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By Bruce Johnstone, Director Of The Business Growth & Development Programme At Cranfield School Of Management

In the world of business-to-business sales, successful new business usually comes about because someone has prepared and presented a winning proposal. A proposal is essentially a sales pitch for the products or services you offer.

Writing a winning proposal involves identifying a need or an opportunity that a client has, and proposing to provide goods and/or services to meet that need or opportunity. Your business needs to pitch for new business in order to grow, so the ability to produce winning proposals is critical to your future.

Who writes the proposals in your business - is it you as the owner-manager? Or do you delegate this task? How good are the proposals you produce? Do your management team have the skills to create winning proposals? Does your team follow a step-by-step process such as this one?

Step 1. Conduct a needs analysis. It is important to begin by defining the need or the opportunity. Ask who your customers are, what do they want and what is their solution at the moment?

Step 2. Design your offer. Consider what you will offer to meet this need and define the purpose of the proposal. What is the transaction you wish to achieve by producing this proposal? What will you provide, for how much money and in what time frame? Are you providing a standard offering, or are you customising an offer just for this client? At this stage you should also consider carefully if you are sure you can deliver on your offer, and what special conditions will need to be included.

Step 3. Create an outline. Often this will follow a standard form. Your proposal outline could be: Cover Letter, Title Page, Proprietary Notice, Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Introduction, Body, Summary and Conclusions and Bibliography. You might also list the charts, graphs, tables or illustrations you will create and, if you are presenting your proposal, you may also need to create an outline for a slide show.

Step 4. Gather your data. Carry out your research, gather data and assemble the information you need. You might want to include background information on your business and industry and show how your offering saves money or increases income for your customer, and performs better than alternatives.

Step 5. Write the Proposal. Use clear, objective language and write what you would say to your customer if you were making the proposal in person. Remember you are writing a serious commercial document. While you hope it will be the basis of much future business, remember that it will be pored over in the event of a dispute. Both parties need to clearly understand the offer, so your words need to be carefully weighed.

Step 6. Polish and improve. Carefully proof read all documents and check spelling and grammar. Make sure your proposal documents are smartly formatted and use your logo and colours in a consistent style. Use the features in Word to create your cover page, contents, footnotes, page numbers and bibliography.

Step 7. Deliver and present. Get your proposal in front of your client. Present it, or at least deliver it, in person for maximum impact. It is now time to begin the process of overcoming objections, asking for the order and completing the sale.

Step 8. Review the outcome. Monitor and learn from your success rate. If you won the business easily, was your price too low? If you failed to win the business, what can you learn to improve your proposals in the future? Does your proposal writing process need work?

If your team’s proposal writing skills are not as good as they could be, this is one area where an investment in management team development can really pay off in the form of profitable growth for your business.

Dr Bruce Johnstone is a director of the Business Growth and Development Programme at Cranfield School of Management. He can be reached on

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