How to write a sales proposal that leads to closed won? Like any sales process, the answer lies in replacing manual work with streamlined automation. It also requires understanding how all the stages of creating a sales proposal work together. The actual writing is just one section of a larger process.
DealHub’s advanced sales proposal technology empowers organizations to optimize every stage of this process for revenue generation.
This article shares the things you need to know to create a sales proposal that will give you an edge over the competition:
- What is a sales proposal?
- What Are the Parts of a Sales Proposal?
- How Do You Write a Sales Proposal?
- Questions to Ask When you Write a Sales Proposal
- How Do You Write a Sales Proposal that Improves the Revenue Impact of Your Pipeline?
- What Are the Best Examples of a Sales Proposal Template?
- How do you write a sales proposal email?
What is a Sales Proposal?
A “sales proposal” is a document for… well, proposing sales. But what does this entail? Global industries and e-commerce are increasingly creating a buyer’s market; a good sales proposal must stand out from competition to secure a deal.
An effective sales proposal will be detailed, customized, and galvanizing. Providing details distinguishes your company’s offer from the competition, emphasizing how your offer best meets the potential customer’s needs. A customized proposal, data show, is now an expected part of the buyer’s journey; customization demonstrates that your company cares for and understands their needs. And a galvanizing offer will inspire buyers to purchase with more urgency.
In short, your sales proposal is your chance to prove to your potential customer that they should give you their business.
What are the Parts of a Sales Proposal?
There are many parts of a sales proposal, some which are necessary and others optional. Here’s a summary of the required and recommended elements.
There are no “proposal police” on patrol, but some pieces of the proposal packet are essential for success.
- Obviously, an excellent proposal is the most important element for closing sales.
- Cover Letter
- The cover letter is an essential element of all business documents.
- Title Page
- While a simple title page will suffice, you can use this page as an opportunity to stand out from the competition.
- Executive Summary
- This is a place to emphasize the core take-aways of your proposal (busy executives and decision-makers will thank you).
- About Us
- This element may be identical for all your proposals, your chance to distinguish yourself among other companies.
- Closing Page
- All proposal packets should conclude with next steps-type information, like whom to contact for questions and so forth.
In addition to the core parts of a sales proposal, some optional elements add value to the potential customer’s experience.
- Request for Proposal
- If the prospect sent you one, include it in your proposal, which should address the specific terms the potential customers included in the RFP.
- Terms and Conditions
- These can be deal breakers and are therefore worth including (if short) or linking (if long).
- Your Services
- This is a more business-centered version of your “About Us,” and it is where you can emphasize how your services fit the client’s needs best.
- Case Studies and Client Testimonials
- Social proof is a powerful purchase motivator; no matter how good an offer you provide, buyers will still seek the opinion of others. Examples of past clients achieving their business goals by using your services may help close more deals.
How Do You Write a Sales Proposal?
You know what needs to be in one, but how do you actually write a sales proposal? Follow these steps.
Too many people insist they don’t require an outline before writing. But an outline keeps you organized and your point focused, eliminating the extraneous and including the vital. It also allows for “faster failure”; editing an outline is much easier before it becomes a written proposal.
Tailor Content to Your Audience
A cookie-cutter proposal will not deliver in a 2021 market. Nor will a polished document that doesn’t speak to your prospect’s specific needs. Do careful research, not just into your prospect—their business, their pain points, their concerns, etc.—but also into the market in which they play—their competitors, market trends, and so forth. Remember: a customized experience is expected nowadays. You must show how much you care for the client and their problems; do this through careful research and cut to the heart of it in your executive summary.
Draft the Proposal: Solution, Deliverables, and Pricing
Demonstrate how well you understand the client’s needs by offering a solution tailor-made for them. Remember that you aren’t a magician waiting for the “ta-da”! Make the deliverables explicit, but save the details for later in the negotiation process. And while pricing discussions should have begun prior to proposal submission, including pricing information in the proposal centralizes information for the prospect.
Select Social Proof
Carefully select the most compelling social proof for each prospect. (This may be a challenge initially, as you build up your file of testimonials and case studies.) Consider factors like industry, market problems, and type of deal when selecting testimonials. For example, sharing the case of a software enterprise company with a small insurance business may be ineffective.
Include as much detail as the case study client permits, and emphasize how your solution solved their pain points.
Meet In Person and Follow Up
This is obviously difficult advice to follow in 2020 and 2021, so think of this step as not just in-person conversations but as “face time.” People, especially business decision-makers, are often very distracted when reading proposals. Face-to-face meetings (even digital ones) increase the “personal touch” and decrease distraction. And don’t forget to follow up! The prospect may be one of your top priorities, but odds are that you are not one of theirs. You can begin this process in the proposal document itself by ending on a clear call-to-action that invites follow-up.
This advice may be stated in other ways, but it remains the same: client-centered, compelling proposals close more deals.
Questions to Ask when You Write a Sales Proposal
You now know the parts of the proposal and how to write one. This section offers best practices for what needs to be in a good sales proposal.
Answer the Right Questions
Canada’s Bank of Entrepreneurs says there are seven questions every proposal should answer, which they state are:
- What is the client’s problem?
- Why is it a problem?
- What outcome is the client looking to achieve?
- Which outcome is the most important?
- What are the potential solutions?
- What are the probable results?
- Why are we the right choice?
Pro tip: this list provides a good starting point for your proposal’s outline and for your research.
Never talk in terms of price ranges; sellers tend to assume the high range and buyers the low, which can lead to conflict. A three-tiered pricing summary is a common strategy. This way, the prospect may compare for themselves the value you offer for the cost. American Express seconds this, also recommending replacing the word “cost” with “investment,” emphasizing the value of your services.
Take Advantage of the Digital
The turn towards digital-only business communication is not just an environmental benefit. Digital proposals combat prospect drop-off by speeding up feedback loops and allow external links to media like short videos, online case studies, and so forth.
Mind Your Style
It’s not just about what the proposal contains (though that is the most important); how it looks matters too.
Presentation and Visuals
Sometimes a Request for Proposal (RFP) will also request certain formatting, but not always. At the very least, your proposal should use consistent formatting (e.g., fonts, headings, etc.), but visual communication can be very persuasive. Visuals are important to break up the text, as well as communicate with buyers faster and more effectively. Whether for a stylized layout or for images, you may choose to invest in design services, but remember to include specifics for the designer to follow. You’re the expert on your prospect, not the designer.
Keep your language simple and clear. In general a proposal should be between 8-20 pages, taking account of the needs of the particular deal. It’s harder to write concisely, so make sure to give yourself and your staff plenty of time to prepare excellent content.
Fair or not, humans naturally judge, and high-stakes mistakes could cost you a sale. Perfect content is spoiled by typographical and other errors. Even if untrue, typos suggest carelessness, which diminishes trust, slimming chances for a sale. Share your proposal with colleagues or even a paid proofreading service to ensure an error-free document.
How do you Write a Sales Proposal that Improves the Revenue Impact of your Pipeline?
Sales proposals are created to get to closed won more often. Increasing their revenue impact on your pipeline requires building processes around them to input accurate, personalized information for each buyer. Sending generic or inaccurate proposals, or spending a lot of time getting them right with personalized messaging, will cost you revenue.
Sell smarter, not harder
Automating sales processes eliminates wasted administrative time and ensures proposal accuracy. By streamlining administrative workflows and eliminating manual entry tasks, all levels of your organization can spend more time on revenue generating activities. For reps, that means more time spent selling, instead of creating documents or filling out paperwork.
Personalize the buyer journey
Account-based marketing programs focus on creating personalized experiences for buyers. Following up with a generic sales proposal ruins that experience just when you have the opportunity to leverage your brand and distinguish yourself from the competition. Delivering relevant, personalized content at every stage of the buyer journey gives you the benefits of your brand image at a critical moment.
Increase your responsiveness to buyers
Speed is a critical factor in your sales proposals’ impact on revenue. Fluid, on-demand communication with buyers maintains momentum. You should strive to respond to buyers’ requests within minutes. One of the best ways to achieve this is our DealRoom, which puts everything relevant to the deal in a single place, where it is easily accessible, visible, and interactive for both the buyer and your organization. Delivering continuity in the sales process increases your responsiveness, so can answer buyers’ questions quickly.
Every deal is an opportunity to learn. Collecting data from your sales cycle empowers leadership to discover friction points in the sales cycle, and make adjustments. For reps, getting an empirical basis for how they approach accounts leads to better communication and higher closed won rates. By centralizing the quote to close process on a single microsite, DealRoom provides insights that empower organizations to learn how to increase revenue from the collective data-set.
What are the Best Examples of a Sales Proposal Template?
Examples are often the best instructors. Here, we assess four sales proposal templates—and as a bonus, two sales process templates. A template can be a helpful tool as your staff finds a format that works for your team.
Remember that a template should be a guide only. Using boilerplate language, images, social proof, etc. may cost you sales, as customers are seeking that personalized experience from sellers.
The Bank of Entrepreneurs (BDC)
BDC offers a downloadable template that includes cover letter, quotation, client testimonial, company and team bios, and proposal itself.
It is a very basic template, neither fancy nor memorable, but it has the templated elements for all the most important pieces of your proposal. It downloads as a Microsoft Word document, which allows for immediate editing, but which could be a drawback for organizations without a Microsoft 365 subscription. You should not send your proposal to clients in Word format (use PDFs instead).
Qwilr’s template is based online, making it expansively multimedia. You can embed spreadsheets with the details of your proposal, include videos, and more.
This template is much more memorable, but it is unclear how customizable the template is. Unlike BDC’s simple template, you must have a Qwilr subscription to use this template (though a free trial is available). And this template obviously prefers the visual over the written, making the economy of words even more imperative.
Proposify’s templates look very much like a true eBook, extremely professional-looking and navigable. The combination of online and highly stylized may result in a “heavy” document, slower to load on poor Internet connections.
Like Qwilr, Proposify requires a subscription to use their templates but also offers a free trial. The templates are 100% customizable, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the skill level of your staff (there is little point paying for a visually stunning proposal template if your team cannot take advantage of it).
Lucidpress offers hundreds of templates for sales proposals and more. The drag-and-drop interface makes this a more approachable design option for beginners, and you can include what sections you like. While they do offer a free option, it is limited to three documents each a max of three pages and with no access to premium templates. This would limit the amount of space available for text using free accounts.
How Do You Write a Sales Proposal Email?
Before you get to the sales proposal itself, you may need to cold email potential buyers. Cold sales prospect emails are a low ROI business activity if done by hand. Using a template reduces the initial investment significantly.
A common method is to follow a four-line structure for a sales proposal email: direct opening, clear offer addressing the pain point, a closing with a clear call-to-action, and your signature line. Software solutions allow you to personalize these templated emails without much additional work. They also offer copy-pasteable templates on their blog.
After you deliver a sales proposal, you must follow up. These types of emails are not only more comfortable to create (you’re writing to a known contact, after all) but they are also a higher ROI for your business. And they are extremely important to avoid a sale going cold. You should be patient but consistent, with alignment between sales and marketing departments, to avoid too many or too few contact points.
Investing in CRM and sales process automation with a platform like DealHub significantly improves the amount of revenue you generate. DealRoom’s sales proposal and contract management integrates e-signature, streamlines redlining, and automates contract approval workflows.
Write a Sales Proposal that Achieves More Revenue
Knowing how to write a sales proposal is just the beginning of achieving more revenue from your pipeline. The quote you put into it, and the way you negotiate it with buyers, is just as important.
DealHub is a quote to cash solution that empowers organizations to streamline and optimize that process. DealHub is advanced CPQ technology that uses guided selling playbooks to generate accurate quotes in an average of 8 minutes, a contract management solution that streamlines approval workflows and integrates with e-signature, and a unique microsite that tracks buyer engagement so you can deliver custom content.
It’s everything your organization needs to achieve maximum revenue impact.