5 Keys to Strengthening Your Firm’s Professional Service Proposals

Published by BradyRenner CPAs | August 9, 2017

Whether yours is a law firm, accounting firm, information technology firm,  engineering practice or government contractor, the fact is that your proposals are an essential component in your business development strategy.

While a good proposal alone may not be enough to win every deal, what they do provide is an opportunity to present your firm’s strengths in the best light possible, to every client and prospect. That’s why proposal strategy is essential to your long-term success in the professional services sector.

Here are five keys you can use to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of your proposals as a small professional services firm:

1. Build outstanding boilerplate.

Many small professional service firms assume that their larger and more established competition has a lot more to say about their expertise than a small firm does. Not true. Yes, large competitors can probably throw a dictionary of terms and an encyclopedia of case studies at the client, but in the face of this challenge you have two objectives:

First, show prospects that you are just a talented and capable as your larger competitors. And second, prove that partnering with you will generate a distinct or unique benefit. You can achieve both goals with outstanding boilerplate — the core content that is (mostly) consistent across proposals. This is where you emphasize your firm’s history, capabilities, talent and accomplishments in both general and specific terms. Don’t make the mistake of giving the boilerplate short shrift.

Think of this section in your proposal less like a novel and more like an index. Each person who reviews your proposal will glance through the boilerplate, read the index and then dig into the details of areas that interest them. That means that you need to have solid content in each area that the boilerplate should cover.

2. Showcase the company that you keep.

One of the places where you can really shine in the proposal content is in presenting the ecosystem of relationships that are part of what makes your firm special. Of course, this begins with your team profiles, which should include professional headshot and thorough, professionally written staff backgrounders.

This is also where you showcase your clients. Yes, a client list is helpful but don’t stop there: make sure to create a clean, high-quality collage of your most recognized client logos as well. From there, consider adding in details about your partners as well as any press or analyst coverage that highlights your company’s strength and accomplishments.

3. Don’t hesitate to drill in on your differentiators.

Make sure that your unique position and approach shines through every section of your proposal. If you’ve developed a customized and branded process, refer to it consistently and educate the buyer about what makes it unique.

For example, an event production company that ties together site-based consulting and planning with event execution calls their process “Strategic Creative”. An architecture firm that specializes in residential property design with an environmental emphasis defines their approach as “Green Living Design”.

These specific terms, phrases and concepts need to be deeply embedded throughout your proposal, from beginning to end. Whatever defines your differentiating capabilities — whether it be your process, values, approach, methods, capabilities or market-specific expertise — make sure to keep it front-and-center for your proposal audience.

4. Align the proposal with a presentation.

One of the great strengths of building a powerful proposal is that you can present it in person during your presentation to the client. Granted, you may not always have the opportunity to present up-front (either because the contracting process does not allow presentations, or because only vendors selected for further consideration will be given the opportunity to present).

Nonetheless, you should prepare a great presentation that summarizes and guides your prospect through the proposal highlights and key points. If you are able to present in person, then delivering presentation is a far more compelling approach than just flipping through the proposal pages and verbally reiterating what’s on the page.

If you’re not able to present, then providing a PDF of your presentation as an additional component shows the prospect that you’re fully prepared and that you respect their time as well. Either way, you’re coming off as sharp, crisp and fully prepared to deliver.

5. Respond to a poor RFP with a flexible proposal.

One of the challenges of life in a proposal-driven world is that in many cases, your proposal is being prepared in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP).

The greatest flaw in the RFP process is that the customer creates a document that details what they want from a vendor, well before they actually know what they need. This tends to result either in RFPs that are too vague for a competent vendor to really build a solid proposal around, or RFPs that are already seemingly ‘hard-wired’ to a particular vendor’s preferences or distinctions (which may, indeed, be the case).

In addition, this confusion wreaks havoc on the development of a competitive cost proposal. Chances are a desperate competitor will just deliver a ‘lowest cost’ estimate that has little grounding in reality, while another larger company will throw in every bell and whistle known to humanity.

Where does that leave you? In all but the rarest of cases, you have another option: To create a flexible proposal. Instead of taking the risk of lowballing or over-pricing, give the customer options by creating multiple scenario-based cost proposals, and specify up front what factors are essential to achieving a realistic final price.

In many cases, a sharp vendor will create three cost proposal options: one that’s ‘stripped down’ and designed to compete accordingly; one that’s got every bell and whistle or which is filled with abundant time and resources for complex engagements; and one that’s in the middle and represents a reasonable ‘typical scenario’ option.

In response, the prospect may be so impressed with your thoroughness that you could win the proposal on this strategy alone and then be asked to come in, analyze things in greater detail, and create a final price for the client — after you’ve already been selected as the vendor of choice.

All five of these strategies are most effective when pursued in concert with one another, so take the time to seriously evaluate your proposal efforts as a whole, and commit to an end-to-end upgrade in the depth, professionalism and quality of what you deliver to every prospect. Better proposals are only part of an effective professional services growth strategy, but there’s no doubt that they are one of the key components essential to your success.

Image Credit: Stephen Dann (Flickr @ Creative Commons)