Avoid boilerplate proposals

How to customize your proposals.

Marketing Clinic

By   Robert F. Kantin and James M. Proebstle

Most people treat a sales proposal merely as an administrative document to be completed at the end of the sales cycle. They use it simply to provide a generic description of a new service and communicate fees and availability. On top of that, many CPA firms still use unsophisticated, boilerplate-type proposals, even to sell their most expensive services.

Usually, only the upper levels of management, such as executive committees, are authorized to purchase higher priced services. To sell effectively at that level you have to go beyond simply describing the scope and magnitude of the proposed service; you must communicate value, explain the risks and provide the decision makers with all the critical information they need to make the decision. Customizing your proposal will help you do just that.


A proposal for a complex sale, such as selling outsourcing services, must reflect the CPA firms understanding of the clients unique business environment including strategy, needs and objectives. It should analyze the clients current situation, including processes, people, facilities, equipment and costs. It also should describe how your firm will integrate your services and should define the financial and nonfinancial benefits of choosing your firm.

To know what to include in your proposal, consider the clients perspective. Ask yourself, "If I had to make this buying decision, what would I want to know?" A proposal that educates the client stands a better chance of winning the sale.


The following six proposal sections provide a comprehensive and logical flow for information and ideas that will ensure your client has all he or she needs about your firm and service. They also include suggestions of what to include in each section. However each proposal should be customized to fit the individual client.

1. Client background information. Client-specific information that sets the stage for the firms proposed solution.

  1. Client profile . Business, size, location, strategic direction and other information needed to demonstrate understanding.

  2. Improvement opportunity . A condition that, if changed, will improve the clients business; include supporting statistics and financial measures.

  3. Needs and objectives . The needs and goals directly resulting from the clients business strategy and improvement opportunity (see exhibit 1).

  4. Purpose of the proposal . A transition that introduces the service that will be presented in the next section and the firmss project management, engagement or business practices.

Exhibit 1: Sample Background Information

MSFB—Needs and Objectives

The senior management of Megopolis Federal Savings Bank (MFSB) identified a need to engage an accounting firm that can provide tax, audit and consulting services to their rapidly expanding financial services organization. The selected firm will also need to 1) play a critical role in evaluating acquisition candidates and 2) provide technical support for operations consolidation projects. The firm must have its primary office or have a major branch office in Megopolis, Illinois.

MSFB senior management identified the following objectives for the next 12-18 months :

  • Implement a more sophisticated asset/liability management program.
  • Identify several viable acquisition candidates in counties adjacent to Megopolis tri-county area.
  • Develop a strategic plan and implement a bank-wide planning process.

2. Proposed solution. The customized client-specific solution for realizing the improvement opportunity identified in section 1 (see exhibit 2, below). You may find it helpful to include these elements.

  1. Description . A description of the proposed service, including key functional and operational characteristics and components.

  2. Application . A description of the client-specific application of the proposed service. How it will work or be provided in the clients environment, including such things as interfaces, people and equipment.

  3. Nonfinancial and financial benefits . The specific qualitative and quantitative values resulting from implementing the proposed service. How the service will help the client achieve the needs and objectives identified in section 1(b), "Improvement opportunity."

3. Implementation. This is a client-specific description of how the CPA firm will put the proposed service into effect.

  1. Methods/practices/methodologies . How the firm will implement or deliver the service. An overview of the primary activities that constitute the firms project management, engagement or business practices.

  2. Implementation team . Client and firm representatives who will carry out the proposed service; names, roles and responsibilities.

  3. Implementation schedule . Key implementation activities and deliverables, including estimated start and stop dates.

Exhibit 2: Sample Proposed Solution

Overview of Proposed Services

Faulkner & Prescott proposes to provide the following professional services to Megopolis Federal Savings Bank (MFSB):

Audit Services

Our primary objective in examining MFSBs financial statements is to express an opinion on the fairness in which they present the financial position, results of operations and changes in cash flow in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Our audit approach focuses on the major accounting systems and controls that produce financial statement information. After our initial review and evaluation, we design an efficient and cost-effective audit approach tailored to MFSBs accounting systems. Our examination of year-end statements consists of the following four phases:

  1. Planning and coordination

The purpose of this phase is to establish a proper foundation for the direction and coordination of the audit effort with MFSB management and other bank personnel. We complete this phase through the following activities and tasks:

  • Meeting with management to obtain an understanding of their concerns and problems.

  • Documenting the accounting systems.

  • Evaluating economic and industry factors that affect operations.

  • Identifying major areas of audit emphasis

  • Coordinating the audit process with MFSB management and accounting staff.

  1. Interim fieldwork

We conduct the interim fieldwork phase before yearend. At the conclusion of this phase, we meet with the board of directors audit committee to discuss any matters of audit concern and finalize arrangements for the next phase. During this phase we perform selected audit procedures, such as

  • A review of internal controls.

  • Certain customer confirmations.

  • An analysis of the allowance for loan losses.

  • Detailed loan file reviews.

  • An analysis of the composition of the loan portfolio and historical charge-off experience.

  1. Final audit fieldwork

The third phase of our examination begins after MFSB closes the accounting records for the year. During the final audit fieldwork phase we

  • Update the test work performed during the interim fieldwork phase.

  • Perform additional appropriate audit procedures.

  • Review the financial statements and prepare the auditors report.

  1. Communication of audit findings

During the last phase of our audit services, we communicate the findings of our interim and yearend audit work to the board of directors audit committee. During a meeting with committee members, we review our

  • Audit plan.

  • Audit progress during the examination.

  • Analysis of the adequacy of the allowance for loan losses.

  • Auditors report and the letter to management.

4. Seller profile. Information to assure the client that the firm can meet the clients needs (see exhibit 3). Some elements you may want to include follow.

  1. Firms mission statement.

  2. Firm background/history.

  3. Facilities.

  4. Staff.

  5. Client service.

  6. Improvement strategy.

  7. Why us? A summary to help the client understand why the firm is the best choice for awarding the contract. It should explain the value of the service, how it will meet the clients needs and specifically why the firm is best suited to provide it.

Exhibit 3: Sample Seller Profile

Faulkner & Prescott was founded in 1891 in Megopolis, Illinois by Robert F. Faulkner and James M. Prescott. Since then, it has grown to be the second largest independent accounting and consulting firm in Illinois. Faulkner & Prescott has over 200 active Partners and nearly 500 professional staff located in 11 offices throughout the state. Since its inception, the firm has maintained a unique business approach. For example, the firm:

  • Locates only in small to medium-size cities in Illinois.

  • Provides exceptional service by developing business partnerships with clients.

  • Maintains high ethical standards.

  • Offers innovative business practices.

  • Provides new services to enhance its clients operations and competitiveness.

Faulkner & Prescott serves clients in all types of commerce and industry, including finance, health care, manufacturing, agriculture and agribusiness and insurance. Most partners develop expertise in a particular aspect of commerce or industry. Several partners currently chair industry committees for the National Association of Independent Certified Public Accountants (NAICPA). In 1991, Faulkner & Prescott became the first recipient of the Century Award from the NAICPA in recognition of their 100 years of professional excellence.

All Faulkner & Prescott partners are members of the National Institute of Certified Public Accountants. In addition, all CPAs are members of the State Society of Certified Public Accountants. Faulkner & Prescott staff are encouraged to become active participants in community organizations.

Faulkner & Prescott has never had an SEC or OTS disciplinary action filed against the firm. It has no pending financial services litigation.

5. Cost and commitments. Include detailed pricing and invoicing information to help avoid billing surprises.

  1. Assumptions . Key decisions made or points assumed when calculating fees or estimating schedules that were not spelled out in sections 2 or 3.

  2. Pricing details .

  3. Invoicing schedule .

6. Executive summary. Include an executive summary—a condensed version of the entire proposal, including summarized fees—because some decision makers may have time to read only the summary while others will find that it alerts them to key points and content before reading the proposal. You also may need to add appendices for supporting information and preprinted materials.


A customized sales proposal will differentiate your firm if it

  • Demonstrates your firms ability to analyze the clients current situation and identify improvement opportunities.

  • Presents a client-focused approach to practice development.

  • Provides all the information your clients decision makers need to buy your services.

Remember, you may nccess to alot have personal al of your clients executive committee members. The proposal thus becomes a reflection of your firm condensed to an 812" by 11" document. It must stand on its own and sell when you—the practice development professional—are not present. You need to "hook" your clients while they are on a plane or a commuter train or working at home. A comprehensive proposal will ensure you close the sale by providing all the information your client needs.

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