How to Write Proposals: Creating a Winning Digital Marketing Proposal
Ah, the glory of the agency pitching process. Your well-oiled lead generation machine has done its job and produced a solid lead from a potential new client. These are the moments you live for. This is your opportunity to show this potential new client what you’re all about and why you, above all else, deserve their trust and ultimately their business. Now all you need to do is write a winning digital marketing proposal. Easy; right?
Unfortunately, as any digital marketing agency leader already knows, as vital as generating initial leads from genuinely interested businesses can be, ultimately it’s your proposal writing ability that earns the client’s signature on the dotted line. With genuine leads often being few and far between — particularly for smaller or newer agencies — the pressure on your pitch is monumental. This is crunch time and your proposal writing ability is one of the last hurdles between you and a shiny new client.
With the amount of time and effort you already invested in generating the lead and having follow-up sales meetings with the potential client to understand their needs and goals, you might feel like you’ve already thrown everything you’ve got at your prospect. Fear not! Though it’s generally frowned upon to have a copy and paste proposal template, it pays to be prepared and that means a bit of leg work now can actually ease your workload the next time you’re in it to win it.
So, fire up the coffee pot and get comfortable — let’s work through how to develop a scalable proposal writing approach so you aren’t always staring at a blank page and blinking cursor whenever a new prospect comes in. Here are some hints and tips for winning proposal writing.
No set standard for RFPs
How to effectively use Case Studies
Sell a relationship not just services
Suggested Proposal Structure
Timings and Schedule
There is No Set Standard for RFP Expectations
Depending on your lead and how they have approached agency shopping, the initial RFP (request for a proposal) can be viewed in different lights. Some will consider the initial RFP as a way to create an agency shortlist. They’ll then invite their favorites through to further stages, making for a competitive pitching process. Others will consider the proposal stage to be a more end-to-end affair, expecting many of the details you’d expect to see in a final pitch right off the bat.
It’s important that you define exactly what your prospect is expecting before you start writing any client proposal documents. The more information you can gather regarding your prospect’s needs, budget, ambitions and current sticking points regarding their digital marketing activity or agency relationships to date, the better. Taking time to get down to the nitty gritty of what led them to take your cold call or seek you out in the first place will empower you to create a winning digital marketing proposal with much fewer grey hairs and endless all nighters.
By the same token, you need to lock down a budget before you dedicate hours to a pitch. You can only create a killer proposal that checks all the boxes when you know what kind of cash the client has available. There’s nothing worse than spending hours crafting a stellar proposal only to later find the client has only 10% of the required spend available.
Regardless of whether the RFP is more pitch orientated or not, you’re going to want to address as many of your prospect’s requirements up front. Addressing important requirements, wants and needs (and subtly rebuffing any concerns) in your proposal document is a must if you want to ensure you get through to the next round of Agency Idol!
Relevancy Will Triumph Over Generic Boasting for Case Studies
Many agencies like to show off their best work in their proposals by including case studies. Before you include this info in a proposal, ask yourself if the project you were planning to highlight is actually relevant to your prospect. Many agencies build up what becomes a standard case study offering and throw one of those case studies into every digital marketing proposal without much extra thought. This library of awesome examples should include your best performing campaigns, stellar ROI growth charts and a bit of name dropping to show the bigger brands and names you’ve worked with. Of course you want to get this across to your prospect and drive home exactly what you’re capable of. But, we recommend you dial it back a little.
Why? Well, don’t get us wrong…Your case studies are important documents but, we’d argue that the place for name dropping and number crunching (we saved X client $$$$) is better placed as a line or two in your agency creds rather than embedded in the depths of your proposal.
Bear with us on this. The vast majority of businesses will be looking to find similarities to their own situation when they look at your work. So rather than throwing in the biggest brand project you can think of, take a different approach. Consider how you can demonstrate understanding and empathy with your prospect’s deepest digital marketing concerns through previous work. It may be that you can find relevancy at a channel level rather than finding a client which is directly comparable as a business. If your prospect is a small business looking to grow their social media following for example, showing off a big brand client with millions of followers may be impressive but it’s more than likely your prospect would prefer to see how you’ve helped a smaller outfit gain social media traction from a very limited start.
Try to find examples in each channel and at various budget levels so you can display more than just a deep level of expertise in the channel management itself, but also a correlating scenario your prospect can relate to.
Sell A Relationship Not Just Services
Explain to your prospect how you plan to work with them — not just how you’re going to expertly deliver against the various digital marketing channels in your strategy. It’s something often missed in client proposals, but communicating what the day-to-day realities of working with your agency and team actually look like is a very powerful persuader. No one likes the unknown.
Outline a contact plan, introduce the team members that will be working on the account and even detail important milestones like weekly calls with senior members of your team, monthly meetings and quarterly reviews. Be succinct.
Don’t leave these details open to assumption or ambiguity and don’t wait for your prospect to ask you for this information. Be upfront and clear that you have a firm grasp of what it takes to run and maintain an effective working relationship with your clients. It’ll instill an additional sense of security for your prospect and generate an additional air of professionalism for your agency.
Suggested Proposal Structure
Creating a process/procedures for writing your digital marketing proposals makes visualizing the final document easier, ensures you have a narrative that makes sense and serves as a guide for team members who contribute to the proposal-writing process. The extra planning and attention made upfront will give your proposal a nice, confident flow. You should also decide early on what team members will be writing which portion of the proposal — and who is responsible for reviewing the entire proposal before it’s submitted to the prospect to ensure voice, details and terms are consistent and correct.
The outline below is purely a guide for your proposal. These are the sections that are the foundation of a winning proposal:
- Strategic Approach
- Channel Management
- Timing and Schedule
(Note: If your potential customer included a list of criteria or required information in the RFP, you will want to follow those guidelines instead.)
This is all about you and what your agency stands for. Be sure to inject your personality and agency mantra here as best as possible. However, this section also needs to be concise and flow well to avoid being overly self-indulgent. Your prospect will want to move swiftly to areas that talk about them and their needs. Whet the appetite, be succinct and always leave them wanting more.
This is where you demonstrate your understanding of your prospect’s industry, needs and current status. Show your research and make specific references to successes and failures in your client’s industry. Be relevant to what they are trying to achieve. If you have conducted any overarching competitor analysis, highlight your finding here for extra brownie points.
Based on your discovery and demonstrated understanding, you now need to show how you will react to that information and formulate a strategy to help your prospect achieve their goals. This part of the proposal writing process is a great place to highlight your channel selections. Keep this part of the proposal in tandem with your preferred strategy so your potential clients gets a preview of why your strategy will drive the success they’re looking for.
With the strategic overview covered, any details on channel execution can now be added to compound your ability to deliver. Channel specific case studies should be referenced here when available/appropriate. Show that you understand each channel as well as how they all work together. It’s also crucial to reference how you will monitor the success of each channel. Provide ROI calculations or projections if this is something you have available.
Don’t over complicate this area when writing proposals. Be open and honest with a simple round up of fees. Aim for transparency without having to resort to a giant spreadsheet. You can provide additional details and granularity when asked, but don’t hide or caveat too much here. Aim to give a clear sense of cost vs. deliverables.
Timings and Schedule
There is sometimes an air of ambiguity around whether or not you should include a timeline and schedule in the proposal — you might not want to appear over confident. No one wants to leave a proposal with any ambiguity, so including a schedule of next steps and a clear sense of when work can begin will put your prospect’s mind at ease.
And there you have it – a tried and tested method for writing rock star client proposals. Use this as your framework and modify it to suit each lead.