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How to Write Effective Selling Proposals

Alan Rigg

Depending upon how much you enjoy writing, writing sales proposals can be a joy, purgatory, or something in between. However, if you sell a complex product or one that involves the delivery of professional services, learning how to write
effective selling proposals can be critical to your success.

Some proposals are written in response to an RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFI (Request for Information). Organizations that go to the trouble of writing RFP’s want to receive highly structured proposals, as this makes it easier for them to compare responses from various bidders.

Some proposals are “Boilerplate Bombs”. These proposals tend to be long, boring, and tedious to read. Often these proposals are written under the assumption that “bounce factor” (how high objects on a desk bounce when the proposal is dropped on the desk) is what makes a proposal effective.

The proposal category that is the focus of this article is EFFECTIVE SELLING PROPOSALS. These proposals are lean, highly focused, customer-specific documents that are written to sell anyone that reads them. How can a written document accomplish this feat? Through text that invokes EMOTION and provides COMPELLING REASONS that support a buying decision.

Before we go any further, let’s review the single biggest mistake in proposal generation – lack of proper opportunity qualification. Companies waste incredible amounts of time and resources preparing proposals for poorly qualified opportunities. These proposals have little chance of producing sales.

When you are armed with the necessary opportunity qualification information and you have made a conscious decision that the opportunity warrants the investment of time and resources required to generate a quality proposal, you are ready to write an effective selling proposal. To aid you in this undertaking,
here are brief descriptions of nine suggested proposal sections:

1. Opening

This is usually a single paragraph where you thank the people that provided the opportunity qualification information and set the stage for the proposal. The last sentence of the paragraph should list the primary value the prospect will receive by making the proposed investment.

2. Background

Your prospects know a lot about their own companies. They don’t need you to provide them with a chronological history or a bunch of unnecessary facts. The bulk of this section should focus on selected facts concerning the SPECIFIC business functions or departments that your solution will impact.

3. Current Situation

This is where you really start selling. In this section you lay out the prospect’s business problems and the impact of the problems…in painful detail. Your goal should be to invoke your prospect’s NEGATIVE emotions (fear, frustration, pain, etc.).

4. Desired Results

Your goal for this section should be to invoke your prospect’s POSITIVE emotions (relief, joy, satisfaction, etc.) by helping your prospect visualize the “desired state” for their business.

5. Business Impact

This is where you justify the acquisition. What impact will your solution have on your prospect’s business? How will their operations and financial results change for the better?

6. Decision Criteria

If you don’t have a comprehensive list of the criteria that your prospect will use to make their decision, you probably shouldn’t be writing a proposal. List all of their decision criteria here.

7. Decision Process, Time Frame, and Budget

The purpose of including this information in the proposal is to make sure you and your prospect share the same expectations.

8. Next Steps

There should be specific next steps (and related time frames) that are expected to take place after you submit your proposal. List them here to make sure you and your prospect are “on the same page”.

9. Closing

Close with a final paragraph that summarizes why your product or service is the best solution for your prospect, plus a positive statement of expectation.

Do you see the power of this type of proposal? Do you see the benefit of eliminating volumes of boilerplate that do not address your prospect’s SPECIFIC and IMMEDIATE needs and concerns? Do you see how an effective selling proposal can influence the thinking of decision makers and influencers, even if you have had limited (or no) personal contact with them?

If you construct your proposals in this manner, you will maximize your return on proposal writing time and resource investments.

About Alan Rigg

Alan Rigg is the author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Selling: Why Most Salespeople Don’t Perform and What to Do About It. His company, 80/20 Performance Inc., supplies specialized sales assessment tests and consulting to help organizations build top-performing sales teams.

For more sales and sales management tips, visit: Copyright © 2005

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Need Inspiration to Write Articles? Check Your Stats!

Charles Essmeier

One of the best ways to promote a Website inexpensively is to write articles about your Website s topic and submit them to free content sites. These sites are easily found; just type submit free content into your favorite search engine. Each article you write will have a resource box that includes your name, a brief bio and a link to your own site.

These articles are shared with other Website owners to publish them, and soon, your name and links to your site will propagate throughout the Web. The system works well, since search engines respect incoming links to Websites as indicators that the site is important. The more links you have to your site, the more highly the search engines regard your site.

Many authors realize that writing articles will generate links, but most write a few articles and then give up. The reasons vary, but most authors will probably say that it simply becomes tedious to spend time writing articles without direct compensation, only to !

Give them away with the faint hope that Website traffic will come about as a result of the work. It is indeed difficult to maintain the discipline to continue writing articles day in and day out, but there is one thing that motivates me on a daily basis readily observable statistics that show that writing articles is generating traffic for my sites.

There are several easy ways to check if publishing articles is generating incoming links and traffic.

One way is to go to Google and type in link: (without quotes.)

Google will return a list of sites that contain links to your own site. Usually, these links will come from your published articles, and you can browse through them to see how your articles are weaving their way through the Web. It s fascinating to see how your articles appear on Websites you ve never even heard of!

If you do such a search on a daily basis, you will almost certainly see the number of linksincrease daily. It s a great source of motivation to see that the site that had 20 incoming links yesterday now has 200 today.

Each of those links represents a place that someone can click to come to your site, and 200 links is nice, but why not 2000?

The more the number of links increase, the greater the incentive you have to write more articles. More articles yield more links, and more l!inks yields more traffic. I started writing articles about eight weeks ago and I ve been astounded at the results. One of my Websites went from zero incoming links to 1000 incoming links in just ten days!

Once I saw how quickly the links were increasing, I vowed to write at least one article per day. I begin each day by using a link popularity check software tool to count my incoming links. Such tools are freely available; Link Popularity Check is one such tool.

These tools show link counts for several different search engines at once. I ll also check the stats through my Web host to see where the incoming trafficto my sites is coming from. More often than not, the visitors came from a site with a published article!

Once I see the day s link and visitor count, I am usually motivated to find a topic and write the article for the day. Writing articles is a great way to generate incoming links to your Website, and the results can increase daily if you just keep up with it. It only takes a few minutes per day to write an article, and the time is well spent.

About The Author:

Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing.

Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including, a site devoted to structured settlements, and, a site devoted to information regarding automobile lemon laws.

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Crafting a Request for Proposal

By Basil Tesler
Crafting an RFP takes a lot of time and effort. Responding to an RFP is an expensive and time-consuming piece of work, too. Only a comprehensive RFP will make it easy for potential vendors to draw up their proposals and save your own time in the long run.

Crafting a Request for Proposal (RFP) takes a lot of time and effort. Gwen Hannah, President of Trillium Employee Services, says, “Writing an RFP can be a daunting task. Because of this, many people don’t devote enough time and energy in preparing an RFP. However, it’s very important to detail your requirements in this document so that vendors will know your needs and you will be able to quickly identify from their responses whether you want to schedule demos and continue discussions with them.”

It’s no secret that responding to an RFP is an expensive and time-consuming piece of work, too.

If you craft your RFP in too general a fashion, you’ll create a formidable challenge for unfortunate vendors who will have to go back and forth asking you to make the questions more specific and then answering these questions. However, analyzing your needs in detail and making sure all your requirements are included in the document isn’t enough, either. Only a really in-depth, comprehensive RFP will make it easy for potential vendors to draw up their proposals and save your own time in the long run. Below are the Top Ten things you should include in your RFP.

1. Information About Your Company
The description of your business should help a vendor see whether their service will fit your needs. Begin your RFP with the information about your business, including but not limited to:
the history of the company;
a brief description of the company and its position on the market;
the goals of the company, particularly those that made you search for a vendor;
the problem(s) that the new system/software is supposed to solve.

2. IT Standards
Knowing your current IT strategy and standards, including security requirements and restrictions, is critical to vendors. Remember to warn the potential vendors up front about any anticipated integration problems.
It’s possible that the new system/software will have to integrate into the existing one and interface with other components. This is why knowing your current IT strategy and standards, including security requirements and restrictions, is critical to vendors. Remember to warn the potential vendors up front about any anticipated integration problems.

3. Reasons for Requesting a Proposal
You are supposed to explain why you have decided to request proposals from the potential vendors. This will help them understand what you expect from the future agreement. If you already have or plan any projects related to the one that is the subject of the RFP, you’d better mention them, too.

4. Project Description
This is the crucial point for your RFP. Following are some tips that you might use while describing the project:

  • describe the goal of the project and the product you need;
  • provide a detailed list of the product’s key features and feature enhancements, if any, as well as the functional and non-functional requirements with appropriate examples. If you are at a loss trying to depict a certain element, you might compare it to something you have seen in other systems/programs.
  • And remember: the better vendors understand your requirements, the less additional questions you will have to answer;
  • if the project requires that a GUI be created, you should describe the visual concept in general, and the GUI in particular. Again, any examples and comparisons will be most useful;
  • if the system/software you need is similar to something that already exists, proper links and/or descriptions could help you explain what you will require from your vendor;
  • work out in detail the hardware/software configuration of the system/software to be created, as well as the platform, programming languages, tools, etc.;
  • state whether developers will be allowed to use open source software or their proprietary software that can be customized to your needs;
  • set forth a scheme of project management;
  • indicate the approximate budget of the project and give detailed requirements on how vendors should identify the estimated cost of implementation;
  • specify the conditions of deployment, integration, final testing, and support, as well as warranty, liability, disclaimers, and waivers.

5. Time Limit
Indicating the amount of time allotted for the project and the expected deadline, keep in mind that these factors may influence the concept that a vendor will propose. You may also include an approximate project schedule in your RFP.

6. Proposal Description
Vendors will need your instructions for preparing proposals, including such details as the number of copies, expiration date and time, contact person, etc. Draw up a structure for the proposal, create a special template, and attach it to the RFP.

You have to describe the format for the proposal in your RFP. Should it be just a regular estimation letter sent as an email message, or do you want it to be formatted as a Microsoft Word document? Vendors will need your instructions for labeling and preparing proposal materials, including such details as the number of copies, expiration date and time, contact person, etc. If you have drawn up an elaborated structure for the proposal, create a special template and attach it to the RFP.

7. Requested Information About a Vendor
You need to have adequate information about your potential vendors’ expertise. Request summaries of similar work performed for other businesses and resumes of staff involved. It’s also a good idea to find out which platform(s) and hardware vendors employ in their solutions. In case a vendor is going to use the service of any subcontractors and/or secondary suppliers, request the contact information for them. If you compile a questionnaire that will assist vendors in revealing their expertise and experience, it will also facilitate your own work when it comes to comparing proposals.

8. Perfect Vendor’s Image
Decide what is more important to you: a vendor’s qualifications, the ability to meet the needs of the project, the highest quality of work, the reasonableness of cost and time estimates, or maybe a combination of several factors.

Your RFP should contain the description of a vendor that best fits your requirements. This will let vendors understand your expectations of the company you will select for your project. Working out the image of a perfect vendor, decide what is more important to you: a vendor’s qualifications, the ability to meet the n

eeds of the project, the highest quality of work, the reasonableness of cost and time estimates, or maybe a combination of several factors.

9. Criteria for Proposal Evaluation
Vendors are supposed to know the criteria you are going to apply choosing the company to work with. If the main criterion is the estimated cost of implementation or, say, the risk level, don’t keep it back.

10. Confidentiality
If your RFP contains any confidential information, you might want to prepare a non-disclosure agreement and ask your potential vendors to sign it before you send them your RFP. Otherwise, they may attach it to the proposal.

Crafting a good RFP means doing a lot of work that requires both time and skills. If you do it well, you won’t need much time to eliminate the proposals that don’t match your requirements and select the vendor that best fits your needs. Moreover, preparing a contract with that vendor will be nice and easy because both parties will have sufficient information about each other and the subject of the contract.

However, I recommend that you should weigh your expertise and the amount of time you have at your disposal before you begin working on an RFP. I knew a young CEO who didn’t have much experience, but who was wise for his age; after he considered his in-house capacity, he just hired a consultant who did a job that was worth every cent. Next time, the company used that RFP as a template, and it worked fine. I believe the CEO hit the nail right on the head. You may follow his example if preparing an RFP is going to cost you more than paying an outside specialist.

About the Author
Basil Tesler has more than twelve years of experience in translating, technical writing, copywriting, Web content writing, and editing. Before he settled on our Web Space Station, Basil worked with IT companies based in the U.S., Canada, and Eastern Europe. Some of these businesses outsourced their projects, and some provided outsource services. This way Basil gained knowledge of both worlds, and now he shares it with our readers.

Copyright © 1999-2005 by Intetics Co./ Web Space Station®. All rights reserved.

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3 Tricks to Sharpen Your Screenshots

Diagrams, charts, and images all serve to enhance academic, business and technical documents. Without them the reader’s attention would flag and their interest wane. Continue reading 3 Tricks to Sharpen Your Screenshots

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Considering a move into Technical Writing

Allan Hoffman on offers some excellent advice for anyone considering a move into Technical Writing.

“To some people, any job with the word “writer” in the title looks like it must be a blast — the next best thing to working on episodes of “Desperate Housewives.” If spotting the job title technical writer in your job search whets your appetite to learn more, here’s a guide to the profession.”

He highlights that the mean (average) salary for technical writers and editors in the US was $61,730, according to STC’s most recent STC salary survey.

Their site is at You might find the salary stats in the Press Release section.

It was there but has now been moved elsewhere!

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Microsoft Word compared against Adobe Framemaker

This article compares Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker by examining the following key areas:

Ability to create Long Documents
Short Documents
Using Microsoft Word as a DTP Tool
Printing and Type
Cross-platform capabilities
Word’s Nice and Not So Nice Features
Importing Graphics

Over the past decade, Adobe has created a suite of publications software, with FrameMaker fulfilling the role for documentation generation. Adobe said that development plans for the immediate future include enhancing the import and export of files from one format to another.

Companies that choose FrameMaker are safe-guarded regardless of future documentation standards, i.e. XML, SGML, Acrobat, or HTML.

Long Documents

Word Strengths
Word doesn’t handle large documents well and begins to have difficulties when it goes over 100 pages of standard text, i.e. combination of graphic and text formatting.
Compiling the TOC and indexes for multiple files takes much longer in Word than FrameMaker.
Microsoft Word is not a desktop publishing program — It’s a word processor.

Word’s Weaknesses
Word doesn’t handle large documents well and begins to have difficulties when it goes over 100 pages of standard text, i.e. combination of graphic and text formatting.
Compiling the TOC and indexes for multiple files takes much longer in Word than FrameMaker.
Microsoft Word is not a desktop publishing program — It’s a word processor.

FrameMaker Strengths
Ideal for large books i.e. 200 pages +.
Before you start, define your template. Using templates in Word is far from ideal as they tend to corrupt when under stress, i.e. if you have too many bullet list and graphic import, it will start to generate error, such as inserting paragraph marks in the header and footers.

FrameMaker Weaknesses
Steep learning curve
Possible being phased out by Adobe. Replaced by InDesign

The real advantage to FrameMaker is the ease at which documentation, indices, and cross-references is easily updated. Page, section, figure, table, and even equation numbering can follow any scheme you can think up. FrameMaker is best on 1280 x 1024 monitors, and can be difficult to use on small screens.

FrameMaker is designed specifically for long complex documents, which can be edited, updated and changed, including the TOC and indexes very easily.

Short Documents

If your documents are under 100 pages on average, FrameMaker is probably not required. Also, the word processing functions in FrameMaker i.e. spellcheck, redo, undo, sort, are not up to Word’s

Word as a DTP Tool
Word was not designed as a DTP program — it’s a word processing program that has added features over releases, so that if can be used for less intensive publishing requirements. To be more specific:

It does not handle any color separations
Poor support for page layout and/or graphic placement i.e. you cant rotate graphics.
Not designed as a structured document tool, i.e. cross-referencing other books. Master Document feature is meant to address this, but is notorious for collapsing.

FrameMaker is excellent for producing printed manuals. Very little deterioration occurs when printing complex documents across a range of printers and operating systems.
FrameMaker is more connected to the publishing world, and has very close ties to Adobe’s other technologies, such as the Adobe Type Manager, Postscript and Acrobat PDF.

If you have to print large documents in Word, you’ll most likely end up having to split the document into smaller files, changing the header and footers accordingly, hard-code the TOC’s and having nightmares with any cross-references. Avoid at all costs!


FrameMaker’s quality of typography is better than most DTP packages, and significantly superior to Word. FrameMaker is very useful for intensive printing jobs where, for example, you can utilize Postscript.

Frame’s cross-platform capabilities are very impressive. No other commercial DTP package runs across so many platforms.

Frame prints identically on Unix/Mac/Windows — but you need to be using the same FrameMaker release.

Word’s Nice Features
Word is not without merit and has some nice features:

When you highlight a word, Word highlights the next space, which improves cut & paste.
The Insert Symbols dialog box is faster and more intuitive than FrameMaker’s Help KeyboardMaps mechanism.
Word offers several views of a document, including a non-WYSIWYG view that works well on typical landscape monitors.
Autotext, Autocorrect and the Macro Recorder are very helpful.

Word’s Not so Nice Features

Formatting diagrams and images is awkward and prone to crashing the system.
Temporary Word files will eat up your disk space, and sometimes don’t get deleted from the cache.
You can’t have text on one page with different directions, headers and footers horizontal and, for example, a vertical pictures description.

Importing Graphics
There is a distinct difference between they both handle graphics:

Frame imports graphics, which have been either copied directly into the FrameMaker file, or referenced from another location. This method is recommended as the files size doesn’t bloat and when you update a graphic, it is automatically updated in the document.

Word copies the file directly into the document.

Therefore, when you change or update the source graphic, you need to import it back in again, re-size and layout it etc. Importing files into Word tends to increase the file size rather dramatically.

We’ve seen files double from 2MB to 4MB and continue to double until they reached 64MB – with no additional graphics been added. When Word has difficulties, it tends to expand in size. This can result in been locked out of your document, as your PC will run out of memory.

Also remember that because Word copies the files in, rather than import them, when you make updates to your application, and screenshots needs to be updated, you have to go through all the Word documents again. This is very expensive and alone can justify the value of purchasing the FrameMaker product.

With graphic heavy files, Word will grind to a standstill and not display any graphics towards the final pages, if you get that far. It consumes all memory available and then some more.


FrameMaker has very advanced indexing capabilities:

You can index to several levels
You can provide different types of indexes and lists, e.g. have an index of multiple chapters (each chapter being a separate file)
You can have lists of the tables and figures, which are compiled automatically. These are automatically brought in by referencing the file, and are automatically formatted
You can track the imported graphics on a list, and have the number of pages in each chapter, TOC, index, glossary created automatically in another compiled index
Microsoft has rudimentary indexing, but nothing near the capability of multiple indexing that FrameMaker has.


FrameMaker automatically cross-references document paragraphs, including those in multiple files. Cross-references include:

Paragraph numbering
Figure titles
Table titles
Microsoft Word does have these advanced features.


FrameMaker again has very powerful f

eatures, such as:

Formatting multiple paragraph number schemes within a document.
Creating bullets with any character type.
Running headers and footers using referenced paragraphs, i.e.,
Paragraph heads.
Formatting tables using table templates, ensuring that you use a consistent format for each type of table.

Word has a limited and mutually exclusive form of paragraph number schemes. The formatting is tied to the rest of the paragraphs, making it extremely difficult to format different fonts, styles, sizes, etc. within the same numbering stream, or to have multiple numbering streams. Word does not number your tables or your figures.


Word changes fonts and pagination unpredictably when you change printer drivers. That means you can’t proof on laser prints, unless your laser writer drivers give you reliable PostScript output on the page size (plus crop marks) that you’ll need for final output.

Generating TOC

FrameMaker creates TOCs and indexes across the whole book.

In Word, you can make indexes and TOCs using the Reference Document program.

User Groups

Word User Groups tend to be more active than those for FrameMaker, partially because of Microsoft’s support.

Converting from Word to FrameMaker

The overall conversion process is time-consuming, with an initial expensive outlay, and may involve template design and other production factors. Before making the plunge, you might want to get a demo, produce some documents and seeing how you like it.

Online Help

If you are planning on providing on-line help for a Windows-based software product, Word’s conversion to on-line help is a lot easier than Frame’s.

Reference Documents

In Word, if you create large documents, when you come to printing all sections and creating TOC’s, difficulties usually arise. Word is not designed for this, and what you are asking it to do it beyond its scope.

If your stuck with Word, be prepared to ship files that you know will deteriorate or collapse when the user opens them. You can side-step this by saving the word file to PDF, and putting maximum security features on i.e. the user cannot modify the file contents. Get FrameMaker instead.

Once Word begins to degrade, everything will go awry and you’ll get mis-numbered pages, TOC entries with unresolved pages, mangled headers and footer, and other idiosyncrasies.


FrameMaker is best for document creation that includes large amounts of graphics, and graphic layout re-formatting i.e. rotation.

Word’s performance degrades with imported graphic files —you’ll soon hear your PC desperately grinding in the background trying to swap memory—and the file sizes in Word increase to enormous proportions during graphic imports, beyond all reasonable logic.

Remember, when you import a low-res file format, e.g. GIF/JPG, into Word, it is converted into BMP, which partly explains the sudden increase.


Creating templates in Word is fairly limited, as its essentially designed for writing letters. Also, you can’t open a Word template while other users are using a document based on this template.


Word tends to change pagination when you change printer driver, even if the fonts have not changed, ruining indexes and tables of contents.

OLE Support

FrameMaker doesn’t support OLE.


FrameMaker is fast and intuitive.


Word supports true endnotes.

Frame does not. FrameMaker has a workaround using cross-references, but this is cumbersome when working with a book with many component documents.

Long footnotes

Word supports long footnotes, i.e. notes that must be split across successive pages.
FrameMaker does not support long footnotes. If a footnote is too long to fit on the page on which its marker appears, the entire footnote text is moved to the next available page.


With FrameMaker+SGML, you have the combination of FrameMaker’s features, and create an SGML document that can be used with a database search engine.

Adobe and FrameMaker future plans

Adobe has assembled a collection of documentation software, with FrameMaker central to that strategy. Adobe said that development plans for the immediate future include enhancing the import and export of files from one format to another.

Companies that choose FrameMaker are safe-guarded regardless of future documentation standards, i.e. XML, SGML, Acrobat, or HTML.

Contact me if you have any quesitons and I’ll try to get back to you.

Ivan (att) klariti (dott) com