The surprising connections between proposals and contracts

image of a road

In most businesses, the job of writing proposals is usually left to sales people or their managers. This is understandable, but it’s also a bit of a shame because employees outside of sales are not exposed to a great lesson: what value customers place on your company.

When writing proposals, you very quickly learn that what’s important is both what your business can and cannot do for your customer or client. And you better be very sure about what you can do. Nothing spoils a business relationship quicker than overpromising and under-delivering.

In this sense, there are some logical connections between proposals and contracts. A recent article on did a good job of outlining some proposal-writing tips in 8 Tips to Writing Effective Consulting Proposals that Win Business by Michael Zipursky.

The article is worth the read, but here are some of Zipursky’s tips/points I felt were particularly applicable to contracts:

* “Focus on the buyer, not your business.” This applies to contracts in this sense: If you are a service or product supplier, does your contract reflect the real needs of your client/customer? Of course you need to protect your business from risk, but the contract needs to protect your relationship with the business you are partnering with as well.

* “Nothing new here.” Zipursky means that, in a proposal, anything new or confusing can make the client hesitate. Similarly, contracts should not be the place for “surprises” to spring on the customer. Thorny issues need to be worked out well before your prospective client sees the contract.

* “Structure for success.” The writer says this best: “The most effective consulting proposals have a clear logical structure that supports the decision making process.” Similarly, a good contract should be organized and easy to read (as much as regulations permit, that is). Clarity goes a long way in heading off potential problems.

* “In versus Out.” By this phrase, the writer meant this: “Clients don’t want to hear all about what you’re going to do (inputs). They want to know what the end result will be (outputs).”

This last point is similar to the first, but it kind of doubles down on the concept of keeping the customer first. This point has more to do with identifying the real value of the end product of your contract.

Is the end goal really just the service you describe in the contract – or is it that your service makes the clients operations much smoother and its data more transparent? Is the end result the product your facilities manufacture, or is it really that your business supplies a key part of the supply chain that won’t fail?

If you ever wondered what “thinking strategically” about contracts really means – it means knowing the value of what you provide the customer, and even being able to plan so that you can keep providing that value.

That may mean putting into the contracts provisions for foreseeable problems, and even a process for resolving bottleneck issues jointly. Remember, proposals and contracts work best when they build trust.

If your business approaches contracts with a bit of the hungry-for-your-business attitude of proposals, you may find that keeping customers’/clients’ concerns in mind will pay off in the long run.

[About the author: Todd Hyten is a former business journalist who now writes about B2B topics and consults on content marketing. You can find him on Twitter and ]

Back to all