If you’re a consultant, coach or business owner in the B2B space, you know how important it is to have the perfect proposal. Having the perfect proposal allows you to win better clients, secure bigger projects, and start charging premium rates at the pointy end of the deal.
Starting to create the perfect proposal is easier said than done and this is where most people hit obstacles. How do you start the proposal? Do you use a template? What should the order of pages be?
These are all common questions that are asked during the beginning stages of creating a proposal, but the real question that should be asked first is this: What is your goal?
The reason we need to start with a goal is because it gives us clarity. We need clarity in order to start creating the proposal, and we need that clarity to be measurable. In the words of James Tuckerman:
“You can’t aspire to achieve a goal you don’t have, and you can’t improve upon something you can’t measure.”
ACTION: Let’s create the goal. First, you need to figure out what your champagne moment is. Your champagne moment is the moment you will know that you’ve crushed it and you’ve had success. How will you measure that success? This could be measured in the number of clients secured, dollar value of clients, or monthly revenue. Next, ask yourself how many clients per month would you like to secure?
The second part of this formula involves figuring out your client value. What is the likely value of a client in one month? If this question is hard to answer, it probably means you’re servicing every client in a unique way every time. When it comes to scaling a business and getting your time back, this is a habit we want to break.
You now have two magic numbers- Number of clients you want to secure per month, and value of each client per month. The last step of this formula is to multiply both numbers together, and this will give you your monthly revenue goal.
Now to find the perfect template for the proposal…
The most common way to create a proposal is to download a template online and simply fill in the blanks… But is this going to create an impactful and effective proposal?
The answer is no. Online templates are useful for getting started, but they’re also a recipe for a bland and generic proposal that has zero connection to your business or offering.
A typical proposal formula has titles like this: About Us, Our Team, Case Study, Our Services, Project Description, Our Offer, Project Budget Breakdown, Project Timeline, Acceptance of Quote, and sometimes an invoice at the end. Same old boring thing. But this is where we present to you: The Perfect Proposal Recipe.
1. Situation Analysis
The introduction shouldn’t be about you or your team; it should be about the situation. By outlining the situation, you can grab attention and articulate value quickly by introducing the headaches, obstacles, aspirations, and desires of the target audience. The nature of a situation analysis is that it identifies the target audience and their problems, the benefits we are going to provide, and the feelings they are going to feel as an outcome of that situation.
ACTION: The Gaddie Pitch is an icebreaking tool that is useful for introducing yourself to others at networking events, and it’s also great for introducing your situation in a pitch.
Try out this formula: You know how… (TARGET + PROBLEM)
What we do is… (BENEFITS + FEELINGS)
In fact… (INSERT CASE STUDY HERE)
Example: You know how, when you’re running a business and part of your business model is to deliver people proposals, there’s a real risk that proposals get buried and you get sick and tired of producing new, bespoke proposals for every single client?
What we do is apply formulas, systems, and strategies to help you assemble a proposal that you can use over and over again. They speak to the headaches, obstacles, aspirations, and desires of the target audience, so you can deliver proposals with confidence and feel great about making better use of your time. In fact, (INSERT CASE STUDY HERE)
~Secret Sauce~ Stop talking about what you do and focus on what you can do for them instead. No one cares about the input; they simply want outcomes.
Most people begin with ‘scope’ or ‘deliverables’, but not us. We don’t want to talk about goals because those are usually vague unless you really drill down like we did in the goal exercise at the beginning of this article.
An objective is something your clients care about above all else- it’s about delivering outcomes rather than input; the results rather than the effort you put in. There are two rules when it comes to objectives:
1. ROI v. COI
You need to be able to deliver ROI (Return on Investment) if that’s what your client wants, but don’t underestimate the power of COI- What the client doesn’t want to lose (Cost of Inaction). Take this analogy as an example: “In which situation are you likely to run faster? Toward a cuddly bear? Or away from a starving grizzly bear?”
2. WINS x3, BULLETS DODGED x2
When you’re with a client, ask them to list five dot points: three wins and two bullets dodged. This will help you give them real objectives.
Always answer this question: “Here’s what you’ll get…”
Why? Because that’s all that the client really cares about. The first question in the mind of a prospect is “What will I get from this interaction? What’s in it for me?” The rookie business operator will default to ‘THINGS’ such as diagnostics, audits, or strategies such as ebooks or landing pages. Whereas the seasoned business operator will go toward OUTCOMES. They will want to save money, gain clarity, or make money. They will also want FEELINGS such as relief, pride, or excitement. Always redirect your marketing language to revolve around OUTCOMES and FEELINGS because this is where there is real value.
~Secret Sauce~ Drill down how you structure your product or service to focus on ONE PERSON with ONE PROBLEM. This is the fastest way to answer the question of “what’s in it for me?”
Don’t suffer from a ‘scarcity mindset’. This term describes the thinking that you will be a jack-of-all-trades because you need to, because there isn’t enough business around to allow you to work in a niche. When you work as ONE PERSON with ONE PROBLEM, the one problem and USP becomes obvious, and you can stop running yourself ragged and charging too little. When you become focused, it becomes easier to create proposals and close more clients.
3. Deliverables (Three P’s)
Here’s another analogy to kick off this section: If you were McDonalds, when it came to selling a Big Mac, what would you do?
The way McDonalds sells their Big Macs is like this: Two beef patties with pickles, onions, secret burger sauce, and cheese, all on a sesame seed bun. A Big Mac is not simply a burger.
McDonalds knows how to chunk down one thing into many smaller things to increase the perceived value of something that at the end of the day… is a hamburger. To do this in your business, look at the power of options, chunking down and packaging up, and the ‘premium, preferred, and patsy’.
If your proposal only has one option, then you’re really giving you prospect two options- yes or no. You’re pushing your prospective client into a corner and telling them ‘it’s my way or the highway’! If you have two options to choose from, the dynamic shifts from ‘yes or no’, to A and B. We recommend doing one better- have three options in order to be able to chunk down your product, and pump up the value.
How do we pump the value up, you ask?
We will reduce the barriers when seeking commitment, and eliminate the way proposals usually overemphasise the amount of work required. Your clients care about themselves and their outcomes, not the amount of work you do for them! When it comes to pumping up value, distance your proposal away from your time and effort. You will be less likely to receive pushback on price, and instead will be able to focus on outcomes that are packaged up like options. There are three ways to package up your options:
Option A: Audit what you already offer.
Do you have a product suite? Have you costed and itemized the products/services you already offer? These things should be included in your audit, to then create a rate card.
A rate card gives you clarity around all of the products and services that you offer. It’s not something that you show your customer or client, but something you keep in your pocket so you are able to quote quickly and efficiently.
Option B: Audit what you already do.
Do you have an onboarding process? Have you identified and costed the steps in this process? Do you know your client journey?
You can often break down the steps in the client journey and reframe what you do as a sequence of products. Normally when bringing on a client you might engage in an interview. You might research, there might be preselling, some back and forth calls and emails, then an onboarding process when they sign up. These are common steps in a new client relationship when the business is selling knowledge, a service, or expertise. All of these things usually happen before the client pays, but what if you could turn them into their own products?
First, give your ‘things’ a name. A call becomes a ‘45 minute: 5 page Marketing Plan’. Research becomes a situation analysis. Preselling becomes a training package. Back and forth calls become strategic support. Onboarding becomes a strategy workshop. They all become things. The moment we name them, they become things we can sell and we can then evaluate their importance from the perspective of customers and clients.
Turning ‘Things’ into Packages
Evaluate each ‘thing’ against its ROI, COI and then a dollar value once it’s been broken down, chunked, and given a name. Preselling may be $1997, and back and forth calls are priceless. These things can then become a package, for example, a ‘Kickstarter Program’.
The Importance of Three Options: the Premium, Preferred, and Patsy
Three options are better than one. The ‘premium, preferred, patsy’ method employs the idea of three options that are presented and priced differently. The ‘preferred’ option speaks for itself, as a well priced option with lots of value.
The ‘premium’ option costs 5 times more than the preferred. The ‘premium’ option harnesses Anchor pricing- the concept that when you position something expensive next to something cheaper, the cheaper option is much more preferred.
The ‘patsy’ is an option that is marginally cheaper than the preferred, but has far less benefits. This makes the client consider both the pasty and preferred options, but pick the preferred as it is only slightly more expensive, but the benefits are more extensive.
Option C: Put it in your own value matrix.
What’s a value matrix? It’s about evaluating your complete service mix to establish which services are high output and low input. Here, we are looking for extreme ROI. Look at what it is that you do and analyse it from the perspective of a client. Focus your efforts on the low input and high output areas of your business, and you can then focus your business on the areas that will be the most profitable.
4. Proof (Case Studies)
Case studies often backfire, and there’s a couple of rules we like to follow in order to prevent this.
Rule 1: 1,5, or None
The optimal number of case studies to use is 1, 5, or none. This is because case studies can do more harm than good when used incorrectly.
If a prospect reads one testimonial about a business that is different to theirs, they are likely to think “I think that person is not like me which means that business is not like mine.” Boom, prospect lost because they can’t relate. If you want to include only one testimonial in your proposal, make sure that it addresses the headaches, obstacles, aspirations, desires, and situation of the person receiving the proposal to ensure they will relate to it.
If you want to include five testimonials, place five in a row. Why? Because most people won’t want to read them all- this is the case study equivalent of what I call ‘thud factor’. The prospect will see a lot of testimonials and without needing to read them all, they will presume that a lot of testimonials = BIG SUCCESS. This strategy provides authority and social proof.
If you want to include any other number of testimonials, such as two, or three, don’t. If you have two or three testimonials it is likely that the prospect will read them all. When they’re reading through all of them, they will be looking for a reason to say no rather than yes… So don’t give them that option! If you don’t have any testimonials at all, keep it that way. Focus on statistics instead that will help you and your business make your point.
Rule 2: The Power of Feelings
It’s difficult to say to a prospect “If you work with me, you’ll feel wonderful, you’ll feel like a rockstar!!”
But if you have a testimonial that says someone felt so relieved and awesome when they used your business- that’s what will stick. The purpose of a case study is to stick to the FEARS. For example: “When I started, I was scared I would feel like this, but James made me feel like THIS!”
Rule 3: Handling Objections
Hagglers, tire kickers, and stragglers are a common issue when it comes to closing a deal. We have a guide we use when it comes to handling objections, called ‘Thankyou for not Discounting.’ If you’d like to check it out, go here.
5. Our Offer (De-Risk)
There’s nothing more frustrating than getting ghosted after providing a proposal. If you DON’T want to get ghosted, present your offer in a way that ‘derisks’ it and accelerates the decision of making a commitment quickly. This doesn’t need to be a big commitment, you can encourage a small one, that will then flow onto a bigger one. Regardless of whether you choose to encourage a small or large commitment, it is integral to get some sort of commitment to avoid people putting up barriers.
How do we derisk it?
Rule 1: Scare-city
‘Scare-city’ is built on the notion that humans are driven to take action when it looks like something is about to be taken away from them. Scarcity scares people into taking action. Offer a price point and a bonus that is tied to a deadline. Position yourself as the prize and bonus, for example: “if we are able to start by the end of this week, you will get me as your lead (you are the prize)”
Rule 2: MBG
MBG=Money back guarantee. Most people don’t purchase from a proposal, particularly if it involves big $$$. However, this can be resolved by offering a money back guarantee- something that a lot of business owners are afraid to do.
Most people who are afraid of giving a money back guarantee are suffering FEAR, otherwise known as ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. They think that there are too many what-ifs. But what if you eliminate the what ifs?
Start the prospect relationship with a scaled back version of what it is that you do and once that commitment is made, ask for a bigger commitment, then go bigger again. People fear giving a money back guarantee because they think their clients will rip them off, but this isn’t true. There is only a small minority of people out there that are looking to rip others off, and by using triage forms, you can eliminate the chances of those people entering your funnel in the first place.
Rule 3: Ecosystems
Don’t ask for full enchilada up front- offer them a spicy taco first!
Most businesses have a core product. Sophisticated businesses have a sequence of products, and this is called a product ecosystem. To create your own product ecosystem, start with this four step process.
ACTION: Draw four boxes connected together like a train. Start with a gift, then move to a tripwire, then move to a core product, then onto a continuity product- this is something typical like a retainer, a recurring element. Service based businesses typically do this as a membership, like a marriage! Now, you wouldn’t ask a stranger to marry you on the first date, right? No. Don’t start with a retainer.
If your core product is expensive, sell an audit first focused on COI (Cost of Inaction). How many donations are you losing because of the cost? Everyone wants to know how much they are losing through a paid audit, so wrap them in through this first. This is reducing barriers to entry.
At the very start of the funnel, give strangers a gift. It’s free, why would they say no? This allows strangers to get a gift, then move to a suspect, then a prospect, then a client. By slowly easing strangers into the funnel, you develop trust.
Strangers have headaches, so give them a gift that relieves their headache in the first carriage in the train.
Suspects are suspicious- so give them something to overcome their suspicions. The best way to do this is by showing suspects how they can get from A-B. You can use things like roadmaps or training sessions in the form of digital products, webinars, or even strategy sessions.
This needs to have an A state, (the problem), and a B state, which gives an outcome and improves perceived value. You may even be able to attach a dollar value! It will take time before you can get people to pay for this, but by immediately giving it a name and perceived value, you will be on your way there.
The prospect stage tackles aspirations. You want to show your prospects that by spending money with you, they can make their dreams come true.
The client stage is all about continuity. Continuity tackles desires. Talk about where they want to go in the future, what they’re looking for in their journey, and introduce your marriage!
How many follow ups are required after the first meeting? 7 touches, according to psychologists. 14 touches online, according to Google Zero Moment of Truth Report. The surest way to lose a deal is through failure to follow up. 80% of sales require 5 follow up calls after the meeting. However, 44% of salespeople give up after 1 follow up.
People fear follow up because they’re scared that people will say no. As it gets to the pointy end of the deal, we are more invested and being more invested produces worry and fear. To manage this fear, you need to have systems in place to coordinate your follow-ups.
72% of salespeople manage follow ups in their heads or with inboxes and spreadsheets, but what they need to be focusing on is systems.
~Secret sauce~ If it generally takes 5 follow ups to seal the deal but most people give up after 1, then why don’t you do whatever you can to get a commitment on the spot?
Structure your offer to reduce the barriers to entry. Carve it into chunks and sell one small chunk at a time. This applies even if you are offering big ticket products or services. If you can get those commitments, you may not need to go through the arduous process of multiple follow ups.
At the end of a proposal, supporting materials will give THUD factor- but no one will actually read this stuff, except maybe the timeline. ‘THUD’ factor means it looks like a great piece of work that gets put in a folder or a binder and goes ‘thud’ on the desk- but it’s not the best way to deliver value as such. It’s like filler content. In these supporting materials, content such as ‘About Us’, ‘Our Team’, and Project Timeline’ can be included.
6. Acceptance of Quote
The very last piece of the proposal is the ‘Acceptance of Quote’, or invoice. This is absolutely essential because it serves as an element that will allow your prospect to make a decision quickly.
The easier that it is to sign off on, the better chance you have of closing the deal. That’s the whole goal of the perfect proposal, after all!