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The Single Sentence Strategy for Writing Compelling Business Proposals

The Single Sentence Strategy for Writing Compelling Business Proposals
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Business proposals can be frustrating.

The people sifting through numerous campaigns and pitches have usually seen 100 just like yours before their morning coffee. So how can you grab their attention? Will your work stand out in a painfully crowded marketplace?

As a book-to-screen producer, I’ve learned that whether for film, marketing or real estate, the answer is surprisingly simple: Carefully craft a powerful logline as your opening sentence.

Notice I wrote simple -- not easy.

Most people have heard of a one-liner, or even an elevator pitch, but three problems typically arise when trying to create this important item.

One issue is that a majority of folks have no idea where to start. The second is that once they actually do compose something, they don’t know how to pare it down into a single sentence. Third, and worst of all, they design a sentence that is so general it doesn’t actually help them sell anything.

Let’s tackle the first matter of where to begin.

Before putting pen to paper, focus solely on what is unique about your idea, item or business proposition. What is it that makes it different from the others already out in the world?

If you don’t know the answer, you won’t be able to sell it anyway so it’s absolutely key for you to identify this up front. If you think about it, everyone wants something shiny, new and different so that has to be the foundation of your selling tool.

Let’s use an example of pitching your company on new travel software. First, what makes it different from other travel software? What is unique about this particular program that is not available from others in the same field?

Next, figure out the driving force. What is motivating the necessity for the item, idea or business proposition? Why is the need for this so great? Are more employees traveling than ever before?

Lastly, what happens if the company decides not to go with your proposal and this software isn’t used? Will the company be mired in old travel requests that have to be processed by hand?

The consequences of not seizing what’s offered can be a strong motivator in gaining that crucial “yes.”

After determining the answers to the above questions, the rough draft logline could be something like this, “Many of our top employees travel each year, so a program that has the ability to memorize their personal travel experience preferences can potentially save our company thousands upon thousands of dollars in input hours.”

Now the process becomes all about cutting it down.

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Why? Because these days, no one has time so if you are going to grab attention, you’ve got to do it quickly.

Years ago, I was told to pretend I was taking $5 out of my wallet for every word on the page. With inflation, I’ve adapted that to $10, and it’s a system that’s served me well.

In addition to my $10 rule, I also look at which items in my sentence don’t help me sell it. For example, is it bogged down with too many adjectives?

Look at the difference between “A brand new, top of the line, handy dandy, self-wringing mop” and “A new self-wringing mop.”

In the first quote, the special part - the mop wrings itself -- is buried among too many adjectives.

Cutting just seven words made a big difference because it brings focus back onto that most important element. Judicious cutting can change the earlier example for the better as well: “Many of our employees travel so a program that memorizes their travel experience preferences will save us thousands of dollars in input hours.”

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The last and most prevalent problem I run into is that the majority of sellers are just too general, using starting sentences that make their idea or product sound like many others out there. As a result, while they have a logline or elevator pitch, it isn’t actually serving them.

See what a big difference being specific makes to the earlier example: “Eight-hundred of our VPs travel, so a program that memorizes their hotel and airline preferences will save us $10,000 in input hours.”

There’s one example I like to use when explaining why specificity is always the answer.

I was brought a book about a woman, who spent her youth involved in drugs, dealing cocaine and serving prison time. Sadly, none of these elements are new and her logline reflected that: “The story of a woman who spent her life taking and dealing drugs, eventually going to prison before learning how to really live.”

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To me, there is nothing fresh about this story because it’s trapped in generalities, like the phrase “learning how to really live.”

It’s such a vague phrase that it doesn’t actually tell you anything. There’s nothing highlighting the differences between this tale and many others like it because the selling sentence is so broad. By focusing only on the details of her story, however, I crafted a great, truly marketable logline: “The story of a woman, who at 19, ran the biggest drug cartel in U.S. History.”

I’ve now created not just an elevator pitch or logline but a true sentence that sells. And that’s the goal, right? Specificity is the key to selling because it’s the specifics that make your item, idea or business proposition special.

Remember, focus on what is most unique about what you are selling. After creating your sentence, cut your $10-a-word phrase to its most streamlined version. Then emphasize the specifics or details that make your work stand out from the pack. This single sentence strategy can truly be the difference between walking away empty handed and making the sale.