Few entrepreneurs or self-employed professionals look forward to preparing new business proposals. And, I suspect, even fewer of their clients and prospects look forward to reading them.
Many new business proposals are doomed to fail because of reasons like:
– Length. Many proposals are too long and too detailed. They take too much time for sellers to prepare, and too much time for prospects to evaluate.
– Focus. Many proposals over-emphasize the seller’s capabilities, and fail to place enough emphasis on the buyer’s needs and benefits.
In the absence of conciseness and a meaningful discussion of buyer benefits, many proposals end up depending on price as the most important selling and decision tool.
Price-first strategies may be appropriate for corporations selling to corporations, but smaller businesses need a simpler, faster, and more agile way to prepare and present new business proposals.
Many years ago, William McKinley, a friend of mine who was on the business and sales faculty of the University of Washington, introduced me to a proposal development system he had been using for over twenty-five years of successful entrepreneurship. His ideas formed the basis for my Mindjet Proposal Planner (available for download here), the latest addition to my Content Dashboard.
The resulting Proposal Planner provides focus and encourages conciseness, and builds on several of MindManager’s features, such as the ability to:
– Manage time and resources, such as identifying start dates and dues dates, and indicating task dependencies (i.e., relationships between the completion of one task and the start of the next task).
– Compute costs inside the mind map, eliminating the need to transfer data back and forth from a spreadsheet program to the map (and, often, back again).
– Present “virtual proposals.” This involves walking clients step-by-step through a proposal, in person or online, focusing their attention and soliciting feedback in real time. This is far more efficient than “submitting a proposal” and waiting for a response.
Putting the New Business Proposal Planner to Work
Selectivity plays a key role in the New Business Proposal Planner mind map. This involves identifying and focusing on the prospect’s most important areas of concern and addressing their goals as concisely as possible. The map is based on a simple 6-topic structure:
- Areas of concern. Begin by focusing on customer issues, rather than describing your product, services, or competitive advantages. State the key issues as concisely as possible, providing a few supporting details or reveal quotes added as Notes or subtopics. Your goal at this point is simply to confirm your understand the main issues your prospect would like to see improved.
- Objectives. Next, restate each area of concern as a proposal goal. The easiest way to do this is to write a goal, or objective, statement beginning with “To…” Follow with words like reduce, eliminate, increase, improve, maximize, etc. In this step, and in the following, be sure to address each topic in the same sequence used in the Areas of concern.
- Recommendations. Next, add subtopics containing your recommendations for achieving the objectives. Avoid unnecessary detail. Introduce the major deliverables (i.e., your products and services needed for each step), and briefly describe their contribution to achieving the proposal’s objectives.
- Benefits. Next, re-visit each area of concern and point out the benefits of solving the prospect’s problems or helping them accomplish their goals. Be as concrete as possible. Avoid introducing benefits that don’t address the original areas of concern.
- Investment. Follow-up the benefits by describing the investment needed to achieve them. A simple, straightforward list of what you will charge for various products and/or services works best. With the latest versions of MindManager, you can use the Calculate feature to compute the costs associated with each task. When appropriate, insert Topics to group related tasks together. (If you do this, provide a subtotal for each group of costs.) You can also add Notes to present options, (if appropriate) and to describe your payment terms and schedule. To keep your proposal map as simple as possible, refer prospects to the Addendum for additional information.
- Schedule. This is a very important section; it allows you to create a credible incentive for prospects to accept your proposal as quickly as possible. Prepare this section as if your proposal had already been accepted. Start with Date of proposal acceptance (or set a deadline for next week). Assuming that your proposal will be accepted, insert subtopics describing the work to be done. Add MindManager’s Start Dates and Due Dates for each task. This will emphasize that any delay accepting the proposal pushes back all future dates! This creates urgency, as prospects can easily grasp the consequences and actual costs of procrastination.
Experience has taught me that proposals that concisely and effectively address the most important prospect areas of concern are far more effective than proposals that try to address too many points in a rambling, unfocused way.
The Addendum is there simply to provide space to link supporting documents. These may include word-processed documents or Adobe Acrobat PDFs, such as brochures, case studies, client lists, company history, price lists, specifications, staff profiles, price lists, specifications, testimonials, etc.
Working with the New Business Proposal Mind Map
In the Notes associated with each topic, I have included instructions and tips for each topic. You may want to delete these instructions after you and your staff have gained experience working with the New Business Proposal mind map.
Submitting your New Business Proposal
There are two ways you can submit new business proposals based on the New Business Proposal Map, the “old way” and the “new way.”
The “old way” to submit a new business proposals involves several steps and – frequently – numerous delays:
- Exporting your mind map as a word-processed document
- Editing and reformatting the proposal to include expanded narrative
- Printing and mailing copies of the proposal, or creating and emailing a PDF file
- Waiting for a response and feedback, often followed by awkward “Did you read it yet?” calls.
The “new way” involves presenting your proposal as an in-person or virtual presentation as soon as possible, and taking advantage of MindManager’s presentation capabilities and real time map sharing tools like Mindjet Connect.
The advantages include:
- Faster turnaround and less work. A mind-map based New Business Proposal presentation requires fewer words and less formatting to prepare. It also reduces the recipient’s workload, i.e., “One more thing to read when I get time!” A fast proposal response becomes a competitive advantage by projecting a professional, agile image.
- Provides an incentive for action. Scheduling a short meeting to present the new business proposal reduces delays caused by procrastination, by presenting a deadline for both presenter and prospect.
- Control. MindManager’s built-in presentation tools allow you to walk clients through the proposal, engaging the prospect by focusing their attention on one topic at a time. As you walk through the proposal, you can emphasize important points that prospects might otherwise skim through.
- 2-way communication. Presenting your proposal with MindManager encourages immediate feedback, allowing you to immediately respond to client concerns or objections. If needed, you can modify the proposal in real time.
Choosing the Right Format
Obviously, there’s no single, universal, always-appropriate format for preparing and delivering new business proposals.
Depending on your relationship with the prospect and your analysis of the prospect’s corporate culture, you may decide to use the New Business Proposal Planner strictly as an idea development platform, continuing to format and submit your proposal in traditional ways.
On the other hand, in today’s faster-moving, more competitive business environment, you may find that many prospects will actually prefer the focused presentation approach and the faster response it allows you to deliver.
Which approach is best for you?
If you’re already using the presentation approach, or have any concerns, questions, or takeaways about New Business Proposal map, please share them as comments, below.