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How to write a winning proposal

First, a simple belief that I have: A proposal should never be a Christmas present that the recipient opens and is surprised by.

Proposals are best when they are the recorded specifics that have already been agreed to. That means that if you want to write a winning proposal, you are putting on paper what your decision-maker already understands.

If that is the case, then for whom are you writing the proposal? Everyone who can screw up your deal! When you are writing a proposal, you are incorporating all that has been discussed, considered and debated through the sales process into one document.

I have raised millions of dollars of capital financing, pitched complex business process outsourcing contracts for nine figures, and sold large blocks of widgets for multi-national corporations, all with a very similar structure for the proposal. In the context of much smaller sales, clients have used this similar model to land opportunities everywhere from $5,000 to $10,000,000 in size. The point? This model works.


Background/Context --

1. How did the prospects get to the point that they wanted to do something new or different?

2. What are the business goals of the prospect company?

3. What specific outcomes are your customers looking to change and who wants to change them?

4. What are the considerations? (Always, nevers, do's and don'ts)

Scope --

1. What are we being asked to fix?

2. What performance means that we succeeded? Outcomes?

3. How will we measure and report performance along the way?

Approach --

1. How will we accomplish the scope?

2. Who, what, when, where, how will we deliver this proposal?

Requirements --

1. To be successful, what do we, the selling company, need to have from the prospect? (People, access, equipment, technical access, reports, meeting time and so on)


1. Step by step Gantt chart and schedule


1. What are the elements of pricing?

2. Projected project costs according to performance delivery

3. Terms

4. Schedule of payments

Cost Justification

1. What is the financial benefit that the company should expect?


1. All of the specific materials referenced in the Proposal

Simple guidelines:

a. No more than one page each for the structure headings.

b.Tell your story by answering the questions as cleanly and briefly as possible.

c. Details, ASTM specifications, drawings, diagrams, charts, graphs and so on are all Addendums, referenced in the individual segments. The segments are for telling your story and explaining value. Addendums are the evidentiary support for your proposal

d. Write as if you were explaining your process to a high-school senior

I watch sales people agonize over their sales proposals as if they were Ph.D. final thesis submissions. Proposals rarely stand alone as the final decision-difference of winning a deal. However, they can have everything to do with losing one. Use this simple structure to increase your success and stop agonizing.

Have you taken the sales numbers survey yet?  Take the 15 second survey and I'll send you the results so you know how you stack up against other readers.  Last chance to take it.