It’s a sorry state of affairs when the most favourable proposal is the one that makes your eyes bleed the least.

Yet back in my IT project and account management days, this was the only realistic differentiator, thanks to the exceptionally low quality of writing in the average sales pitch.

Think about it though. The sales proposal is a document that’s meant to set out a compelling argument for choosing its author. Yet too many are written like academic white-papers, begging letters, or in one memorable case – a death warrant.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

In my opinion, there’s a huge, gaping opportunity to do something different when you tender for an IT project. To really elevate your pitch above the competition.

And you can achieve this with minimal effort from just a few straightforward improvements to your sales proposal.

Before we begin, let’s be honest

Back in my undergraduate days, a programming tutor explained how he screened candidates for IT jobs when he was an employer. If you think about it, the humble CV is a sales proposal in itself, so to get through these job applications, he’d position an enormous stack right on the precipice of his desk. Then, in the interest of fairness, he’d read a page or so of each CV to see if it piqued his interest. The outcome being either a stay of execution in his in-tray, or a deathly nosedive into the hungry wastepaper basket below.

Now I’m not suggesting your clients are this brutal with sales proposals. What I am suggesting however is that people don’t engage with thick documents in their entirety. We don’t process writing, especially technical writing, in a linear way, like you would a book.

Instead, we skim documentation for sections that resonate. We peruse, stumbling over bits of copy that interest us and align with our priorities. If we find a bit we like, we stick with it – attracted like filings to a magnet. We’re drawn into reading more, slowly coming round to the writer’s way of thinking, like a persuasive argument.

On top of all that, us humans have dwindling attention spans. We quickly forget, ignore even, information that doesn’t impart anything new. Instead we’re drawn to novelty.

With that in mind, let’s look at three ways you can make your sales proposal novel and magnetic, so clients are drawn to choosing you as their preferred IT supplier.

1. Say what you stand for

The underlying premise of the proposal is that you, as writer representing your IT consultancy or software development company, have to prove your competence and demonstrate why you deserve to win this pitch.

But if you’re not careful, that tacit premise can undermine the case you’re about to set out in your proposal. Like I mentioned earlier, all too often this can turn a sales proposal into a begging letter. When we both know you’re more than capable of delivering what this client needs from IT.

To avoid that trap, don’t be afraid to write with polite confidence. Express you vision, values – what you stand for. By that I mean describing the kind of projects you’re best at, and the kind of clients who suit working with you in that context.

This isn’t as arrogant as it might sound.

If you’re pitching for the right kind of project, and you’re bothering to write a proposal, chances are the beginnings of a productive relationship are already there.

You just have to cement that instinct or suspicion in the reader’s mind – that you have much in common, and it’d be a crying shame for you not to join forces on this IT project.

A bold example:

‘We’ve got a reputation for pushing software to its absolute limits on projects that, quite frankly, terrify the competition. People say we’re the A-Team of the software development world. Yes there’s only a handful of us, but we’re like machines; utterly focused on getting things done quickly – you’ll have to chase us out your office at the end of the day. We won’t leave until everything is fixed.’

Now compare that to the stultifying history lesson you usually find prefacing an IT sales proposal.

Remember, people choose to do business based on why you do what you do – not what or how.

2. Show some humanity

Sure, there’s a place in your proposal for cold hard stats – tables and charts detailing the expected returns from the IT investment. But there’s also a place for a more human angle.

I honestly think so.

Why? Because the last place your prospective client ever expects to find humanity – empathy, emotion and connection is in a sales proposal.

So let’s surprise them…

Behind every business problem is a people problem. Clients say they worry about the bottom line or boosting efficiency. What they really worry about is keeping their best people engaged so they don’t lose their edge. They care about getting things done on time so they can get home to their families. They worry about their personal reputation on the golf course if they let a referred customer down.

So talk about these things. Get it all out in the open and acknowledge their hopes and fears.

A humanised example:

‘Efficiency isn’t our goal. It’s more of a happy byproduct. What really fuels us is pride and reputation. When you told us you trade on your family name, that your brand is everything, you probably noticed our smiles. That was when we knew we’d clicked – you’re the right partner for us. Our founders are family too; as are our junior programmers. Family instills the kind of devotion to a cause that you just can’t buy.’

Would you dare to write that efficiency isn’t your goal in an IT sales proposal? How about daring to acknowledge emotions in the boardroom? Try it. Catch someone by surprise.

3. Use humour and personality

With so much resting on a sales proposal it’s easy to play it safe. You write formally, mention the right buzzwords and avoid injecting personality in any way, shape or form.

But you also end up sounding like everyone else.

Remember. Our object is to excite, stimulate and pique the interest of the reader with engaging copywriting. We want to stand out in the crowded IT marketplace.

Writing with unique tone-of-voice is one way you can do that. It means copywriting in a particular way, making you sound different, refreshing or otherwise non-technical and engaging. I’ve explored tone-of-voice in earlier posts – suffice to say its a job for a professional copywriter.

If you’re no copywriter, another way to achieve this is to talk about the things no one else dares mention. Think subtexts, in-jokes, elephants-in-the-room that everyone knows about but rarely mention.

An amusing example:

‘Although everyone uses this industry-standard component to manage their stock, it’s crap. Yes, you read that right: it’s total rubbish. Even though it’s built by the biggest software developer in the world. The clue’s in the name: standard. And we both know what you’re doing at your place is anything but standard.
So we built our own version, with the subtle distinction being that our component works. 100% of the time. It won’t hang when you use on the shop-floor, and it won’t leave production managers pulling their thinning hair out every time they run a report.’

A little humour eases everything along. Humour in an IT sales proposal?!

There’s one big problem here

I get it. It’s about scaling.

You’re reading this thinking if only I had the time to put this much effort into writing each and every proposal from scratch.

That’s why, like everyone else who’s ever had to churn out several IT proposals per week, you cut, copy and paste from ones you’ve written in the past. Using pro-forma case studies and standardised introductions.

Well, ask yourself this: are you industrialising your sales pitches for indiscriminate growth? Or are you truly trying to cultivate and curate the right kind of clients and projects for your business? So you enter into mutually-beneficial, prosperous, long-term relationships with people you’re best placed to serve.

Because writing for the latter reaps non-financial returns that are clearly worth pursuing – like less stress from working with likeminded clients, the thrill of new technical challenges that play to your strengths, and establishing a specialist reputation and protective niche for your IT business.

If any of that appeals, it’s definitely worth investing extra effort into writing better IT sales proposals. Or better still – hire a good copywriter to do it for you, one who knows the IT sector and how to write copy that resonates with the right kind of clients.