When to Write a Project Proposal

When to Write a Proposal

Timing is Everything

It’s another post in my series on Proposals. This time we’ll cover when to write one.

In my first post, Writing a Project Proposal Outline, I covered the 3 part outline you should use to get the most from your submitted proposal.

– Don’t go through the exercise of writing a proposal unless you absolutely need to.
– It’s all about them
– They believe their numbers, not yours

That brought up a good question – when do you write a project proposal?

Only on Thursdays.

I’m kidding. This question has a simple answer, “only write a project proposal when you have agreement with your decision maker on the Goal, Measures and Value of the work to be done”, but that’s not the real question.

The REAL question is how do you overcome the knee-jerk reaction to a prospect saying,  “Why don’t you put that in a proposal?” or “Can I see a proposal?” or some other verbal indication that sounds like they’re ready to get started.

You have to recognize when that question is last step in securing business and when that question is a way to get you out of the office. (Here’s a hint, it’s usually the latter.)

Your job, no matter what you sell, is to understand what your prospect is trying to accomplish and to figure out the exact right solution – which may or may not include what you have to offer. In order to do that, you need to know what they expect success to look like, how you’re going to be able to measure that success and understand how to value the solution.

Back when we sold apparel to the big department stores, they were fond of “testing” the merchandise. “We’re going to test it.” Everyone would get excited because if the test worked, orders would flow and riches wouldn’t be far behind. Each time this happened, I would dribble the ball off my foot and take the business. I needed the orders in the worst way as well as some validation of my own self worth.

The problem with doing that is this: I knew that we’d never get the flow of orders because we had no idea what success looked like. The people we were talking to had no idea what a successful test was. Everyone would just “know” when it was successful. The issue was/is, very few things are black and white success or fail. It’s all a shade of grey.

If I were stronger and more self confident at the time I would have refused the order until I had a sense of what success looked like. (Goal) Knew how they’d measure it. (Metrics) And understood how it would fit into their overall objectives. (Value) It would have taken a lot more work, we would have lost a lot more initial orders but we would have been able to partner at a deeper level with the customers we could really help.

Back to that original question – when is the right time to write a project proposal?

Only write a proposal when you understand the exact value you are going to provide. That comes from knowing the Goals, the Measures and having a discussion on the Value in their terms, not yours.

Good stuff.


About the Author: Greg Chambers is Chambers Pivot Industries. Get my latest business development ideas on Twitter and .

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