Tired of competing on price alone? Looking to stand out in a crowded marketplace? Perhaps it’s time that you step up your game to stand out from the other professional services firms.
Forget What You Think You Know About Professional Services Proposals
Well, maybe not everything.
Yes, you still need to proof it for typos and be responsive to the prospects’ requests. And true, there may be some circumstances where you still want to be rigid about how you organize your response (for instance, if you are addressing highly regulated government procurements).
Having said that, there is no reason why your professional services proposal should look and read just like every other firm’s. Submitting a “me too” proposal encourages reviewers to select the lowest bid.
Here are my favorite tips to make your firm stand out from the crowd and compel prospects to give your proposal special consideration.
1. Fewer words, please.
You do not need to tell the prospective client every single thing you know about a topic or an approach. Have a little mercy for the poor reviewers.
Large blocks of text are likely to be skipped or skimmed. More words are not usually better.
2. Organize for easy skimming.
I know, it’s hard to imagine why an overworked reviewer would not want to savor each and every word of your carefully crafted prose.
But alas, we are talking about mere mortals here, so give them a break. Make it easy to skim. Use short paragraphs, many headings, callouts, and bullet points. Draw attention to key points. Don’t bury your message.
3. Never use words where a picture will do.
Pictures pack more emotion and power. They can set a tone that sets you apart. It’s even OK to put in a picture just to break things up.
Take a look at how we use artwork to set a friendly and welcoming tone at the beginning of our proposals.
4. Tell them they are wrong.
Most firms will give clients exactly what they ask for. Imagine the impact of telling your potential client that what they asked for is not the best way to achieve their objectives.
Then, lay out a convincing case for a better approach. We do it with some frequency and find that clients appreciate it. After all, who doesn’t want a better solution? Of course nobody likes an arrogant smarty pants, so watch the attitude. But this tip has won us many clients.
5. Roll the tape please.
Consider using video to capture case studies or client evaluations (never call them testimonials). Seeing a satisfied client explain how you helped them is infinitely more convincing than a written description.
Also, it’s a great way to provide a brief overview of your firm and how you operate. (Here is an example.) With the rise of electronic proposals, it is a simple process to insert a link. Yes, it does fall pretty flat when printed, so there are some situations where this will not work.
6. Surprise them with research.
Include a mini analysis of a prospect’s current situation based on real data about their industry, their clients, or some other aspect of their performance. If the research is substantive, it will speak volumes about your commitment and understanding of their current situation.
You are providing real value — and they haven’t even hired you yet! Speaking of providing real value, consider the next tip.
7. Skip the proposal.
Not for the faint of heart, this approach takes the time you would have spent on a full proposal and devotes it to actually working on the client’s problem. By actually working with you, the client gets a true sample of what a full engagement might be like.
Perhaps that work involves sharing a preliminary analysis, providing design directions, suggesting how a particular problem might be addressed, or the like. I know there are many situations where this just can’t be done. But there are many situations where it is practical. If it works out, your effort helps the client and often makes selling your firm easier.
8. Kill the little boxes, arrows, and circles.
You know the ones I’m talking about. Those five- or seven-step process diagrams, pyramids and interconnecting boxes. They rarely clarify anything.
If you do need a model to explain something, at least have the humanity to use a professional designer to make it easier to comprehend. Here is an example to illustrate a complex lead generation process:
9. Prove it.
It’s easy to throw around assertions in a proposal. We have the strongest team or “world class service.” How about actually offering proof around these assertions?
Suppose you backed up your assertions of customer satisfaction with data from a survey conducted by an independent third party? How about including actual statistics on client retention or staff longevity? Substantial facts can set a proposal apart.
10. Offer something extra.
You’ve given the client what they want, now show a little love. Maybe you can throw in some planning for next year’s tax strategy. Or how about an additional analysis? Or perhaps a new piece of functionality or an enhanced capability. The point is that you are offering more value without increasing the price. Who doesn’t want that?
There you have my top ten favorites. Try a few of them out or come up with your own novel variations on a theme. The point is to make your professional services proposal stand out in a way that is both memorable and helpful.
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