Business Proposal

Tony Morgan’s Example of a Successful Business Proposal

Can you tell us about a proposal you have been involved with that made a huge impact?

I can think of a few excellent examples but will focus on one. It was from IBM to a financial services client a number of years ago.

The client wished to transform their IT infrastructure and applications to create a more modern environment which would enable business change and flexibility, rather than hold it back. As with all organisations, the client didn’t have bottomless pockets. The proposal needed to demonstrate the transformation was achievable at a cost which could be fully justified by the business benefit delivered.

IBM had worked with this client on a number of engagements over several years, often in competition with other providers. The client sponsor fed back that this proposal was the best they’d received during this time. IBM won the business and delivered the change programme. The client was very satisfied with the value delivered to their business.

What made this proposal so successful?

The proposal was built on empathy. The team creating the proposal knew the client – the IT landscape, the business, the people – and what was important to them. At every stage, the team asked “If we were X, Y or Z in the client’s organisation what would we wish to see?” Key points were included to address the needs of the sponsor and to satisfy the potential concerns of key stakeholders and subject matter experts.

The proposal was written in the client’s language. Where IBM had a different word or phrase to describe something than the client, this was changed to the wording used by the client.

The document was well designed and structured. A clearly written executive summary highlighted the main points and the value proposition for the client. More detailed sections described the details of what was proposed and showed how and when this would be delivered to address the needs and concerns of key client stakeholders and subject matter experts. Simple diagrams and pictures brought the technology solution to life. Appendices with references and so on were included as appropriate. All potential inputs were reviewed to verify they added value – if not they were not included in the submitted document.

The proposal told a story which could be easily understood of the journey the client would be taken on, the end point and steps along the way. The document had a strong narrative and was easy to read and understand. There was even had a strap line or catch phrase included “It will end in Tiers” reflecting one of the key design points on the solution. The client often quoted this line afterwards.

What can we learn from this experience?

A proposal should not be about those who write it but about the client or audience. In summary, have empathy with your audience, be clear on their (and your own) objectives, ensure the proposal meets these objectives and is easy to read and consume. Lastly, and without doing anything too outrageous, make the proposal memorable.  

Example of a good student proposal

Punch, K.F. (2006) Developing effective research proposals. 2nd edition. Los Angeles: SAGE. Chapter 8 pp 120-127: '8.4 Quantitative proposal: management/business'

Proposal development

Punch, K.F. (2006) Developing effective research proposals. 2nd edition. Los Angeles: SAGE. Appendix 2 pp 144-146