When you get asked for a proposal, what do you actually create? What do you send to the customer? What do they need to sign? And how long will all of this take?
I notice a lot of people create a pitch (typically PowerPoint), perhaps a proposal document (typically Word), and a contract with terms and conditions and a signature page (again, typically Word, converted to PDF).
What should you do?
Well, that depends on the situation, but here are my guiding principles:
- My time is valuable. I want to use it as efficiently as possible. So I don’t want to do or write anything unnecessary, nor do I want to create extra work down the line by omitting required information at the beginning.
- My prospects’ time is valuable. They want to use it as efficiently as possible. So they don’t want to do or read anything unnecessary, nor do they want to create extra work down the line by ignoring omitted information at the beginning.
- Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
(Note that in some cases with large enterprises or governments, all of this will be predefined. In that case, if you decide to bid, follow the formatting requirements exactly. The first filter will be someone who just rules out companies that can’t follow directions. The advice in the rest of this post only applies in situations when you don’t have rigid response formatting requirements.)
What this usually means is that I combine the pitch, proposal, and contract into a single document (online, naturally, using a Mimiran template). I lay it out with higher level summary information at the beginning, a project plan, pricing, terms and conditions, and a signature section. So I just squish down the 3 documents into one. Less writing. Less reading. Less worries about duplicated information, or, even worse, inconsistently copied information. (You change something in the proposal– did you adjust the contract? What if someone else changed a diagram in the pitch deck that leads to misaligned expectations?) Less rework if you need to make revisions.
I still use Keynote (like PowerPoint, but by Apple– I find it easier to create nicely formatted diagrams than PowerPoint) to create diagrams to insert into the proposal document, when needed. Diagrams can be really helpful in making things easy to understand. However, I don’t like dozens of slides that convey very little information. “PowerPoint is the mind killer,” I believe Frank Herbert wrote. Or something like that. So just create a couple of key diagrams, and then use text to describe the details. This makes it easy for your prospect, and your prospect’s colleagues.
Sometimes, you will have a large supporting document, like an existing requirements document. I like to put a link to this document in the proposal, so it’s easy to reference. You can even deep-link to anchors within the document to highlight particular parts of the project in the proposal.
By unifying your response in a single document, you get several benefits:
- The prospect(s) and I can see everything all together. They can point out a potential showstopper with terms and conditions before we waste time on the pitch deck. They also know that changes in one section might lead to changes in another. (Oh, you can’t pay that quickly? OK, let’s adjust the price.)
- When the prospect signs, it’s clear what they are agreeing to.
- It saves lots of time, for you and your prospect.
How many documents do you create to close a sale? What is your rationale?
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