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Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Before I get into the business proposal example, template, and tips, I need you to remember one thing: You’re Yoda, […]


Category: Tag: Proposal management best practices

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Before I get into the business proposal example, template, and tips, I need you to remember one thing: You’re Yoda, not Luke Skywalker:

“Think about Luke Skywalker and Yoda in Star Wars. When Luke meets Yoda, he encounters the perfect guide. Yoda understands Luke’s dilemma and has mastered the skills Luke must develop if he is going to defeat the Death Star.”
Donald Miller

As the writer of a business proposal, you want to come off as the perfect guide. Your goal is to make your prospect look like Luke Skywalker, the hero of the story. The prospect doesn’t care about your product; they care about solving their problem.

What is a business proposal?

Put simply, a business proposal is your solution pitch to a prospect’s business problem. It’s you saying, “I understand your problem. This is what the situation will look like after it’s fixed. Here’s a few ways we can help you fix it. Sign here to get the solution rolling.”

It’s used often, especially if your prospect isn’t the only stakeholder involved in deciding whether or not to buy your solution. In such situations, the business proposal is the document that your prospect will share with those decision-makers. Jeff Bloomfield, sales coach and author of NeuroSelling, says, “They need to know that they are saving money with your solution when compared to the high cost of the problem you are solving.”

As succinctly as possible, you need to tell the story of how your solution will help your prospect look like Luke Skywalker. That’s not much room; the opening scroll in all the Star Wars movies takes up more than two pages.

A business proposal is brief, yet informative and customized to every prospect’s specific problem, even if you only have one solution. Remember this is about their needs rather than your features. To put it another way, it’s the photo negative of a brochure or website.

How to write a business proposal

Arguably the most important step when writing a business proposal takes place before any writing begins: Confirm interest in your solution. Odds of winning deals from unsolicited business proposals are multi-state lottery-level. Any effective business proposal starts with a conversation.

When you understand objectives and have a solution, then you can begin writing. If after identifying the prospect’s pain points you believe that your solution isn’t strong enough, then keep digging for the pain points where you can excel. Sometimes you have to push to get the right objectives to make sure there’s enough pain to justify your solution.

Timing is essential because a business proposal needs to be educated and comprehensive. Too early and it’s going to land on deaf ears. Too late and either someone else solved the problem or you’re perceived as not caring enough to make it a priority.

As soon as you’ve identified pains, objectives, and how to position your solution as the ideal, then gather the following content:

  • Logos (yours and prospect’s)
  • Pricing options
  • Scope of work collateral you can link to from the business proposal

Now you just have to complete the business proposal template. These business proposal best practices will help.

8 business proposal best practices

  1. Take advantage of “title” real estate. As my esteemed colleague Keith Norrie explains in his expert advice on executive summaries, the title is too good of a setup opportunity to pass up. Use an action verb to surface the primary problem that you’re proposing to fix with your solution. The following power-verb examples will perk up stakeholders’ ears: increasing, reducing, accelerating, improving, streamlining, monetizing… Check out the business proposal example to see how I framed the solution in the proposal.
  2. Agree on 3-5 objectives with the prospect’s champion during your initial calls. These objectives will be based on pains that your prospect wants to overcome.
  3. Explain how your solution will enable these objectives. This isn’t an opportunity for you to list product features—most of which the prospect won’t care about. It’s where you tie solutions to problems. For example: “RFPIO’s AI-enabled Content Library will reduce XYZ Company’s time spent responding to repetitive questions from 1,200 hours to 720 hours or fewer annually for an equal number of submitted RFPs.”
  4. Give multiple pricing options as a checkable list. Avoid line-item detail. Explain the difference between each option. For example, “This one allows you to scale…this one gets you to the end of the year…this one is best for small businesses…”
  5. Provide a high-level scope of work specific to the prospect’s need. Link out to data sheets or websites for more information.
  6. Include a call to action, preferably a signature request. At the very least, schedule a call to review next steps.
  7. Review the proposal with the prospect over the phone or through video conferencing. If possible, try to get the person you’re really building the proposal for (the decision-making stakeholder in the shadows behind the prospect champion) to join the review. If you can’t schedule a review, then record a Vidyard of you walking through the business proposal that can be shared with stakeholders.
  8. Be careful of jargon. Every industry has its unique terminology, but be wary of using jargon for jargon’s sake. With only two pages, you don’t have any room to waste on hollow language that doesn’t address the prospect’s specific problem.

Download your business proposal template & business proposal example

Here are the business proposal template and the business proposal example. When you’re ready to write your own business proposal, make a copy of the template. Then, delete all the instructions as you complete the sections. That way you don’t accidentally fire off a document complete with my tips and tricks. Also, if you build your business proposals from Salesforce, then these tips on Salesforce Proposal Builder will be a big help.

I hope you find the template and example helpful. Remember, the decision-making stakeholder (likely an executive) will be reviewing multiple proposals. They should be able to look at yours and identify that it’s comprehensive and customized for them. They’ll sniff out cookie-cutter treatments immediately and will sideline them while they look for something unique, like yours.

Be confident. This isn’t a shot in the dark. The prospect needs to solve this issue. Your business proposal will illustrate how you’ve thought through their problems.

Improve user adoption in 7 steps

Improve user adoption in 7 steps

Give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and they’ll eat for a lifetime. Surprise all the end users of your new software purchase with a fishing trip and they’ll wonder, “Do I have to do this, and how do I get off this boat?”

As a proposal manager with a shiny new RFPIO lure guaranteed to attract every big fish you can reach with a cast, sometimes it feels like you’re stranded on dry land with a map to the fishing hole but no way to get there.

Introducing new software into your sales enablement tech stack and workflow is no joke. Change management is a sophisticated discipline that examines the processes behind organizational transformation. It’s way too deep a rabbit hole to fall into here, other than to say that 99 out of 100 proposal managers I work with during RFPIO onboarding don’t have any specific experience in change management or software deployment. Which can make the prospect of convincing end users that their jobs and lives will improve with RFPIO somewhat daunting.

As soon as I get my chance to work with the person or team in charge of deploying RFPIO — whether it’s a proposal manager, sales manager, or IT specialist — I recommend inhabiting the following mindset: “How do I set myself up for success?” Now we have a bite-sized challenge we can overcome, rather than an amorphous source of anxiety such as “change management.”

My response to the question, “How do I set myself up for success?” is “Follow 7 steps to improve user adoption.” Let’s roll through them.

#1: Get executive buy-in

Trying to implement any change without executive buy-in is akin to growing a garden without any seeds. The need and desire may be there, but you just don’t have anything to get started. So take that need and desire and use it to build a business case for adding RFPIO to your sales technology stack.

This all has to happen before deployment even appears on the horizon. Gaining and maintaining buy-in from managers and executive sponsors will be critical to making end users more receptive to your excitement and the possible benefits. According to Steve Silver at Forrester, a leading global research and advisory firm, “Every business case must have an executive to champion the investment.”

To build the business case, Silver advises to call out timing of adding RFPIO (i.e., answer, “Why now?”), identify risks and dependencies (key to which he includes this nugget, “Tie the consequences of not using the technology to failure to meet specific goals that a sales organization has committed to attaining”), and clarify budget allocation and source of funding.

After you secure executive buy-in for the purchase, you’ll need to keep them engaged with monthly or quarterly status updates on implementation and RFPIO benefits. It’s important to obtain and maintain their endorsement so that they continue to encourage their teams to use RFPIO.

Here’s an email template of what one of the initial updates might look like.

SUBJECT: RFPIO has already accelerated response time by 40%

Hi [EXECUTIVE NAME],

We’re off and running with RFPIO, and I wanted to give you a quick update on how it’s going:

    • [X#] of end users are now using RFPIO
    • We have used it to respond to [X#] of RFPs this month
    • Compared to the same month last year, we responded 40% faster to RFPs
    • Of the RFPs submitted this month, we know we won [X#] at a valuation of [$X]

End users are picking it up quickly: “It takes about 10-30 minutes to train the client-facing teams on how to search for information in RFPIO.”

As we continue to add content to the Content Library, we expect to see an even greater leap in proposal quality, greater usage of Auto Respond functionality, and more efficient workflows.

I’ll send another update next month, but feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

#2: Make sure you have bandwidth

Before you kick off your RFPIO implementation, make sure you have an accurate expectation of the amount of time you’ll need to dedicate to the project. It will require some extra bandwidth. On average, expect to spend about five hours per week for the first three to six months.

Some RFPIO admins prefer to assign their regular duties to another team member so they can “cram” on RFPIO. They’ll spend 15-25 hours per week to focus solely on the rollout and learn RFPIO as quickly as possible. Then they’re able to pare back to a few hours a week. You’ll need to determine which method works best for your team and goals.

As far as what you’ll be doing with that time, here’s an overview of what to expect:

  • Deployment processes: From generating excitement to coordinating with IT, and from amassing content to scheduling training, you need to balance your daily workflow and responsibilities with what’s expected of you during deployment. This will be a short-term issue. While we’ll be there to lend you support, you need to make sure your bandwidth can handle being the point person on this project.
  • Ongoing “office hours”: End users will have questions, especially at the outset. And every time there’s a new hire in sales or pre-sales or proposals or customer support you’ll need to make sure they’re trained and able to thrive in RFPIO. Plus, you’ll want to encourage feedback, negative and positive, to adapt your usage, increase functionality, or add integrations in the future.
  • Driving response management processes: Any tool is only as good as the processes behind using it. Even a hammer has to be swung accurately to hit the head of a nail. A huge benefit to AI-enabled tools like RFPIO is that it will be able to automate most of your existing manual processes. You will still need to work behind the scenes to execute schedules, push collaboration buttons, and drive deadline management. In other words, the robot can swing the hammer as long as you put the hammer in its robotic appendage.
  • Auditing content: Do a full content audit to make sure you are starting off with a cohesive, succinct Content Library. Watch this webinar to learn more about completing a content audit in RFPIO, or follow these four steps to set your Content Library up for success:

#3: Admin team, assemble!

Make sure to recruit admin team members from each department that needs to be involved, and has the bandwidth to help with implementation, rollout, and RFPIO day-to-day operations. Sometimes admin teams are made up of only one or two people, and that’s okay, too. Whatever the makeup, they will in turn be responsible for evangelizing RFPIO, reinforcing the value message from executive sponsorship, and liaising with you to provide team-specific training for end users in their department.

For larger, global organizations, the admin team will also be responsible for figuring out a rollout plan. They’ll determine which departments get onboarded first, taking into consideration metrics such as proposal volume, knowledge sprawl or content silos, and collaboration challenges. They’ll also develop a repeatable onboarding process that can be turnkey for new hires or other new end users.

This team will continue to exist beyond the initial deployment of RFPIO. Their meeting cadence will likely be weekly at first, but that cadence will slow down to monthly as you meet a critical mass of end users.

The admin team will also create and monitor milestones that mark success and check in regularly with leadership to report on the milestones. It will be responsible for communicating RFPIO’s value to leadership and end users, promoting transparency for feedback and user expectations, and overseeing the strategy for #4…

#4: Generate excitement through an “awareness campaign”

Start generating excitement, even if you’re still finalizing the purchase. Involving your power users during the early stages of launch will increase the likelihood that they’ll use new software by 55%.

You can do this by setting up an internal email campaign. In addition to informing end users what’s coming, this will also get the organization used to hearing from you about RFPIO training and product updates. Ultimately, you want to provide clear concise answers to the following questions that are common to end users:

  1. Why do we have RFPIO? (e.g., “To automate manual response processes, streamline content management and access, and create higher quality proposals.”)
  2. Why is RFPIO exciting for me? (e.g., for a sales end-user, “Locate answers to prospect questions in near real-time based on updated content that’s searchable from the application you’re already working in.”)
  3. How will it help me do my job better? (e.g., for pre-sales end-user, “Spend more time creating innovative solutions instead of answering the same questions over and over.”)
  4. When will I be trained on RFPIO? (e.g., “Go-live for RFPIO is XX/XX/20XX. Your department is scheduled to be trained the week prior to that go-live date.”

One of the first couple of emails should come from the executive sponsor (some proposal managers like to send a short teaser about an impending big announcement about changing the game for sales enablement). It will validate the addition of RFPIO to your sales tech stack while communicating a high-level value proposition of improvements in productivity, efficiency, and outcomes. It will also set the expectation of cooperation and collaboration among end users to plow the road for your deployment.

Make each email short and informative. Respect your readers’ time. Include links for more information for end users who choose to learn more. Set up the next step in the process. Here’s an example of an announcement email to get you started.

SUBJECT: Announcement: Help with sales response and content is on the way!

Hi everyone,
I’m excited to announce that we are adding RFPIO — one of the best AI-powered sales enablement solutions available today — to your toolbox in the next few weeks. RFPIO will save us a bunch of time, allow us to focus on improving response and proposal quality, unify all sales content, and improve how we collaborate.

You’ll receive more information about RFPIO from me or your manager as we finalize the rollout plan. I’ll also schedule you for a quick training so you can hit the ground running (no worries, RFPIO is super intuitive and will integrate with other apps you’re already using!).

Meanwhile, learn more about how RFPIO will make life easier and more productive:

Let me know if you have any questions. You’ll be hearing from me again soon!

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

#5: Train yourself

You’re the tip of the spear on this project. No matter how much help you have from your admin team, executive sponsor, IT, or evangelized end-user base, you’re going to be the person handling initial questions. Even when you tell everyone that they’re free to create a help ticket of their own with RFPIO, they’re going to ask you first.

Best to be prepared.

During onboarding, we’ll take you through extensive training until you feel comfortable with the tool. We’ll also be available when something arises that stumps you. But you can also refer to the following for help, too:

  • RFPIO Help Center (RFPIO customers only): Access an RFPIO self-guided tour and New User Training Checklist as well as expert insight into importing your first documents, organizing your Content Library, and more.
  • New User Training ChecklistFollow this checklist to get the most out of your RFPIO experience. Each step includes links to Help Center articles to set you up for success.
  • RFPIO University (RFPIO customers only): Watch video training modules on project management, content management, and other powerful capabilities such as user management and Auto Respond.
  • Customer webinars: Sign up for the next live webinar or dig into the on-demand archive of recent webinars for further instruction, product updates, and response management best practices.

#6: Schedule training by role

RFPIO is an intuitive tool. Even so, we have your back when it comes to user adoption. Institutionally, we have prioritized it. You’ll recognize our efforts in user experience upgrades, the new learning management system (LMS) RFPIO University mentioned above, and certification events designed to help you train end users.

Learning how to use RFPIO is relatively simple. Eric Fink, Dynamics & Business Applications Specialist at Microsoft, said, “The first time I logged into RFPIO, it took me about 10 minutes to get comfortable with the platform. After that, I quickly found responses to all of my open questions — seeing 100% value from the very beginning.”

Sales users are savvy. They can pick it up in an hour-long training. You should follow up with shorter, recurring training sessions to make sure they’re really using it, understand its benefits, and feel comfortable asking for help, if necessary. Respect end users’ time by training them only on what they need to know.

Again, manager buy-in is crucial here. Work closely with sales managers to make sure they fully comprehend the opportunity offered by RFPIO. They will help you overcome any pushback from sales end users, who may hesitate at the request to disrupt their workflow for a training, no matter how short and helpful it may be. They will also help ensure their team is using the tool consistently.

#7: Monitor, collect feedback, adapt

The push for greater user adoption is never complete, but it can most certainly be less painful and onerous. The good news is that user-adoption pushback fades as win rates increase.

After the rush of your initial rollout, you’ll be re-investing some of the time you used to waste on all the manual tasks of building proposals and chasing down content and subject matter experts into RFPIO administration. Beyond driving your underlying processes of project, content, and user management, you’ll also be communicating regularly with your admin team and executive sponsor.

RFPIO makes it easy to report on usage because every action is captured within the tool and spun into insight for your desired output. However, you’ll want to gather anecdotal input as well. Speaking to end users and their managers about what’s working and what’s still a struggle with regard to RFPIO or your response management strategy will help you adapt to future needs.

Depending on the size of your organization, you can expect to see value from using RFPIO 90 days to six months after implementation. You may see value in as few as 35 days if you push it, but be wary of setting unrealistic expectations that can circle back around to sabotage the overall adoption.

Want to hear from someone other than RFPIO? See how Hyland Software managed user adoption: “By making sure RFPIO is something everyone can use… everyone is using it. User adoption has been outstanding.”

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