The real power of proposals

During my 17 years running an accounting firm, particularly in the last five years when I was quoting for 100% of the work I did, I had hundreds of BFOs (Blinding Flashes of the Obvious).  Let me share four of them, relating to proposals and winning new work:

  1. Proposals are not sales machines.
  2. Clients are not fee sensitive.
  3. Clients don’t understand what accountants can do.
  4. Well-written proposals eliminate lock up and fee queries.

These BFOs may seem blindingly obvious to you too, or you may disagree with me completely.  Either way, read on, so I can give you more context.


Proposals are not sales machines.

The purpose of a proposal is simply to document what has already been agreed between you, the accountant, and your client.  Gaining conceptual agreement BEFORE sending the proposal ensures that your clients understand the following:

  1. The objectives of the work you’re going to do.  E.g. what problem(s) are you going to solve?
  2. How you will measure the success of your work?  E.g. what noticeable changes will become evident in your client’s business?
  3. What measurable value will be delivered?  E.g. financial, time or mind freedom.
  4. The options for how you can deliver this value - a ‘choice of yeses’.
  5. When you’ll deliver the service.
  6. What it will cost and how you want to be paid.
  7. Where the client signs off to accept your proposal.

If you send a proposal out in this format without conceptual agreement first, you’re highly unlikely to get the objectives correct as your client needs to help define their objectives.  More importantly, your client won’t necessarily understand the value to be gained from your work. 

The end result will, at best, be a far lower acceptance rate, and at worst, a decision based on price alone.  Sending out proposals without conceptual agreement is doomed to fail.


Clients are not fee sensitive.

A price objection on a proposal is not an indication that clients are fee sensitive. 

The definition of a sale is 'an exchange of a good or service for money'.  For someone to part with money, they have to consider that the value they’ll receive will be greater than the price they’re paying.  It’s that simple. 

As accountants, our job is to articulate the value in terms our clients understand; that value may be financial or non-financial, one off or recurring, and it must be far greater than the price you’re charging.  Too often I see proposals that either don’t articulate measurable value or contain so much fluff that the value is completely lost.  With no clear understanding of the value, clients reject the proposals usually on the basis of cost (as that is all that is measurable to them).

Your clients are not fee sensitive; they are value sensitive.


Clients don’t understand what accountants can do.

Accounting is full of technical terms and jargon that clients don’t understand and, dare I say, don’t want to understand.  I delivered a seminar on Business Planning to 40 business owners recently.  I got blank looks when I asked attendees to list the value of the annual Business Plan.  Not one person could remember any of the KPIs they used to measure their team performance.  Only two people could calculate gross profit correctly.  The attendees were successful business owners.  What this brought home clearly to me is that:

  1. Clients are experts at what they do but have very little understanding of what their accountant does - most see their accountant as someone who simply does their annual accounts and the tax returns, not someone who can also help them improve their business.
  2. As an industry, we all need to stop speaking 'Accountanese' - we need to speak in language our clients understand so they can see the synergy in combining their expertise with ours to run a better business.


Well-written proposals eliminate lock up and fee queries.

Your proposals should provide clients with two or three payment options.  In my Accounting firm I used:

  1. Payment upfront with a 5% discount.
  2. 50% on acceptance of the proposal and 50% on completion of the service.
  3. A fee funding facility - such as smartAR, FeeSynergy or Satago, where I was paid 100% of the fee within a week or two of the client’s first monthly payment.

I was paid all, or at the least 50%, of the fee before I’d delivered the work - no work in progress build up and no debtors.  If the client didn’t pay, I just didn’t do the work!

Better still, I had no fee queries, as any concerns about the work were covered off as part of the process of gaining conceptual agreement.


So, if you want to unlock the real power of proposals, make sure you have conceptual agreement first, clearly articulate the value, speak in language your clients understand, and use a systemised approach.


"We miss 100% of the sales we don’t ask for." - Zig Ziglar


Asking better, deeper questions about our client’s situation engages them to ask questions of us and uncover a better, more sustainable solution to their problem, e.g. a Business Plan.  Learn how to master this technique by watching our Ask Don't Tell Mindset Video.

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About the author Mark Jenkins, CA

Business Development Communication Selling Mark Jenkins Value