Effective proposals

If your firm is like most accounting firms, your proposals look a little bit like this:

  • 90 per cent of information is about your firm: the proposal starts with a history, why your firm is qualified, etc. and ends with a set of bios on your firm’s professionals
  • 10 per cent of information is about what services you are offering: this covers what you will do for the prospect and how that will be accomplished
  • 0 per cent of information about your prospect: this would include background history of the company, why the services are needed and the impact they will have on the company, and what will happen if the company doesn’t change its current situation.

Part of the reason why your proposal looks like this is because that’s how it has always been done. Firms have grown, even thrived, with their old-style proposals. Another reason is that few have actually tracked or researched why their win.

Most accountants when asked why they didn’t get a prospect will point to price. They assume that a competitor had a lower price and that’s why the prospect went with the competition. In reality, price sometimes has very little to do with a prospect’s decision.

So what can firms do to gain a 50+ per cent success rate? Take a consultative, client-focused approach to proposals. A client focused proposal contains five critical sections:

Client background
Where is the company now? How did they get here? Who are the responsible key management players? Why has the prospect company called you?

Proposed solutions
What can you do help the prospect? Offer measurable metrics that will show your value to your prospect. What will happen once your solution is implemented? What will happen if it isn’t? Are there other options the prospect should consider?

This is a step by step action plan of how the engagement will proceed and what the prospect can expect from your firm and its professionals. What is required of the prospect’s personnel? What is the timeline? What are the deliverables? Are there any other considerations of the action plan the prospect should consider?

Firm profile
Why is the firm qualified to do this engagement? What personnel will be involved? Who are the prospect’s contacts? Other relevant background information should be included here.

Business issues
What fees are involved? Are there other issues the prospect should consider once the current engagement is complete? What other issues were presented by the prospect in the sales call? Ask the prospect to take action.

Beyond the basic, consultative outline keep in mind that proposals should be business-oriented, not technically-oriented. Business owners make decisions based on business – they hire a technical expert to understand the technical aspects of the engagement, but not to teach them how they actually will perform the engagement. Simply put, the prospect wants to know the benefits of the engagement, not how the engagement will be technically accomplished.

Proposals also should be:

  • Short and to the point

Get to the heart of the matter. Business owners don’t have time to sift through a huge proposal and most won’t anyway. Keep your proposal focused on the client and brief, yet informative. Most proposals can easily be covered in less than five pages unless the engagement involves multiple services.

  • Appealing to the eye

Be sure to give your reader something nice to look at. Use graphics to enhance the text, but do so in a limited way. Use whitespace to give the reader’s eye a break. Use at least an 11 point font for easy reading. Consider using 1.5 spacing so the reader can easily make notes on the proposal. Use colour in an effective yet conservative manner.

  • Easy to understand

In keeping with the business-oriented theme, be sure to speak on the prospect’s level. The proposal should be presented in plain English. Prospects need to understand the issues. They don’t need to be dazzled by technical jargon.

  • Solutions oriented

The primary goal of the proposal is to identify the issue or challenge and to provide a viable solution. Talk benefits and results to your prospect.

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