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Ahh…rejected proposals.

For many of us, the feeling of inevitable doom when we start writing our proposals can be overwhelming. Just how much effort should we put into creating something that might just get shut down? Or worse, ignored.

It all feels so defeating and before you know it, it’s at the very bottom of your to-do list. Right after getting a root canal.

I still remember the first full-blown project proposal I ever wrote. I scoured the internet and found a hodgepodge of free sales templates. I picked out the best parts, then Frankensteined a cacophonous 20-page document by stitching them together.

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Twenty pages. Nine-point font. Single spaced. For a basic web design proposal. It shouldn’t have been that complicated.

Then I got shut down by my prospective client with no explanation. I was crushed. At the time, I had no idea why. I’d poured my heart and soul into that proposal. I’d devoutly put 20-plus hours into researching and tweaking and refining and proofreading the proposal until it was absolutely perfect. Perfect, I tell you!

Well, I thought it was perfect. These days, I look back on it as a case study on exactly what not to put into a sales proposal.

At first glance, the problems might not be that obvious. After all, I’d followed a lot of the advice I’d found on sales blogs of what were the important sections to put in: write about my company, write about the skills we have and services we provide, write a super long case study about one of our clients, put in pricing and terms of service that cover every contingency, and so on…

And still, I got turned down. I could have chalked it up to the client, but my next proposal got turned down too. And the next…

See, now I know what the fundamental problem was with my proposals: they were all about me.

And here’s the huge, revolutionary, often undiscovered secret about writing proposals that are actually pitch perfect…The proposals that win are the proposals that are about your client, not you.

The proposal stage is a crucial moment for both the pitcher and the pitchee. It’s the final stage of the unspoken dance between two businesses, each trying to discover if the other is the one they’ve been looking for.

In many ways, pitching a proposal is like going on a first date. You’ve been talking to this person for weeks  –  or maybe months, or even years  – and you both agree that you want to see if the spark is there. You agonize over every detail of the date beforehand because you want it to be picture perfect. You find the perfect restaurant, stop by the salon for a haircut, and then you pick out the perfect outfit.

Then when you finally sit down to dinner with your date, you spend the next hour talking about yourself. You talk about how incredible you are, and bore your date to death by name dropping and telling irrelevant stories about people you’ve worked with. To top it all off, you whip out an 18-page Terms of Service that has provisions for every possible thing that could go wrong should you enter a relationship. You then jab at the dotted line at the bottom for your date to sign before you can proceed further.

By this point your date has a horrified expression on their face, so you start listing off all of the people who can back you up with testimonials and you insist again and again that you’re the best at what you do. You jab at the dotted line again as a reminder.

Then your date says they need to think about it and they leave the table. With no further explanation given, you never hear from them again.

Now, what if you’d done this instead… Before you went on your first date, you had asked questions. Then you actively listened to your date’s interests, values, and desires. You took note of the areas where you had experienced similar challenges, and even shared a few stories with them along the way about how you’d faced them head on.

On the night of your first date, you were absolutely brilliant. You were dressed to the nines so that you looked your best, but what impressed your date so much was how well you two clicked.

The way that you presented yourself made them feel as if you really got them  –  that you’re a perfect match.

You addressed their concerns before they even voiced them. You made them feel understood. You demonstrated how you’re one-in-a-million because you made THEM feel like they were one-in-a-million.

Okay, coming back to the business world… Before you send off your proposal, you need to have done your research on your client. During the sales process, you need to find out exactly what their burning pains are. Really think about what challenges are in their way right now, and how your business can solve them.

Once you know more about who they are, and what they need, you can begin sculpting your message to speak directly to them. And it works.

Here’s why writing your proposals with your client in mind works… It’s a simple fact that people like to be acknowledged and understood. When you understand where your client is coming from, you can craft your message to address their needs. With the right planning, you’ll be able to help your client believe that your company is the team of superheroes they need.

Successful proposals are written by getting to know your client and thoughtfully crafting your message to showcase how you’re a perfect match. It’s not the photography. It’s not your price.

It’s not even the design. (Seriously, there are some tragic looking proposals I’ve seen that rake in sales like crazy).

It’s all about the strategy behind your proposal. It’s all about making your client feel like you “get” them. And that you’re providing something of such high value to them that they need it. Nail that in your proposal, and you’ll seal the deal.

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Collin Belt
Collin Belt is the Chief Design Strategist & Founder of Ice Nine, a design strategy studio that helps businesses and agencies skyrocket their inbound leads through web strategy, and deliver stunning proposals with killer close rates using Proposify. Collin is also a tech enthusiast, highly-caffeinated Starbucks addict, and champion for business owners everywhere. He can be reached a variety of ways: email: contact@iceninestudios.com; phone: +1 778-300-0648; twitter: http://twitter.com/collinmbelt; facebook: http://www.facebook.com/collinmbelt/.