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Three Proposal Mistakes that Lead to Rejection

Putting together a proposal is exciting and terrifying—it’s your make or break moment. When you submit a proposal, you know you will either have landed a great deal or lost an opportunity.

So, let’s cover 3 big reasons why your proposals might not be working for you, the psychology behind the proposal process, and how you can improve your next proposals for big wins.

Premature Proposals

By far, this is the biggest mistake that I see people make. And, truthfully, when I first started my business, I did plenty of times… until I finally learned my lesson. 

Most people tend to draft a proposal way too soon.

When a prospect says, “Could you just draft up a proposal for how you can help us and what that would cost?” Most professionals jump at the opportunity and say, “Yep!”

I get it. You want to be accommodating to your potential client, but putting together a proposal too soon actually creates problems for both your prospect and you.

It does your prospect a disservice by drafting a proposal without having all of the information you need to create a persuasive  proposal.

As we’ve talked about on the blog before, being influential doesn’t start with the question, “What should I say?” Influence begins by asking yourself, “What do I need to know?”

If you’re drafting up a proposal for someone but don’t have the answers to questions like…

  • What specific tangible goals do they want to achieve? (income increase, pounds lost, time saved, fewer team conflicts, etc.)
  • How will this project affect their company, their department, their bosses, themselves, etc?
  • What subjective goals do they want to accomplish? (increased confidence, better connection with employees, etc.)

…then you’re going to run into trouble. Without the right kind of influential intel from your prospect, you won’t be creating a proposal; you’ll be making a brochure list of your services and slapping their logo on it for “personalization.”

So, instead of saying “Yep!” when your prospect asks you to draft up a proposal too soon, say something like, “I’m happy to do that. In order for me to deliver exactly what you need, I’d like to just get a bit more information.”

Schedule a call or conversation to clarify their goals and expectations before writing up that proposal.

My, What a Big Proposal You Have

Sometimes you will be talking to your ideal prospect and get so excited about offering EVERYTHING you have to help them. And so, you make a proposal that reflects all the awesomeness you bring to the table.

This can be a mistake, especially if this is your first engagement with this particular prospect.

Remember, this proposal isn’t just a one-off. Your business relationship has the opportunity to grow after that first engagement. So, maybe your second engagement can include that immersive experiential strategy unicorn workshop extravaganza.

Just land the first project first.

If, after assessing your prospect’s needs and goals, you still have some heft to your proposal, there are ways you can trim it down – or, at least, give the perception of trimming it down.

For example, break it into parts.

Your proposal doesn’t have to be a singular proposition. You can present multiple options, such as Option 1, 2, and 3. Or Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Cheapskate, Reasonable, and High Roller.

Whatever your heart desires.

Options help you shift the conversation away from a yes or no paradigm – which only gives you a 50 percent chance of success.

When you give options, your prospect can now say yes three different ways.

(Well, actually FOUR. Your prospect might want to add an element from one option into another, creating a custom 4th option that they sign up for.)

Four ways to win versus one.

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Or, break it into phases.

Similar to breaking your proposal into parts, you also can break down your big, enthusiastic project into phases. (Phase 2 builds upon everything accomplished in Phase 1, and Phase 3 builds upon everything in Phase 2.)

With the phases approach, your prospect can move forward with just Phase 1 or, if they like,  they can sign up for all three phases right away. At least they have the option.

Using phases also lends itself to some influential psychology known as future pacing.

Let’s say your prospect only chooses the baby step of Phase 1. That’s ok because you still presented them with a picture of what working with you can look like in the future. They know what’s possible…and how much to budget for.

Just be careful.

When using options or phases in your proposals, a word to the wise:

Do Not Include More Than Three Options.

Too many options will lead to analysis paralysis in your prospect.

Craft your proposal to meet the needs and goals of your client. No more, no less.

“Why” Does Matter

The real magic of your proposal lives here.

A reject-able proposal is all “How” and no “Why.” 

Your true value comes from the ripple effect you create from your work, not within the work itself. That’s why you want to explicitly cover WHY this project is important.  

For example, let’s say that you can save your prospect 7 hours per week through your efficiency consulting. That’s a great benefit. But, why is that important? What else could your prospect, specifically, be doing with that saved time? What is important to her? How will this help her overall energy? What else could she be accomplishing with her newfound time?

This is how you truly personalize a proposal.

Throughout your proposal, answer questions like:

  • How does this benefit my prospect?
  • How does this benefit my prospect’s boss and team?
  • How does this benefit the company overall?
  • How does this benefit their clients?
  • What resources are saved (materials, time, money, etc.)?
  • What are the intangible benefits (harmonious team, increased confidence, better relationships, etc)?

Don’t assume that your prospect will connect the dots between your work and the ripple effect they can expect.

The why drives action. Make all the why’s as clear as possible.

So, for your new and improved proposals, you now know to: only create the proposal once you have all the information you need to make it compelling, use options or phases to save you from a bloated proposal, and to weave every why you can throughout the proposal. 

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