“Send me a proposal.”

Those four words spark hope and dread in everyone who's in sales.

On the one hand, you've made the short list for new revenue. On the other, a proposal can also consume a tremendous amount of resources with potentially nothing to show for the effort but a form rejection letter.

Companies devote tremendous resources toward generating leads, then fail to invest the time and effort required to close the “last mile” between prospect and contract. Failure often results from an inability to deliver an effective proposal.

That's a shame. Proposals can be your best branding and sales tool. But too often they are a boilerplate mishmash stitched together seconds before the FedEx pickup.

Companies make the same mistake in proposals that they make in their branding campaigns. The issue is not about you and your capabilities; it's about a solution for the prospect that reflects an understanding of its business issues.

Just as important, it's the start of a relationship and its ultimate success may well depend on what is said in the proposal. Successful proposals require both effectively communicating prospect understanding and following a process that ensures accountability and performance—well before FedEx is on the doorstep.

The seeds of failure are often planted before the proposal is generated. Many proposals are written with the attitude and perspective of a cocky fourth-grader with his hand in the air yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Wreden is the author of ProfitBrand: How to Increase the Profitability, Accountability and Sustainability of Brands (named "Best Business Book of 2005" by strategy+business) and FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future. Reach him at nick@fusionbrand.com.