Your proposal must tell a great story.

Recently I had the opportunity to craft a proposal for a company I have known for many years.  Creating the proposal was in some ways effortless – similar to the penning a blog post that you feel so fervently about, it just pours out of you.

Of course there were many rewrites and brain storming sessions with my team, but it was easy for me to put my finger on the many steps that together would create a symphony of a marketing strategy. Think that’s highfalutin talk for a marketer?  Well, maybe it is… but I mean it.

One of my team members said upon reading that proposal:  “It reads like a great story.”writing great proposals - Ariel Marketing Group

Being the analytic sort that I am, my next question was: “Why aren’t they all like that.”

The answer: because, too often, I’ve been lazy.

In order to know, deeply, what your client should do, you must do the research.  And yes, that means hours upon hours of studying up on their past marketing successes and failures.  It means asking a lot of questions to grasp whether their internal culture is hurting or hindering them. It means immersing yourself in who they are, and sometimes veering over the line into the realm of management consulting; your great plans won’t work if they don’t have the infrastructure to implement them.

The issue, naturally, is that we don’t always have TIME to do that kind of research for every Request for Proposal that comes our way.

But enough TIME is not really the issue; how you use your time is.

My answer is: stop writing proposals for every opportunity that comes along, and focus your time and energy on the ones you are most suited for.  That does NOT mean the ones you’d most like to get.  When you walk into a meeting 110% confident that you are the right fit for the client, and that your plan is the right fit for them as well, it’s almost impossible for them to say no; the presentation will FEEL as if it’s necessary for them to move their business ahead.

Conversely, when you walk in the room and the primary energy you’re sending out is hope and admiration for the client, the confidence is missing, and usually the proposed strategy is weaker.

I know this, from experience.  Anyone who has been selling for any length of time can tell you the difference in the two types of meetings.

Approach your proposals as if you are writing a great historical novel; gather the facts and consider and brain storm until you know the company thoroughly – THEN write the proposal.

If you need help it just so happens that the brilliant Gini Dietrich penned this amazing post while I was in the middle of writing mine.  Great minds I tell you.


  • I’m not sure I agree the proposal stage is the right place for the intense amount of research and work. I’m really gun shy about that because a few years ago, we had a very large department store have us do a big dog and pony show for them. I won’t tell you how much time and money we spent to win the business. We were happy to do so because we won the business. And then, before they paid us a dime, they took all of our ideas and implemented them themselves. We had a legal leg to stand on, but to fight us would have put us out of business while we waited for an award. So now our proposals tell people what we think we might be able to do for them, based on what we already know, but the research, analysis, and storytelling happens after they begin paying us.

    • YES, I totally hear you. I make sure to leave lots of the details of the story out….   but it still has to flow like a story.  I don’t give them the THIS IS WHAT WE’D DO IN DETAIL story, I give them this:

      1. Here’s your problem.2. I understand your problem and can explain it in detail.
      3. I have the solution, and here’s a tidbit…  pay me and I’ll fix it.

      For instance: you have a PR issue in these 3 departments, I can train these 3 departments and get them on message. That will be $_______.

      Then, we move onto marketing strategy 1, 2, 3…. but only big picture mentions.The thing is, you can’t KNOW what the solutions are without all of the research.Plus, if I was you I’d walk in and say: this is my track record; hire me.

      • We do that too…totally. I guess what threw me off in your blog post was the hours of research comment in order to tell the story. Typically we do an hour introductory phone call and then research on our own as we write the proposal. But we never give away ideas or give them something someone else could execute.

        • I do think you’re in a different position than most so you don’t have to do as much research – they should want you for what you’ve already done.  However, I didn’t mean hours on the phone with the client – there’s a lot you can find out on your own by snooping around 🙂