“This proposal is pretty good, right Bob?”

But that wasn’t the first thing the EVP of Marketing asked me. Before that she’d said… 

Tell me what you think about this presentation Bob.

I had just started a consulting project a few hours earlier, when the animated EVP asked me to look at a presentation she was going to be giving later in the week. So, I took a look at her first slide which was filled with self-absorbing, company-centric, all about me information. Then, I looked at her second slide. Her third slide. Her fourth slide. All the way up to her 34th slide which were just more of the same. I immediately had a flashback to a similar and equally awkward situation I found myself in my distant past.

Not surprisingly, the presentation slides were a precursor to a proposal which I also had an opportunity to review sometime later. That’s when the, “This proposal is pretty good, right Bob?” question got asked.

For the life of me, I have a difficult time understanding why people just don’t realize, that a client or prospect doesn’t really care about your first 15 slides in a presentation, or your first 10 pages in a proposal that talk about how great you are.

OK, get ready. Here it comes…your client or prospect only cares about what’s important to them, not you. They could care less about how and when your company was founded, how many awards you’ve accumulated, or what color socks your CEO wears in meetings.

Sure, all that stuff is important to establish your credentials and credibility. (Well, maybe not so much the color of the CEO’s socks.) But, there is other, more customer-centric and subtle ways to convey that information. And if you can weave them into a story that relates to a problem the client or prospect has, it can be a strong way to enhance your credibility.

But Bob, it’s not always possible to do those things.

Of course it’s not. And in some businesses, it’s not only inappropriate; you can be penalized or even excluded from the vetting process, for not adhering to protocol. Templated Requests for Information and Proposal formats also usually don’t leave much room for self-expression, storytelling or deviation.

But, in my experience, the majority of B2B clients and prospects are flexible about what you’re proposing, and you can pretty much bet they’d appreciate being educated, informed and yes, even entertained to some extent, with a well-thought-out and easy-to-read proposal. Especially if what you’re telling them helps to solve a problem that’s keeping them up at night. Think about it. How many times have you had to read through page, after page of extremely detailed, pretentious, me-too, aren’t we wonderful, here’s what we will do for you, pseudo-knowledge droppings types of proposals?

To that point, as illustrated by my illustrator, cartoonist friend Bot Roda

Proposals are like presentations. They need to be engaging.

But, unlike a presentation, you won’t be there to tell your story. To make eye contact. To see how your audience (the reader) is reacting to the delivery of your words and your proposal.

So it becomes even more important to make the proposal memorable, in a good way. Assuming, of course, you can actually address the problems your reader is facing and provide quantifiable value while doing it.

So, here are a few tips.

  1. Think of your proposal as a magazine or online article. Make it readable and informative, with attention-getting “teaser” headings and subheadings to entice the reader. Make it something your audience not only believes, but something they want to read and, importantly, share with their colleagues.
  2. Use an “opener.” Think of an appropriate way to attract and keep the reader’s attention. Then deliver it in a way that will let them know you understand their problem, while also implying you know how to help them to achieve their objectives and address whatever issues they may be facing. I place the opener immediately after the cover page and use it to set the tone for what follows. For example, I’ve used the following opener on more than one occasion to call attention to a company’s disorganization issues. “Pilot to passengers. I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is we’re hopelessly lost. The good news is we’re making great time.” Yes, it is humorous, but it acts to diffuse a serious situation, while simultaneously drawing attention to it. Before deciding to use this particular opener, I had to have an understanding of the environment, the people involved, their personalities, company culture, competitive landscape and the problems they were facing.
  3. Thank you note. I like to put a brief, personal note right after the “opener” to reinforce the message of the opener and how the proposal will address the prospect’s issues. I also use it to express my appreciation for the opportunity to submit a proposal and I sign it (either an original signature or an inserted JPEG signature). Does my signing it make a difference? To me it does for two reasons. First, it means it was the last thing I did after having reviewed the entire document to make certain all the points were addressed. Second, by my signing it, it makes it personal and reflects my commitment to the prospect or client. I’m sure there is research somewhere regarding the best color ink to use when signing a document for memorability. I use blue.
  4. Put the good stuff upfront. Look, nobody has time (or really wants) to read through 47 pages of detailed information about how you’re going to solve their problems. And while that’s definitely important, you need to condense how it’s all going to work in an Executive Summary. Simplifying complex issues is no easy task. But, it’s definitely beneficial for the reader (and you too) when you can do it and do it well.
  5. Include the price. Don’t make your reader flip through the proposal looking for the cost. Give it to them in #4 above and definitely do it while keeping #6 in mind.
  6. Quantify the value. This is the most important part of #5. Quantify the cost in terms of the value benefit your proposal will be delivering. Anything can be quantified, whether its carbon footprint reduction, improved productivity, reduction of particulate matter, the instances of rapid eye movement in dream states in dogs…anything. Whatever it is, just make sure you present it in terms relevant to their problem. Will what you’re proposing help reduce costs? Then give them the projected value of those costs savings over time and compare it to what they’re doing now. Or compare it to competitive offerings. Or, show them the cost savings on a piece-by-piece or a per person basis. Whatever best demonstrates the true value based on their objectives. Ideally, you could create algorithms for your value offering and convert it into an Excel document, so your prospects can enter their specific information to see various calculated outcomes for things such as ROI, Lifetime Value or Lost Opportunity Costs. I created an “Evaluator” that provides a roadmap so prospects can see how well they perform in four key business development areas most businesses have in common. You can email me at Bob@streetsmartbizdev.com and I’ll send it to you, along with an overview on how it works.
  7. Use visuals. It can be a quote, graph, cartoon, link to a video, or a text box (like the one here). Anything that will reinforce your value message throughout the important sections of the proposal at a glance as the reader skims it.
  8. Speaking of quotes. Consider including one from the project manager or team members who will be overseeing the project or program. It can be about their expertise on the subject and experience and how they, and your company, helped other clients facing the same or similar issues. It’ll not only provide an introduction to the person/team, it will also provide a human connection and reinforce credibility. We humans are visual beasts, so if appropriate, include a picture or video of the person, or the team to put a face with the name.
  9. Other stuff. If your proposal will have a fair amount of pages, include a Table of Contents. And if you do include one, make the line items interesting, not just a boring listing about the section and a page number. For instance, if you’re identifying the pages which describe the implementation of the program or project, try something like this..“This is where it all comes together”…………………….pages 8 through 15. You can also do the same thing for #8 above. “Meet the team who will make it happen”……………. pages 16 through 17
  10. Links to reference material. Provide links to relevant articles to reinforce your recommendations. Kinda like I’m doing here with some good articles and tips on proposals by people like Dan Steiner in his article, and of course, Ian Altman’s reality check article.
  11. Addendum. If you’re required (or compelled) to include all your services, company history, and things like case studies, White Papers, related research, detailed employee profiles and other relevant materials, the addendum is a good place for them.
  12. Proofread the damn thing. Frequently, people will use a proposal template where they can just fill-in-the-blanks to save time. Time saving? Yes. Smart? Yes again. But, it could be disastrous. I’ve read proposals which had the previous prospect’s or client’s name in the document. Nothing says, “I’m too busy to really look at what I’m sending you,” more than a boilerplate document which has not been proofread. Take the time to make sure it’s done. Ideally, by someone other than you because you’re too familiar with it and will overlook things. (Using a professional proofreader is best so long as your “style” is understood and not compromised.) If your proposal is not proofread thoroughly and the reader finds typos and errors like the one I described earlier, you can count on one thing. Not getting invited to submit another proposal any time soon…if ever.
  13. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s always the delicate situation of following up. Ideally, you will be notified you’re been awarded the project. However, waiting can be nerve-wracking. So, when and how you follow-up is key. You want to make sure the prospect knows you’re anxious to get started. But don’t want to annoy them in the process. According to Noah J. Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini and Steven J. Martin, authors of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be More Persuasive, “Sending a funny, inoffensive cartoon during negotiations can generate higher levels of trust and generate 15 percent higher profits”. There’s also neuroscience behind the reasons as to why it works. Does it work in every situation? Nope. What you do really all depends on the relationship you’ve developed. You just need to do what makes you and your client feel comfortable.
  14. And when you do get the business. If you don’t continue to keep in touch by providing your client with monthly updates, with progress reports linked to the quantified value you said you’d be providing, then you’re leaving money on the table. Monthly summaries will keep you on your toes and provide the foundation for regular client review meetings. It’s also a good time to begin thinking about asking for referrals. Marla Tabaka has some good information about referrals in this article.

Got any proposal tips you’d like to share?

This would be a good place to do it.

Reposted from LinkedIn with permission from Bob Musial, Principal at StreetSmart Business Development. Click here to read more of Bob’s work.

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Celebrating 12 Years of Client Wins

When Upfront launched in 2005, it was a with a clear vision – to help our clients win new business. 12 years on we have been involved in winning over £100 million of new business with high profile wins including the likes of Adidas, John Lewis, Virgin Money, American Express, Hotels.com, BT, Volvo, Panasonic, Vue, GSK and Expedia, to name a few.

We’ve seen first hand what impact a big win can have on a business. By getting your new business targeting right, you can start to get closer to winning the right type of clients for you. Sometimes this will take you into a new sector, get you working with a brand that your team are excited by, allow you to do something a bit different, help raise your profile, and win work with the right type of budgets to make it all worthwhile.

Your network, referrals and inbound leads will always be a good source of client work for you, but you have very little say over who this is with, or the scope of work that comes your way. Proactive Business Development can enable you to better shape the type of opportunities in your pipeline and the future direction and success of your business. However, Business Development takes a lot of time, effort and persistence – and the rewards aren’t usually instant.

Some companies will have a dedicated Business Developer who can concentrate on this all the time, but it’s still a challenging role and requires a specialist skill set. For many companies it will be down to their Senior Management or Client delivery teams, who have to find time in already busy days to meet prospective new clients, identify opportunities and pitch for new business. This can all be very time consuming and is not tangible until you win the business, making it difficult to prioritise when you have demanding fee paying clients to keep happy. However, it is critically important and over the long term, can be very rewarding to your business.

Whilst the marketing industry likes to talk about the big pitches (just read Campaign), a lot of Business Development can go under the radar and often does not get the recognition it deserves. Whilst it is a vitally important function, a majority of your company will be oblivious to the work that has had to go into winning a new client. If Business Development is done well, a regular flow of clients can be taken for granted and focus will quickly switch to the work that has to go into deliver on each of them.

The person who first identified a contact, worked out an angle and started the conversation is often long forgotten in the process. Whether it’s outsourced or in-house, this shouldn’t be the case. Business Development is a challenging but very rewarding role – the highs of a win and the recognition are usually what they thrive on. That’s why at Upfront we make a big deal out of it and like to celebrate every win, which is why we are always inspired and looking for the next one.

Winning business drives our culture, we know every win is different and each one will have a story behind it. We like to share these to help inspire future wins: the brand, the value, or whatever makes that win particularly special, sometimes it’s the approach or the challenges that were involved. We remember all of our wins and still get just as excited when the next one arrives – which did last week with Lush Cosmetics, well done Sam!

To celebrate the last 12 years of clients wins, we will be hosting drinks on the 27th April at the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell. This will also see the launch of #BDSocial.

Business Development is a team effort and we have been lucky to work with some fantastic agencies and brilliant people. We’ve experienced a vast range of different approaches and it can be inspiring to see just how much our clients put into winning the opportunities we generate. We believe there is a lot we can all learn from each other, therefore we will be hosting #BDSocial which we hope will help bring together like minded professionals to share insight, experience and best practice.

Click here if you’d like to join us.


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Straight Talking: The Importance of a Joined-Up Approach to Business Development, Marketing and Communications

All businesses main objectives should be to build their reputation, increase positive awareness and win new work from existing and prospective clients. But too many creative agencies are limiting their growth potential by not aligning sales and marketing activity.

On the 9th March we will be hosting the next event in our exclusive breakfast series Straight Talking, where we’ll look at what it takes to achieve an integrated approach and how this approach can impact agency growth, standout, confidence and morale.

Often operating in silos across internal teams or agency partners, we will be discussing why and how agencies should merge Business Development with their marketing and communications teams in order to grow and operate more effectively and efficiently.

We will be joined by leading agencies Tonic, Digital Radish and e3, who will be providing their insights on how you can use content, marketing and PR to drive business development effectively.

The team at Tonic help creative agencies achieve their business vision by overcoming the common barriers to success across the key areas of Efficiency, Profitability and Growth. They will be discussing how agencies can join up New Business and Marketing through positioning and communications ,and how strong leadership and values embedded into company culture can have a massive impact to your business, supporting their insights with case study evidence.

Digital Radish will take to the stage in order to bring in their strategic, data driven approach to content marketing.  They will illustrate how they use content and thought leadership to drive lead generation and crack new markets, bringing this to life through a showcase of their work with Unity.

e3, is one of the UK’s most awarded independent digital agencies. Founded in 1997, they are renowned for their work for brands including The Royal Navy, National Trust, Arthritis Research UK, BP and Orange. Business Director, Miranda Glover will bring together the morning session to showcase how they have brought Biz Dev, Marketing and Communications together using content marketing, PR and events to win their global client base and maximise their growth potential.

This will truly be an event for all agencies – click here to join us.

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How to write astounding copy in Business Development

Reposted from LinkedIn with permission from Joe Carter, Business Development Manager EMEA at Contagious Communications.

If business development is a game, then conjuring creative copy is the joystick.

To reach the boss level (think Sonic on Sega Megadrive), you must get a reply.

The majority aspire to receive a reply from their prospect. A reply is an indicator of interest, they say.

I’d rather consistently book qualified meetings.

So, how do we get there? Here’s 90 seconds worth of opinion…

You’ve heard it before – the subject title is a game changer. Too long and Sonic (my prospect’s name throughout) hits delete. Irrelevant, impersonalised or inappropriate; you lose. Game over.

Avoid templates.

Subject Titles With Capital Letters – you mug. Grab a coffee (never use this phrase) and have a good, hard think about your life.

Never fuck, shit or swear in your subject title. Unless Sonic is a pal. But still, we’re professional, right?

Keep it punchy. Short. Conversational from the start. Maybe ask a question? Unless it’s rhetorical. Humour can work; remember, though, you’re not a comedian.

The personalised, relevant nature of your copy is the beating heart of your success.

Sonic recently got promoted? So what.

Sonic called an agency review? Who cares.

Discover Sonic’s business challenges and research their sector, company, personality (not too creepy) and the way they talk.

Talk to Sonic in the style that he/she would talk to you.

Would you say holistic, nuance or cerebral in a face to face? Write how you talk and inject some personality, too – keep it light and remove jargon.

You > I. Unfortunately, Sonic doesn’t care about you at this stage. Entice Sonic with an emotionally resonant note and Sonic will care.

Sibilance can be sumptuous – use it occasionally, or this literary construct will be as gnarly as similes in prospecting.

A decent rhyme is fine; don’t overdo it or you’ll need to refine your copy [much like this line].

Speling, punctuation and grammar are vital. (c wt I did thre – are you using text language?)

However, you’re not writing an essay. HELLOOOOO! I see you’re still with me – thanks. Abbreviate words like you’re, they’re, we’re, it’s.

If you attach a file, you’re in denial of your ability to convey a strong enough message.

Every sentence counts and it needs to be impactful. Stop. Pause for a sec. Always re-read your copy. Does it make sense? It does now you’ve taken out removed filler words.

Keep it simple. You want to a book a meeting, right? ASK FOR ONE!!! Oh, and experiment with capitalisation, bold/italic, size, colours and fonts.

When works best to meet? > Shall we grab a coffee and talk about another really long sentence that doesn’t make any sense because you’re being too polite.

Use tools like Grammarly. Learn from experts like Heather Morgan and Bryan Kreuzberger. Enrol in a course with Laura & Marie at The Copy Cure. That reminds me – always hyperlink the word. But never use more than 2, or you’ll find a tin of spam. (The same goes for file attachments)

Remember; this won’t happen overnight. The art of copy must be learned – as always, be persistent, ambitious and focused – you will succeed.

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With nearly half of marketers looking to change job in 2016, how do you keep track?

According to research by the CIM, nearly half of marketers have been in their role for less than two years. This has shortened over recent years and the trend looks set to continue: 20% of marketers changed job in the last year and 44% are actively looking to change jobs in 2016.

For those working in new business, keeping track of people changing jobs can present a big challenge. How do you maintain your database? If contacts are not validated regularly your CRM system can be out of date within 6 months, making it very difficult to manage your keep in touch programme.

A new Marketing Director is often the catalyst for calling a review and agency changes often happen within the first 100 days of them taking on a new role.  It is therefore important to find regular reasons to keep in touch, even if you’ve been told a review is some way off. Whether it’s sending articles that you think will be of interest, insights on their sector or even inviting them to a seminar. This keeps you top of mind and also helps alert you if they move on. In addition, it’s always good to check LinkedIn and put the odd call in to reception check they are all still there.

If you are involved in new business, you’ve probably had the disappointment of a pipeline prospect you were sure would close, or a hot prospect you were about to book a meeting with suddenly move on. However, a new appointment can also present a great opportunity for winning new business.

Over recent years we’ve enjoyed a lot of success getting in touch with movers and shakers who have recently started new roles. This has seen business secured with the likes of Virgin Money, Hotels.com and Tesco Bank, totalling many millions. We keep track of this with our own movers and shakers feed. As soon as we spot a new appointment (often before they have even updated their LinkedIn profiles), we update our database and tailor our approach accordingly.

Here is just a selection of some of the new senior Marketing appointments we’ve uncovered over recent weeks:

  • Kristof Fahy, Chief Marketing Officer @ Ladbrokes
  • Matt Jauchius, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer @ Hertz
  • Kirsty Saddler, Brand & Marketing Director @ Leon
  • Toby Horry, Digital Marketing Director @ Tesco
  • Ameet Chandarana, Digital Lead @ Unilever

Whilst it may be tempting to rush into approaching new movers and shakers, it’s always important to make sure that your approach is personalised, not just a generic email you send to all new appointments. It’s a good idea to reference any previous contact you’ve had with their predecessor and colleagues, although appreciating that they are likely to have a different take on things. And don’t expect an instant response; remember they have a new job to get to grips with and existing agency relationships to first understand.

The possibility of nearly half of your contacts being in new roles next year highlights the rapid pace needed to keep on top of new business these days. You need to keep in regular communication – across all channels – and to build and nurture relationships with multiple decision makers. If someone does move on you won’t have all your eggs in one basket and this will also increase your chances of conversion; with agency appointments now usually involving many different departments.

Always remember that you are building relationships with people, not just a company. If a good contact does move on then make sure you keep in touch, you never know where they will end up!

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