What buyers are thinking when they’re reviewing your proposal
Put yourself in your buyers’ shoes for a moment. You’ve just received a proposal from someone who you’re considering doing business with and it’s the last remaining piece of information you’ll have to help inform your purchasing decision.
What is it that you’re going to notice about the proposal? What elements are you specifically looking for?
Look And Feel
How does the proposal document actually look and feel when you first see it? Does the document appear to be polished and on-brand for the business? Are there dynamic elements like video, custom images or an interactive pricing table?
Or does the proposal seem kind of janky or cheap? Maybe the logos are disproportionate; the font choices are questionable, or the stock images seem cheesy.
A proposal should make you, as the recipient, feel like a million bucks. You shouldn’t feel like you’re reviewing a proposal from a bargain basement firm whose idea of branding is the 3D cyan/magenta word art in Microsoft Word. Furthermore, the proposal in front of you should instill you with confidence that the company you’re about to do business with is professional, smart and that they’re going to drive results.
Consider this: if this business can’t put a well-crafted proposal in front of you when they’re trying to capture your business, how do you think they’re going to perform when it’s time to fulfill what they’re proposing?
As a buyer, you’ve spent your own time to explain to the salesperson about your unique needs, pain points, and goals.
You’re knocked upside the head with a cookie cutter proposal that doesn’t speak at all to those challenges that you took the time to discuss. It’s essentially a template document with some pricing thrown into the mix. Talk about a disconnect. What this communicates to you as a buyer is that the salesperson wasn’t actually listening to your needs and that you’re getting the same proposed solution as every other buyer that comes through their doors.
Consciously or subconsciously, you’re likely looking for something in the proposal that will provide legitimacy to ‘anchor’ the proposal. That credibility could take the form of social proof in success stories, testimonials or performance data from other clients. Even something as simple as bite-sized testimonials can provide the gut-check that other reputable companies have used the vendor and that they’ve had a desirable outcome.
As a buyer, you face the daunting task of collecting as much information as possible to winnow down your purchase options and to make a decision about which vendor will provide the best solution to your problem. The ‘best’ solution may be determined by specific features, pricing, timelines or other qualities of the proposed offerings.
Imagine how useful an objective ‘head-to-head’ comparison between top competitors would be if it were included in the proposal. Not only would it help you objectively evaluate the current proposed offering against competitive offerings but it would also highlight where the competition falls short.
My favorite marketing-related quote of all time is from Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt:
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
In a proposal, the buyer often specifically looks for details and specs about what they think they’re buying — the drill. That’s the core product or service that you’re proposing. But in reality, and the buyer often doesn’t realize it, but they’re really out to buy the hole; the hole represents what they want to achieve by spending the money on the drill. So, a proposal should speak to both the methodology (the product/service) and the outcome.
When the buyer arrives at the end of your proposal, they should feel confident that what you’re offering them will help solve a problem, minimize a pain or increase their revenue. Keep in mind that how you present this solution is just as important as the nature of what you’re presenting.