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How to Write a Product Proposal

April 16, 2024

22 minute read

A well-written product proposal can be the one thing that turns a red light green. It helps you clarify your concept, secures necessary buy-in from your stakeholders, and lays the groundwork for funding, partnerships, and more.

This is not something you’ll be doing every day! Not every product person will even do this the once. It’s rare, yes, but it’s still very important to smash it. You’re not going to get a lot of re-dos here.

That said, you may well get the chance to propose a new feature, and that follows much the same process. So, whether you’re hoping to get your boss to sign off on your new product or feature, let’s take a closer look at:

  • What a product proposal is
  • When you’ll need one
  • The difference between feature and product proposals
  • How to adjust it for different stakeholders
  • How to present your proposal
  • How to write your proposal
  • How ProdPad can help you write your product proposal

What is a product proposal?

Think of your product proposal as the framework you’ll use to transform the first spark of an idea into a well-defined plan – a plan that you can then share with your team and stakeholders. The idea is to give everyone involved a crystal-clear picture of what you’re looking to build, why it’s worth building, and how you plan to make it happen.

Your main goal should be to get everyone on the same page regarding your vision for the product. Whether it’s someone in the C-suite, a member of the finance team, or a Developer, your proposal is there to help all the key players understand and support your plan.

It’s one of the first and most important ways to get the buy-in you need to move forward, often involving requests for resources like funding, team members’ time, or strategic partnerships. You’ll use it to detail the specifics of the product, feature, enhancement, or new initiative that you’re suggesting.

You should structure your proposal in a way that’s designed to convince your stakeholders of the product’s value, showing them how it aligns with the business’ broader objectives and how it will meet market demands.

Ideally, you’ll pre-empt important questions they’re sure to ask if you don’t beat them to the punch. Things like the problem it addresses, how it solves this problem, and what you predict the results will be once the product hits the market.

But more than just being a tool for gaining rubber-stamps, it’s also a strategic guide that can help steer the direction of your proposed product’s development. It ensures that your idea is not only innovative but also practical, profitable, and in line with your company’s current strategy and market conditions.

By covering every aspect of the product – from the development stages to your ideas for a go-to-market strategy – a finely crafted product or feature proposal will set you up for a methodical and successful rollout.

When would you need a product proposal?

You’re sitting at your desk and an unexpected thought crosses your mind, synapses fire and suddenly you have it: an idea that could change the game for your company. What’s next? You guessed it!

A product proposal is your best friend when you want to transform your abstract ideas into concrete strategies. Whether you’ve spotted a great gap in the market for a new product or a genius idea for a feature that could really shake things up, your proposal is how you outline your vision, backed by research and preliminary data.

Whether it’s funding, manpower, or time, resources are often limited. A compelling proposal helps you justify why you should be given these resources by exploring the potential returns and strategic advantages.

Baking in innovation

When innovation is integrated into a company’s culture, great ideas can come from all corners. This could mean having an open-door policy with senior leadership or setting up an innovation council dedicated to hearing new ideas – think Google’s famous “20% time”.

Most structured innovation processes require a formal submission to get your idea off the ground, i.e. a product proposal. It’s the difference between being seen as having a fleeting thought and presenting a potential market breakthrough.

The most forward-thinking companies establish a robust innovation process that’s documented and accessible. But even if your company doesn’t have a formal process for innovation, taking the initiative to create a detailed product proposal can help you get on the front foot.

It shows leadership and foresight, and positions your idea in a way that’s hard to ignore. When you give your senior leaders a clear, organized, and actionable presentation of your idea, you make it easier for them to support and champion your vision.

Instead of scribbling your idea on a napkin or sending off a hasty voice note, a well-crafted product proposal shows you’ve done your homework. It demonstrates that you understand not just the creative spark of your idea, but also its feasibility, market potential, and how it aligns with the company’s strategic goals. It lets them know you see what should be done, and that you have the know-how and vision to make it happen.

What’s the difference between feature and product proposals?

Simply put, the bigger the idea, the more you’ll need to cover. Feature proposals are usually more straightforward, as you’re focusing on how you plan to enhance an existing product. They can potentially be less formal, and won’t need to hit on every single question to get approved.

Product proposals, on the other hand, involve higher stakes and greater resources to make a reality. You’ll want to thoroughly analyze market conditions, the competitive landscape, and your proposed product’s strategic fit within the company’s long-term goals. For product proposals, the devil is in the details.

How do you adjust your product proposal for different stakeholders?

You don’t want to be writing a load of different versions of your proposal, so how can you make sure that you’re speaking to the widest possible spread of stakeholders?

Know your audience

The first and perhaps most important step is to know and understand who’s going to be reading or listening to your proposal. You can’t just know their titles and give yourself a pat on the back. You’ll need to get your head around their roles, responsibilities, and what drives their decisions.

By recognizing the specific needs and concerns of your audience, you can adjust your proposal to resonate more effectively with each group. For instance:

  • Executives: Focus on strategic alignment with business goals, potential for market expansion, and overall return on investment.
  • Technical Leaders: Dive into the technical merits of the product, such as how it innovates, its technical feasibility, and how it can integrate with existing systems.
  • Marketing: Outline how the product will enhance brand reputation, attract new customer segments, or increase market share.
  • Sales: Discuss how the product can solve customer problems, address market demands, or improve sales metrics.

Communicate clearly and persuasively

No jargon! Being clear and compelling is everything. Short and simple ideas with no technobabble, in other words.

Here are some things to think about here:

  • Be simple: Even complex ideas can be broken down into simple terms. Strive to explain technical concepts in a way that someone without a technical background can understand.
  • Be concise: Avoid the temptation to include too much detail that detracts from the main points. Focus on the most compelling aspects of your product idea. Know the two or three key takeaways you want remembered and make sure they’re not obscured.
  • Be structured: Organize your document in a logical flow that guides the reader through your thought process. More on this below.
  • Be demonstrative: Use bullet points, headings, and bold text to draw attention to key elements. This helps readers skim through the proposal and still grasp the essential messages.

Jazz up your proposal with visuals and data

Visual aids can really help your proposal to land. They can simplify complex information, making it more accessible to all your stakeholders. A picture speaks a thousand words, as they say.

You can use tools like Figma, PowerPoint, or even just some simple sketches to create impactful charts, graphs, and mock-ups.

You also need to support your proposal with data and research. Incorporate market analysis, customer testimonials, and real-world examples to give your plans more substance. This evidence will give them a solid foundation for understanding the benefits and feasibility of your product idea.

Customize your language for clarity and impact

Language plays a pivotal role in how your proposal is perceived. Your choice of words, the complexity of the sentences you use, and your overall tone can determine whether you end up looking at nodding heads or furrowed brows.

Again, avoid using technical jargon. Unless you know for sure that all your readers are familiar with specific technical terms, it’s best to stick with layman’s terms. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself.”

While you want to keep the language simple, it’s important to keep your tone relatively professional. You need to balance accessibility with the seriousness and professionalism that your stakeholders will expect in this sort of document.

Writing in an active voice makes your proposal more engaging and direct. For example, “The team will develop a new module,” is clearer and quickly understandable than, “A new module will be developed by the team.”

Finally, get to the point quickly without sacrificing necessary details. Stakeholders appreciate brevity, especially when it’s backed by clear and direct statements that outline benefits and expected outcomes without wandering through verbose explanations.

Adapt your metrics to match your stakeholders’ interests

Metrics are the solid, measurable elements of your proposal that really stand out to those making the decisions. They offer the hard data needed to back up the viability of your project.

Again, you need to speak the language of the people you expect to be reading or signing off on your proposal. Choosing the right metrics that resonate with their specific interests and objectives will help them to see the value of your proposal.

Financial metrics for business Executives

For stakeholders who are all about the bottom line, you’ll want to include key figures like return on investment (ROI), break-even points, projected revenue growth, and potential cost savings. These figures point at both the financial benefits and the health of the initiative, and will give your Execs clear reasons to get on board.

Performance metrics for technical leaders

When talking to a tech-savvy audience, highlight metrics like system performance, scalability, integration capacity, and adherence to security standards. These metrics demonstrate how technically sound and forward-thinking the engineering behind your product is, which can really help you gain the confidence of technical leaders.

Customer impact metrics for Marketing and Sales teams

Marketing and Sales will both want to hear how the product resonates with the marketplace. Consider including metrics like customer acquisition costs, expected market penetration rates, and customer satisfaction scores. These figures help paint a picture of how well the product is expected to perform with your prospective consumers and the impact it could have on the market.

By aligning your metrics with the needs and goals of different stakeholder groups, you ensure that your proposal speaks directly to their concerns, increasing the likelihood of gaining their support and green-lighting your project.

Tips on how to present your product proposal

Would that getting the thumbs-up were so simple as yelling “MAKE THIS PRODUCT, DUMMY!” right in the face of your boss. Sadly, it’ll take a little more than that to convince people of the value your idea can bring to the table.

If you’re going to be presenting, you’ll want to draw people in, and use the presentation to get feedback – there’s nothing worse than a plan made in a vacuum! So, here are some of my top tips to help you deliver a persuasive presentation that will resonate with your audience:

Know your audience

I think I’ve said enough on this already! But as Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Prepare thoroughly

Being properly prepared will help build your confidence and make your delivery smoother. Familiarize yourself with every aspect of your proposal, try to anticipate potential questions, and have clear, concise answers ready for them. You’ll look more credible and you’ll be able to handle pushbacks or concerns effectively as you go.

Share the proposal before the presentation

It can help to give everyone a chance to read it for themselves – a day or so before the meeting should be enough. Not only will it save you time going in, it will give your audience time to think of feedback and questions that could end up pointing out risks or opportunities you’ve missed.

Don’t assume that everyone will have read your email before the meeting though. People are busy, and the people you’re likely to be talking to will be busier than most. It’s worth sending at least one reminder, and expect to have to explain things covered in the email if asked.

Start strong

Kick off with a clear and engaging introduction. Set the stage by outlining what you’ll cover and why it matters. A strong start out of the gate will grab your audience’s attention and set a positive tone for the rest of your presentation. Make sure to quickly and clearly articulate your proposal’s unique value and how it aligns with the company’s strategic goals.

Engage with your audience

Interaction will keep your audience engaged. Pose them questions, invite their feedback, and encourage them to discuss your ideas with you and each other. It’ll help you gauge their interest and understanding of the proposal, and show them that you value their input and are open to incorporating their ideas.

Show your passion!

Enthusiasm can be contagious. When you show a passion for your proposal, it should help you to engage and persuade your audience. Let them see that you truly believe in what you’re proposing. An emotional connection can be a powerful persuader, especially if you’re able to articulate how the product could be transformative for the business.

Address risks and mitigation strategies

Be upfront about the potential risks and challenges you might face. They will want to know that you are being thorough in your approach and realistic in your aims. Once you’ve pointed them out, discuss how these risks can be mitigated. A well-thought-out risk management can do wonders for your proposal’s credibility.

Practice makes perfect

Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again. If you can, practice in front of a colleague or mentor that you trust to give you some constructive feedback. It’ll help you sharpen up your delivery and timing, feel more comfortable with the content, and give you a better chance of adjusting your presentation on the fly based on the feedback you’re getting.

Follow up

After your presentation, you might want to send a quick thank-you note, reiterating key points and the next steps. Be sure to include any additional data that was requested or answers to questions that were raised in the presentation. It’s polite, it’s professional, and it keeps the dialogue open and your proposal on their minds.

How to write and structure your product proposal

Sure, writing a product proposal isn’t something you’ll do very often in your career as a Product Manager. But that’s why you really want to make sure that you get it right when it actually does crop up..

Nailing your proposal takes clear thinking, thorough research, and a well-structured approach. If you want to make your proposal comprehensive and compelling, you’ll need to cover several key questions and use them to form the backbone of your document. 

The product proposal checklist

What should you include in a product proposal?

  • What problems are we solving?
  • What is the product hypothesis?
  • Why should we do this?
  • Why is it the right time to do this?
  • How will we measure our success?
  • What should we build?
  • How would we bring this to market?
  • What is the potential impact of this test?
  • What is the estimated level of effort?
  • What customer feedback supports this?
  • Who is the target market?
  • What are the relevant trends in our target demographics?
  • Who are our competitors?
  • What is our competitive advantage?
  • What are the potential risks and challenges?

Each section of your proposal should aim to answer a specific question related to the product you are proposing. By using this structure, you’ll address any question marks remaining in the minds of the people making the decisions on whether to give you the go-ahead with your product proposal

Let’s take a look at each of these questions, and I’ll suggest a few things to includein each section of your product proposal:

What problems are we solving?

Start out by clearly defining the problem your product is intended to solve. Make sure it’s a concise description that highlights unaddressed customer pain points or gaps in the market that you’ve picked out through your research. Include any relevant data you’ve collected, plus customer testimonials that demonstrate why these problems are relevant and urgent.

What is the product hypothesis?

Next, define your product hypothesis. Clearly state what you believe the new product will achieve based on the problems you’ve identified. It’s the brass tacks of the product – you need to give the simplest explanation of what your product will do.

Why should we do this?

You need to justify why your product works in the context of your company’s broader business goals. Find how your proposal links to strategic objectives and how your product fits into the existing product line, or if it could tap into new market opportunities. This will help your stakeholders to see your proposal’s longer-term value beyond the obvious or short-term benefits.

Why is it the right time to do this?

Explain why now is the time to strike. Discuss the latest market trends, emerging tech, or changes in consumer behavior that make this the perfect time to develop and launch your suggested product. It’s a good idea to try to convey a sense of urgency and justify why it’s a bad idea to postpone this new initiative.

How will we measure our success?

Outline clear, measurable objectives that will indicate the success of your product. These might include sales targets, market penetration rates, customer satisfaction scores, or other relevant metrics. It can be a smart idea to make these objectives specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART… get it?).

product metrics e-book

What should we build?

Detail the features and specs of the product you propose. This doesn’t need to be a full product requirements document (PRD), but you do need to describe what makes your product unique and how it addresses the problems you’ve outlined. This section should be detailed enough to give your stakeholders a clear picture of what you expect the end result to look like.

How would we bring this to market?

Discuss your go-to-market strategy. Include your Marketing and Sales plan, any partnerships you want to leverage, and how you plan to introduce the product to your target market. Also, you could consider outlining the phases of your market entry from launch to achieving broader distribution.

What is the potential impact of this test?

If your proposal includes a minimum viable product (MVP) or a phased rollout, describe what impact you expect this to have. This could be ideal learning outcomes, market feedback, or any early indications you’ve found that point to it being commercially viable. You need to show how these results will inform how you approach the broader product launch.

What is the preliminary estimated level of effort?

Give an estimate of what resources you think it’ll take to bring the product to market. Consider time, budget, and people. Be realistic in your assessment, as you’ll want to do your best to avoid any potential oversights or low-balling what it’ll take. That can easily bite you in the backside down the line.

What customer feedback supports this?

Include direct customer feedback that supports the need for your product. This could be survey results, customer interviews, or data from user behavior analysis that highlights demand for the solution you’re proposing.

Who is the target market?

Define who your expected customers will be. Describe the demographic and psychographic characteristics of the market segments you are targeting (no, not psychic characteristics, we’re talking Jung, not Gellar!). Really understanding your target audience is central to how you’ll adjust your product’s design and marketing strategy.

Further detail the demographics by discussing relevant trends that could affect product adoption. This could include shifting consumer preferences, economic factors, or technological trends that will influence how your product is received.

Who are our competitors?

Identify direct and indirect competitors. Provide an analysis of their products, market share, and strengths and weaknesses. This will not only justify the need for your product but also highlight potential challenges in gaining market traction.

What is our competitive advantage?

Clarify what sets your product apart from the competition. This could be superior technology, better customer service, innovative features, or more competitive pricing. Your competitive advantage should be compelling and sustainable.

What are the potential risks and challenges?

Acknowledge any risks and obstacles that could impact the success of your product. Discuss both internal and external factors, including market risks, operational challenges, and potential technological hurdles. Outline strategies to mitigate these risks.

By structuring your product proposal to address these specific questions, you provide a comprehensive overview that will help stakeholders understand not just the what and the how, but also the why behind your proposed product. This clarity and depth of information are crucial for gaining approval and moving forward with development.

How ProdPad can help you with your product proposal

When you’re gearing up to write and present a feature or product proposal, having the right tools can really save your bacon. ProdPad is specifically designed with Product Managers and their teams in mind, to support them throughout the whole product development process.

Here’s how ProdPad can help you with crafting and presenting your product proposal:

You can centralize your documentation

ProdPad is great for keeping your documentation in one accessible, organized place. Whether you’re gathering market research, user feedback, or product ideas and specs, ProdPad allows you to store and manage them all centrally. Everyone can easily access up-to-date information, keeping everything consistent and clear.

You’ll streamline collaboration

You can easily share your ideas with your team members and stakeholders. ProdPad’s intuitive interface encourages discussions right alongside your documents, giving you real-time feedback, and helping you to make iterative adjustments. Your final proposal will be more polished and reflect the insights and needs of a diverse range of stakeholders.

It will help you build and communicate your product roadmap

As I’ve mentioned, visual tools are powerful ways to convey the strategic time horizons and milestones of your product’s development process. ProdPad’s Now-Next-Later roadmap helps you create compelling and easily understandable visual representations of your product’s journey.

It’s great for both internal planning and creating engaging visuals for your proposal presentation. It can help you show everything from where your product fits into the overall product portfolio, all the way down to the individual pieces of customer feedback that helped you prioritize your ideas.

You’ll be able to prioritize more effectively

Speaking of prioritizing, determining what to include in your proposal can be a challenge. ProdPad provides integrated prioritization frameworks that help you identify and focus on the features and developments that offer the most value. This prioritization ensures that your proposal highlights the most impactful aspects of your product, aligning with business objectives and stakeholder expectations.

It will help you get the most from your customer feedback

Understanding and integrating customer feedback into your presentation is a great way to justify your assumptions about your proposed product’s relevance and potential for success.

ProdPad makes it easy to collect and organize feedback directly from your target users. You’ll be able to incorporate real-world suggestions and requests into your proposal, showing you have a grasp on your customers’ needs and how your product addresses them.

The journey from the lightbulb-over-your-head moment to a polished proposal can sometimes feel like you’re plotting a course to the moon with an abacus. But, with these tips and tools, you should be well-equipped to tackle the challenges of crafting a winning product proposal.

Don’t forget that presenting a product proposal isn’t just about spouting facts and figures Exorcist-style over your audience. It’s about bringing them with you, and getting them to chime in.

Try to think of it as a friendly chat where you also happen to be doing your absolute best to persuade people to see how bright your proposed future is. So, keep your wits sharp, your details sharper, and your presentation the sharpest!

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