direction most likely to persuade the prospect to give you a shot. Pitches can hinge on tiny details—misspelling a name or not having a good answer prepared for an off-the-cuff question. Plus, so many proposal processes seem designed not to let the cream rise to the top, but to eliminate all but the agency the client pre-selected to win!

How do you prepare a pitch or proposal to ensure that you are truly in the running, and not just wasting time and effort in the writing? The trick is to provide the right “props,” supporting your proposal with data to help the prospect decide in your favor.

We have written in the past about the styles of business decision-makers. Understanding how your prospect thinks is a critical part of any new business pitch. But you can best persuade all styles of decision-makers by imposing structure on your presentations—learning to deliver the “props” so the prospect can allow him- or herself to be persuaded.

A structured presentation or proposal offers many benefits. It clarifies your own thought processes, helping you to make a stronger verbal pitch. It makes it easier for the prospect to follow your arguments. And, ultimately, it builds a persuasive case for your proposal, resolving all questions and doubts before they can be raised.

What is the ideal structure for a pitch or proposal?

All effective proposals open by restating the prospect’s needs, issues or problems. This immediately demonstrates that you:

  • Understand the problem.
  • Are focused on the prospect’s needs, not on your own potential profits.

What positive outcomes can arise through solving the problem? Discuss these clearly and concisely. Also mention possible consequences, which will help the prospect assess risks/rewards should the firm accept your proposal.

Suggest your solution to the problem, tying it to positive outcomes sought by the prospect.

Finally, offer substantive evidence that you can:

  • Do the job as outlined. You have the staff, facilities and resources required.
  • Deliver on time and on budget.
  • Provide measurement of the results.

Here is a bonus tip: If you tie your proposed solution to the brand (i.e., how it will help differentiate the company from its competitors), you deliver added value that offers long-term profit potential. You also demonstrate an understanding of the prospect’s market challenges and offer a strategic way to help the company address and defeat them.

Always do your due diligence before you tackle the proposal—research the company, its people, its competition, the industry in general, and all the factors that may impact the situation. The more you know going in, the stronger you can make your argument. A pitch supported by facts and hard data is much more persuasive than one where you offer a great creative idea with no evidence that it actually addresses the problem. And a pitch that offers the facts in a structured, persuasive presentation is all the more effective.

Here is one final argument for using structured proposals: You can save enormous amounts of time and money by giving your staff the ability to produce proposals with a minimum of time invested. This means you can pitch more often, more effectively, and win more frequently.

Start getting your “props” today. Your agency will gain in status and new business, and your clients and prospects will see you in a whole new light.