[IMGCAP(1)]Your website is modern and up-to-date; your brochure looks slick and has copy that pops. Having quality collateral, whether electronic or print, is typically a priority for most accounting firms. Marketing collateral is often used during the early stages of the sales cycle. It is used to get prospects interested and move them along the funnel.

So once a buyer has been qualified, you’re in the Red Zone and in a great position to score a big ol’ touchdown, but many accounting firms lose focus and drop the ball. Instead of celebrating with a spike, they are left with another notch in the loss column asking, “Why? Why? Why?”

The Answer: Accounting firms get lazy with proposals and most of the time, quite frankly, they are dull and lackluster.

When did you last update your proposal template?

I know, it’s hard to remember! Many times accounting firms’ proposal templates are at least five years old. They are usually Word documents that have pretty standard and stale language that is tweaked ever so slightly over time.

Sometimes, all that is changed is the company name. These proposal templates use phrases like “we deliver work of the highest quality.” Is your proposal cover by chance a solid navy or dark green with a cut-out window? Compelling? Not so much! It’s the homestretch – isn’t this the time to put your best foot forward and demonstrate that your firm is indeed different than the others?

Proposal reform: A step-by-step approach

Redo all of the copy. I know this is a huge undertaking but your marketing partner or in-house marketing director needs to be up for the task. The copy must speak directly to the individual prospect. We recommend creating fresh templates by marketing segments because by definition, marketing segments are groups of people with similar needs. Ensure your copy isn’t boastful, such as:

“We are the leading…..”

“We believe that we are right partner for you…”

Let your references and testimonials do the talking! And yes, you should always include both. Emphasize the benefits that your firm will deliver and how it is different than your competitors. Copy is king, queen and the entire royal court. Make it powerful!

Make it visually dynamic. Brochures have pictures, as do websites. Why shouldn’t proposals include some strategically placed photos as well? Spend $100 to have a designer put together a custom cover and have it digitally printed. There is no reason that proposals have to be boring! Remember, you are on the verge of scoring.

Bring it to life through multimedia. With all of the technology available today, it is relatively easy to develop a multimedia proposal template complete with flash animation and videos. What better way to give your prospect a flavor for your firm’s people and creativity?! Marketri recently developed a multimedia proposal for an accounting firm client that included custom animation and four professional videos. We are pleased to report our client scored a touchdown on that one!

Address the prospect’s specific concerns. Make sure, either subtly or in an outright manner, that the proposal addresses any concerns the prospect might have. Too often, proposals tend to gloss over or skip the hard questions all together, focusing instead on the marketing spiel, which isn't always the most compelling content. (Jamie Lee Wallace, Suddenly Marketing & Savvy B2B Marketing)

Include micro customer stories. These can be told as part of an anecdotal narrative to demonstrate an example, instead of breaking them out into unappealing, standard issue case studies which many readers scan with a blind eye because they are so "numb" to the format. (Jamie Lee Wallace)

Add client testimonials. Video testimonial can be a great asset, but if you lack this technological savvy, even just adding headshots of clients who provide testimonials can make a huge difference in the connection the prospect has to their words. Putting a face to the recommendation gives it more weight and "reality." (Jamie Lee Wallace)

Understand the decision-making criteria. In most cases you will want to move the decision-making process on from price comparison. Make sure you have identified and understood the prospect's decision-making criteria. Rank them in order, and arrange your presentation in the same order. If there are important criteria where you know you are at a competitive disadvantage, compensate for them in other areas, but always relate your strengths to the prospect's needs. (Neil Edwards, The Marketing Eye)

Prioritize information. Remember that you are there to address a potential client's needs first and to explain why you are the right choice for the work second. Make sure that you order your presentation in the same way. (Neil Edwards)

Tailor your experience to the prospect’s needs. You can also show that you have invested time in assessing the account and applying your expertise to it and identifying additional needs, e.g., “Having spent some time reviewing the information you have shared with us, we believe the business would also benefit from considering…” (Neil Edwards)

Tailor your language to your audience. A lot of service sales rely on "soft" criteria like support and expertise. Use this to your advantage. Tailor your descriptions of your capabilities to the specifically identified requirements of the prospect and bring in testimonials and case studies where possible to support your claims. (Neil Edwards)

Re-address the prospect’s concerns at the presentation stage. By the time you get to the presentation stage, the prospect should have assessed their needs and will now be evaluating the options to meet them. There is, however, no harm in restating the needs you have identified. For example, “You have told us that….” (Neil Edwards)

Present your proposal in person. Finally, whenever possible, avoid sending your proposal by snail mail or email. Go in and present it in person. This will allow you to react to the initial comments of the meeting, reinforce your strengths and gain a commitment to the next steps—hopefully a touchdown. (Neil Edwards)

Debra Andrews is managing director of Marketri. Jamie Lee Wallace is a marketing professional at Suddenly Marketing with over fifteen years of experience and frequently blogs on a variety of marketing topics at Savvy B2B Marketing. Neil Edwards is co-owner of The Marketing Eye, a company specializing in financial services, professional services and business-to-business marketing and PR.