Getting Business Proposals Approved: It's The Soft Stuff, Stupid!

Last Updated Apr 13, 2010 5:24 AM EDT

As the election campaign gathers momentum, many people complain that the parties focus too much on personalities and not enough on hard policies.

Similarly, most business decisions are a mix of the rational and emotional, the personal and the organisational. As my mentor often says, behind every business objective is a personal objective.

So what does this mean for your ability to get your business ideas accepted and approved? In my experience your success in obtaining sign-off depends on three success factors:

  1. Your own personal credibility, including your track record of success, your capabilities and what others say about you.
  2. Your relationship with the decision maker, and your ability to engage the decision maker in a meaningful dialogue on your idea.
  3. The quality of the idea and the impact it will have on the business.
In short, it's not just about the idea; it's also about you and your relationship with the person who has the power to say yes or no. It's about soft skills as much, if not more, than it's about hard skills.

To have the maximum chance of approval you should be able to address all three factors. If you can only cover two of the three factors, then you should expect the following responses:

  1. Thanks, but no thanks. Your relationship and personal credibility will mean that your idea is heard, but the lack of business impact means it won't be approved. Focus on developing new proposals with a clearer and more compelling effect on business performance.
  2. I'm sorry, who are you again?. In this case you have, at best, a 50:50 chance of getting your idea accepted. You simply do not have a good enough relationship with the decision maker. Perhaps your track record and the quality of the idea mean that it does get accepted, but if the decision maker doesn't know you they may just ignore the message.
  3. Why should I believe you on this? Apart from the bull's-eye position of meeting all three criteria, this is the next best position to be. But even where you have a reasonable personal relationship with the decision maker, if you're not seen as an expert on the subject you're proposing you can expect to face serious questions about your proposal.
When Bill Clinton won the US presidential race against George H Bush, his campaign team had a reminder about the key election issue permanently posted on the wall. It read, it's the economy, stupid.

Well, when it comes to business proposals, it's the soft stuff, stupid!

Do you just focus on your ideas or do you cover all three of the success factors as you develop your business proposal?

(Pic: Nomadiclass cc2.0)
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.