How to Write a Proposal: The Last Guide You’ll Ever Need
As a sales person, one of the most exciting things is the moment where you finally convert a hot lead into an actual sale.
Before sealing the deal, however, you most likely have to deal with some paperwork, the most important of which is probably the sales probably the sales proposal.
A lot of sales people do not like writing the sales proposal.
The see it as a necessary evil that they have to put up with in pursuit of the deal.
So they just craft a passable proposal and send it to the client, and are left wondering why they lost the deal.
In truth, the sales proposal provides you with a big opportunity to win new business.
With a well written proposal, you can differentiate yourself, help your company stand out, and convince the client why you are the best person for the job.
It can literally be the difference between having tons of new business and talking to numerous prospects without ever converting them into paying clients.
In this guide, I’ll provide you with everything you need to know about writing high quality sales proposals – the key stages of writing the proposal, what you should include in the proposal, best practices for writing proposals, and several other helpful tips that will make your sales proposals more appealing and increase your chances of winning new business.
WHAT IS A BUSINESS PROPOSAL?
The sales proposal, also referred to as the business proposal, is the ultimate sales document. It is a multi-page document that gives an overview of all the value that that you are offering the client.
The proposal is tailored to each client and outlines who you are, what services you offer, which of your client’s problems you want to solve and how you intend to solve the problem, the results that the client should expect from you, and the amount of money your services will cost your client.
It’s good to note that the business proposal is different from the business plan.
A lot of people confuse between the two.
Whereas the business plan is generic and is aimed at selling your entire business to prospective investors, the business proposal is tailored to a specific client and is aimed at selling a specific product or service to this client.
It is also good to note that you don’t need to write a business proposal for every single sale you make.
Sales proposals are typically required when dealing with large organizations with complex sales processes or defined RFP processes.
WHEN IS IT NECESSARY TO WRITE A PROPOSAL?
Before you start writing the proposal, you first need to stop and ask yourself if you should really be writing the proposal.
Sometimes, sales people end up wasting their time writing proposals when these proposals do not move them any closer to making the sale.
A sales proposal can be compared to a marriage proposal.
Unless you’re a sucker for embarrassment, you probably wouldn’t propose to someone in the first date.
Even when you have dated someone for a while, you would only propose if you think the two of you are suited for each other. The same thing applies to sales proposal.
You should only write a proposal if you think the relationship between you and the client is ready for commitment. In other words, the client should be ready to buy.
Therefore, before you sit down to write the proposal, you should make sure that:
- The client is serious about the project: You should only send a proposal if you think that the client is serious about getting the project started. If you’re talking to a client who is kicking tires or is in the early stages of searching for a solution, you should hold off writing the proposal until you are certain that they are serious about making the purchase.
- You have a realistic chance of getting the business: There is no point in wasting time writing a proposal if you really don’t have a chance of making the sale. If your solution is not aligned with what the client is looking for, you are wasting your time. If the client is looking for solutions way below your price, they probably won’t buy from you, and writing the proposal is therefore a waste of time. This is time that could have been better spent prospecting for more and better clients.
- You have discussed the scope of work and budget with the client: Sometimes, you might be tempted to hold off discussing the specifics of the project until the very last minute, because you are afraid that holding this discussion at the beginning might make it harder to close the deal. However, here’s the thing. If you write your proposal without having this discussion, you will have a hard time matching what the client expects, and therefore the proposal won’t be of much use.
- The client requires you to submit a proposal: Like I mentioned earlier, the proposal is not always necessary. If you can make the sale without having to write the proposal, there’s not much need for it. However, some clients will require you to submit a proposal before they can consider working with you. In such situations, you have no other choice but to write the proposal, even if the other factors discussed above have not been met.
BEFORE WRITING THE PROPOSAL
Having ascertained that the proposal is actually necessary, the next thing you need to do before writing the proposal is to have a sit down with the client and have a discussion about the project and what they are looking for.
During this discussion, you should ask the following questions.
The answers to these questions will help you create a high quality proposal.
- What challenges is the client experiencing? The client is considering working with you because they have a problem that they need to solve. In order to show that you can efficiently and effectively solve the client’s problems, you first need to understand what these problems are.
- What does the client expect from the project? You need to understand what results it would take in order for the client to consider the project as a success. Here, you should help the client come up with clear, concrete goals and expectations. A good example of a goal is something like increasing sales by 20% or generating 50% more leads. With such a goal, it will be clear to the both of you what a successful completion of the project entails.
- What is the client’s budget? Since the proposal contains pricing information, you should have a good idea of the client’s budget before writing the proposal. This way, you can come up with pricing that is within the client’s range. Knowing the client’s budget beforehand also helps you weed out clients who are not able to match your rate expectations.
- When does the client expect the results? You should also have a good idea of the timelines within which the client expects the results to be delivered. This will help you determine if you can realistically meet these expectations, and how to plan the project in order to meet them.
- Who will be your contact person? The person you are in contact with at the moment might not be your primary contact once the project is underway. Therefore, before writing your proposal, you should find out the person you’ll regularly be working with. This will also help you identify the correct person to deliver the proposal to.
WRITING THE PROPOSAL
Once you have the answers to the above questions, it is now time to write the proposal.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing the sales proposal, every proposal should mention three things” the challenges the client is facing, your solution to these challenges, and the cost of providing the solution.
Below are some of the elements that the sales proposal should include:
The Title Page
The title page should include the title of the proposal, the name of the company, the date of submission, and the name of the client.
When crafting the title, don’t write a generic title, such as “Proposal to Company XYZ.” Instead, you want to make the title engaging and snappy.
It should give the reader an idea of what the proposal is about.
An example of a good title would be “SEO Assessment and Optimization Offer for Company XYZ.” Here are some tips on how to write better proposal titles.
Table of Contents
Including a table of contents makes it easy for the client to know what the business proposal covers and how to get to each section.
If the proposal is being delivered in digital format, the table of contents should be clickable to make it easier for the reader to navigate between the different sections. If your proposal is relatively short, you can omit the table of contents.
This section should contain a short summary of what is contained in the proposal.
In a few minutes, it should be able to tell the reader why your product or service is the best for solving the client’s problems.
By simply reading the executive summary, the client should be able to determine what they stand to gain from working with you.
It is almost akin to a value proposition.
In most cases, executives skim over business documents before deciding whether they are worthy of their time.
A well written executive summary convinces the reader to go through the rest of your proposal.
This section should include a detailed description of the challenges the client is experiencing.
Here, you want to show that you thoroughly understand what problem they need solved.
Remember, without a good understanding of the client’s problem, you cannot come up with an effective solution.
This is the most important part of your sales proposal. This is where you discuss in detail how you are going to solve the client’s problem.
This is where you also get to show the client why your solution is best suited to the client compared to what your competitors are proposing.
When discussing the solution, this is where you talk about what methods you’ll use to solve the problem, the timelines for the project, the deliverables the client should expect, and so on.
You should also define the scope of the solution at this point.
Defining the scope helps prevent the project from extending to things you had not initially agreed on.
For instance, if you are revamping a client’s website, this might include shifting to a better host, redoing the site design, and redoing the graphics, but it might not include something like copywriting for the site.
This should be made clear in the proposed solution section.
The client wants to know that you are actually capable of doing what you are proposing.
This section should show the client why they should trust that you will deliver.
A good way of communicating your qualifications is to mention your industry accreditations, any industry awards you have won, and so on.
You can also include the case studies of the clients you have successfully worked with previously.
This section gives the client information about how much it will cost them for the solution you are proposing.
Here, you can use an hourly or fixed pricing structure, or you can create a responsive pricing table that adjusts the price automatically, depending on the products or services the client is interested in.
Having had a prior discussion of the client’s budget really comes in handy when coming up with pricing information.
You might be surprised that this section is coming so late in the proposal, instead of being among the first sections.
However, here’s the thing.
The number one concern for the client is not who you are, but rather what you can do for them, and how much it will cost them.
If you’ve gotten this right, the client might now be interested in knowing who you are.
This is why this section should come after you have convinced the client that you can actually help them with the challenges they are facing.
In the about us section, you should provide your company’s contact information, a short overview of the company, and an overview of the key personnel who will be involved in the project.
Terms and Conditions
This section contains the fine print about the project timelines, payment schedules, and so on.
It’s basically a summary of what you and the client are agreeing to in the event that you decide to go ahead with the project.
It’s always advisable to have your company’s legal team look through the terms and conditions to make sure every is in order before delivering the proposal.
Instead of having to send over other documents once the client is pleased with the terms of your proposal, it is more advisable to include a signature box at the end of the proposal so that the client can sign on right away.
This allows them to make the decision while they still have the excitement of reading the proposal.
TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE YOUR PROPOSALS MORE APPEALING
Below are some best practices and tips that can help make your sales proposal more appealing and increase your chances of sealing the deal:
- Don’t make it too long: While there is no specified ideal length of a sales proposal, it is always advisable to keep it short, about two to three pages at most. Most people have short attention spans, and the longer you make it, the higher the chances that it will not be read. The focus should therefore be on quality rather than quantity. However, sometimes a client’s RFP process might require a longer proposal, in which case you should adhere to the guidelines of the RFP process.
- List the deliverables separate from your pricing: While outlining the deliverables for the project, you might be tempted to list a price next to each deliverable. The problem with this approach is that it switches the focus of the client from the importance of the deliverable in relation to the completion of the entire project, to how much the deliverable contributes to the final price. This might make the client think twice about a certain deliverable, even when the deliverable is crucial for the successful completion of the overall project.
- Avoid using technical language: When discussing your solution to the client’s problem, try to keep your language as simple as possible. Remember, whoever gets to read the proposal might not have the same technical background as you. You want to make it easy for them to understand the proposal.
- Pay attention to the financial words you use: When discussing the financial implications of the project, pay attention to the kind of words you use. For instance, referring to what you charge the client as “investment” implies that this money will pay off, while referring to the charges as “fees” could give the implication that this money is a cost they will never recoup. Such small differences in wording can have a huge impact on your client’s perception of the project.
- Include data and visuals: To make your proposal even more convincing, include compelling, quantitative data about the project, and use visual tools such as graphs and charts to make the information easy to consume and understand.
- Show, don’t tell: Don’t just tell the client that you are the best company that they can work with, or that you can help them achieve results. Instead, show them the results you have helped your previous clients achieve. You can do this through cases studies, testimonials, and so on.
- Make your proposal accessible: Think about the format in which your potential client would like to have the proposal delivered. Some prefer simple word documents, others prefer PDF format, some prefer printed hard copies, while others might prefer video. Take the client’s preferences into consideration when delivering the proposal. If you are delivering the proposal in digital format, make sure that it is viewable on difference devices.
If you are submitting the proposal in response to a RFP, there’s a chance that the client has specified the process through which they would like the proposals submitted, ranging from mailing of hard copies to sharing upload links.
Clients use such instructions to make it easier for them to handle a huge volume of submissions and to weed out companies that do not follow instructions.
Make sure to carefully read the client’s directions on how to submit and follow them strictly.
- Be authentic: In a bid to impress the client, some sales people may give an unrealistic view of their services or lie about some things. For instance, they might promise to complete a project in a much shorter time than is actually possible. Resist the temptation to do this. Instead, be sincere and truthful and only promise the client what you believe you can realistically deliver. It is far much better to lose a sale because you were truthful, than to win the sale and then fail to deliver as per the client’s expectations.
- Make your proposal aesthetically pleasing: Graphics have an influence on the first impression your proposal makes, and can also make it easier (or harder) for the client to understand your proposal. If your company has a graphic designer, consult with them to help you create a visually appealing document. Some things to keep in mind here include using clear, legible fonts, using whitespace liberally, making sure that all charts and visual information is clear, and using typographic hierarchy to make the document easier to read.
Once you are done writing your proposal, go through it once again to make sure that there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes, that all the requirements of the RFP have been addressed, that what you have promised the client can be delivered realistically, and so on.
If everything looks good at this point, you can go ahead and deliver the proposal to the client.
While most sales people tend to treat the sales proposal like a barrier they have to overcome on their way to making a sale, you can actually improve your sales by taking the time to craft high quality sales proposals.
If you follow the tips and guidelines shared in this article, you will find it a lot easier to write sales proposals, your proposals will become a lot more appealing, and you will start closing more sales.
Give it a try and let us know how it goes.