The Copy-and-Paste Pandemic has Lost Millions

by Chris Arlen on November 16, 2012

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Sales Proposals: Copy-and-Paste Pandemic Loses MillionsMillions of sales proposals worth millions of dollars die needlessly everyday. Proposals that could have conveyed valued solutions to customers and earned salespeople commission are cut down in their prime, the victim of the Copy-and-Paste pandemic.

Look at your latest sales proposal and imagine reading it for the first time.

  • Does it read as if it’s a copy-and-paste job?
  • Is there any description unique to the customer you’re submitting it to? Or could you send it to anyone?
  • Are your customers’ questions answered by your canned sales text?

If you smell a slight whiff of copy-and-paste in your proposal, your customers are fainting from it. Your customers are wondering why salespeople don’t listen, why salespeople make their jobs harder.

The Conundrum

The pandemic is caused by sellers’ shortsighted focus on efficiency to the exclusion of effectiveness. Sellers have forgotten why they write proposals in the first place. Instead they do everything possible to make proposal production quick and easy and efficient – for the seller.

Efficiency is great but not at the expense of communicating solutions that solve customers’ problems or make improvements. Unfortunately most sales proposal fail to do that.

So here’s the conundrum: while it makes complete sense to have written material prepared in advance, that material should be “re-purposed” for each proposal, not “re-used” in its original state every time.

Proposal production should start with a library of core content, and then adjust it in each proposal to fit that customer’s situation.

A Non-traditional Cure

Here it is: salespeople write their own sales proposals.

Shocking, isn’t it?

It shouldn’t be. Who is closest to the customer? Who knows where that customer hurts, and what they really want?

That’d be the salesperson. It just doesn’t make sense to have an admin back in the office make their best guess at that  information. But the larger the sales organization, the more common it is for admin staff to write sales proposals.

Although having salespeople write their own proposals may seem like a stretch, it is doable by having all of these components in place:

  • Writing Guide
  • Core Content Library
  • Increased Writing Skills
  • Competency in Microsoft Word (or other authoring software)

Writing Guide

A writing guide defines style conventions for all proposal writers. It ensures proposals have a consistent voice, are concise and well written. And if you’ve had the chance to see a group proposals competing for the same sale, you may be surprised at how confusing and poorly written they are – and that includes yours too.

Your writing guide may include:

*Average words per sentence (consider 10-20, longer sentences can be confusing)

* Readability scores for Passive sentences (less than 10-15%) and Flesch Reading Ease (40-60)

* Narrative point of view will define whether you write “We will deliver these results”, or “XYZ will deliver these results”, or a combination of both.

* Guidance on contractions (“We are great”, or “We’re great”), abbreviations (“minutes”, or “min.s”), and acronyms (“Internal Revenue Service”, or “IRS”)

* Writing voice guidance can help proposal writers towards the appropriate written style, whether fun and friendly, or formal and impersonal.

Keep your writing guide short and focused on the vital few areas. No point in overburdening everyone with The Chicago Manual of Style (but use it as a source for your writing guide).

Core Content Library

This isn’t your normal stack of anonymous, fully written Word docs. It’s a new take on the starting point of content before the salesperson begins incorporating it into a persuasive proposal. Here’s what it looks like:

* Topics are in separate files so they can be used only where appropriate based on the customer’s situation – not all of them are used every time

* Each topic’s content  is outlined in bullet lists – lists are grouped under headings for that topics’ components but also includes benefits connected to business impacts

* Tables, flowcharts and graphics are included within each component – since these are beyond what salespeople should produce, they’re one of the few aspects to be used as is

* Formatted proposal chassis – this is the base Word template with corporate styles defined ensuring headings, bullets, fonts and paragraphs are consistently used – it’s a chassis because has the basic frame but not the fat on the body, that’ll come from the topics the salesperson fleshes out from the bullet lists.

Increased Writing Skills

As a result of the efficiency myopia, salespeople have lost, or never developed their writing skills. Their belief is that they sell and the office admins write proposals.

However, I’ll bet there are a good number of salespeople who are also good writers. And with a company’s writing guide in front of them, they’re all set to craft more persuasive and successful proposals.

Yes, this non-traditional approach would be a burden for some salespeople who aren’t comfortable writing. That’s easily addressed through either or both of the following scenarios:

Scenario #1: Provide training to improve their writing skills and support them during the transition to writing their own.

Scenario #2: Continue with admin staff writing proposals but initiate a closer integration of the salesperson’s knowledge to the proposal writer. This can be done with more face time where feasible, or more web meeting time where the salesperson works live with the proposal writer in the crafting of the document.

Competency in Microsoft Word

In addition to better writing skills most salespeople need to become competent in Microsoft Word, or whatever authoring software is used.

They don’t need to become “Word Nerds”, just know their way around styles and formatting.

Take an Exploratory Trial

If you find the non-traditional cure scary, consider testing it out first.

First prepare by having your admin staff create the new core library content.

Provide your salesperson additional training in using Microsoft Word (or appropriate software), or make your Word knowledgeable admin staff available when the salesperson may need a little extra help.

Select a sales opportunity where you have very low hopes of success, and have a salesperson who is a good writer.

Give your salesperson extra time to work the new process and turn them loose with the new content and writing guide.

You’ll be surprised by the new proposal.

Then follow up with the customer afterwards and see if they appreciate your proposal that’s focused on them. Hopefully they’ll be a new customer.

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