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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 software

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.

9 key RFP metrics for minimizing risk and enhancing efficiency

9 key RFP metrics for minimizing risk and enhancing efficiency

When I first started responding to RFPs, few people were paying attention to RFP metrics. Sure, there were definitely some trailblazers who were measuring performance, analyzing wins and losses, and optimizing efficiency… but I certainly wasn’t one of them. For me, responding to RFPs was less of a process than a mad scramble to the deadline.

Since then, my approach to RFP response has evolved. Admittedly, this is likely aided by co-founding a company that streamlines the response process via automation and analytics. This article will focus on the latter.

If you do it right, data-driven management can help sales teams sell smarter. But it can also provide insights into how proposal teams can identify—then either avoid or plan around—process challenges, such as resource management challenges, reduced ROI, missing deadlines, and inefficient content development.

By the end of this article, you will understand which RFP metrics you should be tracking—and how to use these metrics to minimize risk and enhance efficiency.

RFP metrics overview

Responding to RFPs can be an expensive undertaking. When you’re working with limited time and resources, you need to be strategic about which projects you take on. Improving your odds of a win starts by determining whether you’re a good fit, and identifying risk factors early so you can avoid surprises and plan for success.

Don’t let dollar signs, commas, and zeros distract you from what’s possible. Go for that big deal, but don’t do it just because of the logo or the dollar value. Do it because the data tells you, “You have a great shot at winning!”

For answers about your future, look to the past. Use data from past wins, losses, and incompletes to determine whether a project is worth pursuing. When you capture an RFx and upload it as a new project to RFPIO, the system will evaluate past projects for comparison and provide a dashboard that gives you an idea of what to expect.

Here’s a small taste of some of the data points that will help you enhance efficiency and gain new insights throughout your response process:

Project Type: Segment your RFP data according to project type. If you respond to RFPs, Security Questionnaires, and DDQs, then you can set each of those as a project type so you’ll be able to compare apples to apples. You can also segment based on industry, size, geo, and more.

Segment your RFP data according to project type
Focus on Wins: How many similar past projects have you won? Lost? Understanding what kinds of projects have been submitted and won helps you focus your efforts only on projects you’re most likely to win moving forward.

Focus on RFPs you're likely to win
Project Scope: Identity total volume of work required to complete the project.

Identify project scope before starting any RFP
Time to Completion: See the shortest, longest, and average times for similar past projects. In a recent survey, we found that 57% of proposal managers said their primary goal is to improve the proposal management process to save time.

Understand the shortest, longest, and average times for similar past RFPs.
Resource Needs: Examine content that may need to be created or moderated. Identify primary authors and moderators from past projects.

Identify primary authors from past RFPs.
Content Needed: Understand what kinds of questions are being asked, and whether you have that information on hand.

Clearly understand the content available in the library
Taken in isolation, each of those data points means very little. Homing in on a single datapoint is just like trying to ride a bike with just the wheels—you can’t get anywhere without the pedal, seat, and handlebar.

Instead, it’s best to approach RFP metrics in context of the greater RFP response process. The trick is learning how to apply insights from each individual data point in a way that enhances efficiency and reduces risk.

To make this easier on you, this blog breaks down the RFP metrics you should be paying attention to according to how they fit into the RFP response process:

  • RFP metrics to inform bid/no-bid decisions
  • RFP metrics for planning, implementation, and finalization
  • RFP metrics for ongoing optimization

By the time you finish reading, you’ll understand which RFP metrics you should be tracking and how to track them.

RFP metrics to inform bid/no-bid decisions

The first step of the RFP response process is figuring out whether an RFP is a good fit. Is this RFP worth the time and resources it’s going to take to complete?

In making your fit analysis, you need to be selective. You don’t want to waste time and resources on an RFP you’re probably not going to win. But you also don’t want to walk away from a potential opportunity, and leave money on the table.

RFP metric #1: Determining whether you’re a fit

While this isn’t *technically* a metric, decomposing the RFP to determine whether you’re a fit is extremely important to the bid/no-bid decision making process, and worth mentioning here.

Before you spend anytime answering a single question, the first thing you’re going to want to do is determine whether your solution is in line with the key requirements. Do a quick scan to see if anything pops out at you.

What problem is the issuer looking to solve? What are the features and functionalities on their “must-have” and “should-have” list?

This is also a great way to determine whether you’re dealing with a wired RFP, where an incumbent exists and the issuer is just going through the motions. If there are a considerable number of requirements that seem irrelevant or very far off base, that’s a good sign the issuer isn’t interested and the RFP might not be a good use of your time.

If your solution isn’t in-line with the issuer’s needs… go ahead and throw it on the “thanks, but no thanks” pile.

Remember: Your time is valuable. Don’t spend it on proposals you’re not likely to win.

Even if you are a good fit, you may still decide it’s a no-go due to other priorities, deadlines, and resource commitments.

If you do find you’re regularly passing up potential opportunities due to bandwidth, you might consider a proposal automation solution. According to a recent survey, organizations using RFP-specific technology submit nearly 50% more RFPs than those who don’t.

RFP metric #2: Do your homework on the RFP issuer

Yes, okay, we’re two for two for metrics that aren’t technically metrics. But you’re going to want to do a background check on the RFP issuer before you do a single iota of work. Nothing is worse than putting the final touches on an RFP, only to discover you already submitted a near-identical RFP two years ago.

Once you’ve determined the decomposition of data is a fit, there are a few questions you’ll need to answer:

  • Has this company previously issued RFPs?
  • If yes, did you win? Were you short-listed?

If you did submit an RFP for this particular company before—and you lost—it might not be worth your time. But if you were short-listed, and the company ended up going with another vendor, it could indicate that they weren’t happy with the other vendor’s solution… and this might be your chance to shine.

If you have submitted an RFP for this particular company before, pull that old RFP from the archives, and examine it with a critical eye. What did you do well? What can be improved? You don’t always get a second chance to demonstrate your competitive advantage—don’t let this opportunity slip you by.

RFP metric #3: Analyzing past wins based on company profiles

Compare company size, project value, and vertical to your typical customer profile. If you usually work with enterprise companies, and the RFP you’ve just received is from a startup, your solution might not be a good fit.

Save yourself some time in the future by tracking these data points as you go along. Each time you receive a new RFP, make a note of the parameters you want to track. As a starting point, I would suggest tracking*:

  • Vertical
  • Company Size
  • Product Line
  • Project Type*
  • Project Stage*
  • Number of Questions*
  • Project Value*

*RFPIO tracks project type, stage, number of questions, and project value by default. You can track vertical, company size, and product link by creating a custom field.

Be diligent about tracking each parameter whenever you receive a new RFP. Over time, you’ll see how well you perform for each of your chosen parameters.

If you’re using RFPIO, you’ll get a performance snapshot each time you import a new project, including project status (e.g. won, lost), time spent, and Content Library usage (i.e. how many of the questions were answered using Auto Respond).

With RFPIO, you'll see a performance snapshot each time you import a new project.

RFP metric #4: Tracking your average RFP response rate

Your average RFP response rate is a function of the number of outgoing RFPs divided by the number of incoming RFPs.

Average RFP Response Rate = # Outgoing RFPs / # Incoming RFPs

There is no rule of thumb for what your average RFP response rate should be. For some companies, an 80% response rate is too low; for others, a 30% response rate is too high.

One thing that can be said for certain is that if every RFP that comes in is being responded to, something is off. It means you’re not qualifying what’s coming in. By going after everything, you end up wasting time and effort on deals you’re probably not going to win.

You can adjust your average RFP response rate as you go along. If your win rate is astronomical, it could be a sign that you want to start responding to more RFPs (and vice versa).

On the flip side, if you’re responding to 50% of RFPs, and your win rate is abysmal, it could be a sign you need to better qualify the deals you’re going after.

RFP metrics for planning, implementation, and finalization

Once you’ve decided this RFP is a go, it’s time to get to work. That means building out your team, keeping your project on track, and submitting a polished final product.

RFP metric #5: Determining Workload

Before you do anything, check the project size (i.e. number of questions) and the due date. This will give you a general idea of how much work you’ll have to do based on past performance.

After that, you can start assigning work out to your team. As you’re choosing SMEs, the most important metric to track is current assigned workload. If one of your SMEs has four projects due by the end of next week and you’re adding another one, you’re just asking for trouble. That’s the time you proactively find an alternate SME.

If you’re using RFPIO, you can check current SME workload right in the application. The system will tell you how much work is assigned to which SMEs, what the workload looks like, and if there is any overload.

If you’re not using proposal management software, you can also keep track of SME workload using spreadsheets; you’ll just have to make time to keep your spreadsheet up to date.

RFP metric #6: Readability Score

If a proposal is difficult to understand, it increases the cost for bidders during the procurement process. Confusion leads to delays. Delays drive up costs. And everyone loses.

Most people read at a 10th grade level. Make life easy for your buyers by writing at that same level. Avoid delays by calculating readability as content is being added, using an editing tool like the Hemingway App or the Flesch reading ease test.

RFP metric #7: Probability of Win Score (PWIN)

Here’s where you take an honest look at your work so far and ask yourself: How can I increase my odds of winning?

A PWIN (Probably of Win) score is calculated based on the answers to a variety of questions designed to best determine how well the company’s team, experience, and contacts match those required for the opportunity. The higher the score, the better chances of winning the contract will be.

Ask questions like:

  • How does the language compare to previous projects? Is it accurate, positive? Does it align with winning RFPs from the past?
  • Have you answered all the questions? Have you met all the required conditions?
  • How often do you answer in the affirmative vs. negative?

Be honest with yourself. Have you said “no” to a certain percentage of must-have or should-have requirements? Are you qualifying too much, or agreeing to build too many features? It might not be worth the final proofing and polishing to primp your proposal to perfection.

Just because you’ve spent a lot of time getting your proposal this far, it doesn’t mean you need to spend even more time getting it over the finish line. Your time is valuable. It’s okay to throw in the towel.

Regardless of whether you decide to submit the proposal, make note of the requirements you’re missing, and coordinate with your product management team to get them into the roadmap.

RFP metrics for improving win rate and optimizing efficiency

You should constantly be looking for opportunities to optimize efficiency and improve win rate. Tracking metrics and analyzing the data can help you do that.

RFP metric #8: Identify Content Gaps

Auditing your Content Library is an art unto itself. From an RFP metrics perspective, RFPIO includes an insights tool that helps you identify content gaps, content that needs to be updated, and content that needs to be created.

What terms are being used in search? What’s being found? What’s not being found? Let’s say a security product company is seeing a lot of requests for “zero trust” but no content exists because it’s new terminology that has quickly become industry norm.

The insight tool alerts content owners that content needs to include “zero trust” in order to stay relevant—and could provide insight to leadership and product teams on where the market is headed.

Sometimes you just need new content in your library. For example, if a lot of people are looking for information about “outages” (i.e., what has been your longest outage?), but turning up empty-handed, it might be a good idea to reach out to your product team to let them know new content is needed.

RFP metric #9: Determine content library health

To determine how healthy your content library is, see what percentage of RFPs can be completed with auto-respond, as opposed to manually creating answers from scratch. With a well-curated Content Library, 40-80% auto-response is realistic. 30-40% of content exists but needs editing. 20-30% needs to be brand new.

If your auto-respond is hovering below 40-50%, that’s a good sign you’re in need of a content audit. If this sounds like you, check out our guide on how to conduct a content audit in 3 steps.

4-Step RFP Content Audit

Future impact

There’s more to discover after delivering a project. Before you even know if you won or lost, you can start mitigating future risk based on what you learned during this project.

How long did it take (longer/shorter than average)? How many deadlines were missed? How much content was re-used? How much content was missing? Set up a feedback mechanism to share these findings with content owners and SMEs so you can continue to improve knowledge management and the response process.

Time matters

Our success metric is not to have users spend more time in our platform. This is not social media. We want users to be able to work responses faster and more effectively than they’ve ever thought possible. Which brings me to the last RFP metric I want to mention here: how well you’re using your team’s time.

Generate an Application Usage Report to gain insight into which modules (Project, Content Library, etc.) your users spent their time. Compare that time spent against past similar projects. Did you save the team time? Did it take longer than average? From here, you can dig into why and start minimizing risk for the next proposal.

Gain insight into which modules your users spend their time
Schedule a demo today to see how to use some of the RFP metrics mentioned in this article to improve proposal management.

How a 2-person team simultaneously responded to 16 RFPs with proposal software

How a 2-person team simultaneously responded to 16 RFPs with proposal software

When a software company quickly grew its customer base from 0 to 2,000, they knew they needed to start formalizing internal processes and enhancing data security—which is why they focused their attention on the RFP process.

The cloud-based content management system they had been using to store RFP-related content couldn’t guarantee the security of sensitive information. They needed a solution that both met their security requirements, but also had the features and functionalities to bring their RFP process to the next level. 

It was then that they began their journey to improve data security and revolutionize the way they respond to RFPs. To do this, they turned to RFPIO. 

Uniting knowledge into a universally accessible content management system

Before they implemented RFPIO, the proposal team had been storing their responses in a cloud-based content management system.

While the system was equipped with an import function, it was too cumbersome to use when uploading just a handful of question-answer pairs. Instead, they relied on manual entry to add new content.

Because uploading content into the database was so labor-intensive, they often weren’t able to make time to do it—as soon as they finished an RFP, they’d already be off and running on the next one. Before they knew it, they would have a backlog of RFPs waiting to be uploaded into the system.

With RFPIO, this is no longer the case. The content management system within RFPIO is so easy to update that they’re able to ensure their team always has access to the latest and greatest information.

And the Content Library is continuously becoming more robust. When they first implemented RFPIO, they had imported around 2,500 question-answer pairs from their previous content management system. After using RFPIO for just 5 months, their content library nearly doubled—and the entire organization has benefited. Thanks to RFPIO’s unlimited license model, everyone at the organization can access this rich knowledge database at no extra cost. 

“The biggest reason we decided to go with RFPIO was that we could give everyone at our organization access to the tool at no additional cost.”

Assigning tasks and managing RFP projects with proposal automation software

Before RFPIO, the proposal team managed projects using color-coded spreadsheets or documents. Each SME would be responsible for responding to questions in their assigned color. 

This system was manual, tedious, and time-intensive. Not only that, but it increased the potential for human error. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I received a finished document from an SME… only to discover they answered the wrong questions,” someone on the team explained.

Proposal automation software has totally transformed this process. With RFPIO, the proposal team first uploads an RFP in any format (including Word, pdf, and excel) onto the system.

After everything is in the system, questions are assigned to SMEs on the platform itself. SMEs then receive an email listing their assigned questions; they can then log into RFPIO and respond to the questions there, or simply respond to their email, which will automatically populate answers into the platform. 

Once they’ve gathered all the information they need, the proposal team can export the answers back into the source file or into a custom template—and any new question-answer pairs will enter a moderation process to determine whether they should be added to the library.

Responding to 16 RFPs simultaneously with a 2-person team

At the end of Q1, the proposal team received a pile of RFPs that needed to be responded to—16 to be exact. A proposal manager on the team remembered that last year, “we also had a similarly substantial number of RFPs we needed to respond to, but we had to push back.”

This year, with RFPIO, they were able to upload all the RFPs into the system, assign tasks, and collaborate with pre-sales teams located all over the world—including North America, Europe, and Singapore—to successfully submit all 16 RFPs on time.

The proposal manager clarified that the difference with RFPIO is being able to keep track of numerous projects at one time. “When we were responding to 1-2 RFPs at a time, we could keep track of everything via email and Word Docs. But there’s no way we could have responded to 16 RFPs simultaneously using a manual process. You just can’t keep that much information straight in your head.”

“The key area we’re seeing success with RFPIO is being able to handle multiple RFPs at the same time. There’s no way we could respond to so many RFPs at the same time using a manual process.”

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