A No-Fail Recipe: Winning Business Proposals

Article excerpt

Effective business plans have all the right ingredients, in an easy-to-digest format.

A proposal for new business is too often seen as the necessary drudgery to get the interview. But a great proposal is an excellent marketing weapon. It focuses your team's presentation and separates you from the mediocre firms.

I have reviewed hundreds of management/leasing proposals and most share the same mistakes:

* Too little information - Submitting just a company brochure with a price quote.

* Poor writing - Pleasing to look at, but, after the first read-through, boring to read.

* Lack of marketing focus - Trying to be everything to everyone, but being nothing to no one.

* Too general and self-centered - Focusing on the company instead of addressing the prospect's needs and desires.

* Done too quickly - Offering trivial solutions and canned material instead of ideas that get results.

* No "sell" - Presenting just information rather than a persuasive argument for the company.

Prospects ask for proposals because they want to contrast companies, review their options, and compare solutions to their problems. They want to be convinced, reassured, and impressed. They want you to show your understanding of their problems, propose solutions, and demonstrate your capabilities. In short, they want to be sold. They want their most basic question answered. "Why should I hire you over your competition and will you perform?" A great proposal provides all this information and more in a palatable format.

Plan Before You Write

The first step in writing a winning proposal is to stop writing and start planning. Planning begins with a comprehensive investigation of the prospective client. You must first find and identify the prospect's problems, issues, concerns, and expectations relating to the property and/or current management. This will form the foundation of your entire proposal.

The most obvious place to begin is with an in-depth inspection of the prospect's property and a review of the building's past operating history. If possible, also interview the building's staff concerning building conditions and tenants. In addition, I would highly recommend that you have your associates shop the property several times. Vary the visits over different days and times of day. You may be amazed at what you will discover.

After you have gathered the information, spend time with your team reviewing and analyzing what you have learned about the prospect's property, operating procedures, and staff. Look for possible weaknesses that you can show the owner how to correct.

What the Prospect Wants

The next step in the investigative process is the prospect interview. Explain to the prospect the purpose and objectives for the interview. Make it clear that you are not asking for time to make a presentation, but to gather information so that you can better understand the prospect's goals. Ask that all decision makers attend the meeting. Be sure that the meeting time is long enough to cover all your topics, and, if possible, set the appointment for the morning. Within reason, the longer the appointment, the more likely you are to uncover hidden needs, wants, and issues. More time also means the prospect has a larger investment in you.

Your goal in the prospect interview is to determine key prospect needs and wants. Before the interview, prepare a comprehensive list of questions based on your analysis. Leave out petty problems and observations.

During the meeting, do more listening than talking. Take notes; it shows concern. In addition to questions based on facts, such as expenses, ask questions about the prospect's opinions and goals. For example, "Mr. Prospect, what do you look for in a superior manager?" If you are listening carefully to the answers, they will tell you how to get the assignment.

What Makes You Special

After the investigative process, you must ask yourself the questions: "Do I understand the real issues in this account, and can I solve them? …