How to write more effective sales proposals
Prospects today are overwhelmed by steep competition and the thought of evaluating countless similar offerings that claim to solve their business problems. As a result, salespeople have to write more proposals—and higher-quality proposals—than ever before to win deals.
Prospects are very likely to listen to a sales presentation, nod their heads, and say those dreaded words, “Sounds good! Why don’t you put that in writing for me?”
Although every proposal is different, standardizing the proposal writing approach you take can help you create more effective selling documents. Sales proposals should be more than a jumble of information, data, tables, and boilerplate text. They must focus on solving your prospect’s business issues, the key strengths you bring to the business relationship, and your organization’s value-added benefits.
This blog explores best practices for writing sales proposals that win more—and aren’t a pain to read. But first, let’s consider why companies create sales proposals in the first place.
Why do prospects ask for sales proposals?
One reason prospects ask for sales proposals is they want to compare offers from various vendors to make sure they purchase the best-fitting solution. At a simpler level, prospects may just want to compare prices, clarify complex information, or gather details for their “decision team” to review. And let’s face it, sometimes prospects just want to slow down the sales process while they focus on other priorities, and they figure asking for a proposal will keep their sales rep out of their hair for a couple of weeks.
Whatever the prospect’s motivation, in many cases, sales proposals have become a requirement. Organizations selling everything from landscape services to complex information technology offerings have to create client-centered, persuasive proposals to win deals.
What’s the goal of a sales proposal?
Really, it’s pretty straightforward. When writing a sales proposal, your objective is to provide your prospective customer with enough information—persuasively presented—to prove your case and motivate the prospect to buy your product or services.
So why do so many sales proposals lead with the vendor’s company history? Is there truly something so fundamentally compelling about the company’s origins that it will immediately persuade the prospect to buy? That highly unlikely.
And why do a huge number of proposals focus entirely on the vendor’s products and services and forget to even mention how those products and services will help the prospect solve their business problems? Facts alone just aren’t enough to motivate a prospect to say “yes.” You have to do more.
What goes into a winning sales proposal?
Winning sales proposals must be client-centered, not company- or product-centered. Most people buy because they’re looking for solutions to pressing problems, additional resources to close gaps, or a better way to cope with complex business issues.
A proposal is far more than a price quote, a bill of materials, or a project plan. Those may be components of a complete proposal, but they are not enough to make a persuasive, client-centered business case. In our experience, sales proposals have a higher chance of winning when they:
- Prove you understand your prospect’s business problem or need.
Most people get anxious just thinking about a major buying decision. The bigger the decision, the greater the anxiety. They know that even a well-intentioned vendor may end up wasting their time, money, or both. One way to reduce a prospect’s anxiety is by demonstrating that you understand their core business problems, needs, opportunities, and objectives.
- Recommend a specific solution to the prospect’s business problem.
Surprisingly, most sales proposals do not recommend a specific product or service. Instead, they only include product and service descriptions. A recommendation explicitly links a product or service to a prospect’s needs and explains the anticipated business value. Include phrasing that makes it clear you’re making a recommendation, like “We recommend [X] to help you accomplish [Y].”
- Include a compelling reason to choose your offering over competitors’ (value proposition).
Remember, you could write a sales proposal that matches your prospective customer’s requirements, recommends a helpful solution, and offers an affordable price, but still lose. Why? Most likely because a competitor made a stronger case or promised a higher return on investment (ROI), a lower total cost of ownership, or faster payback.Tip to get ahead: Most proposals don’t include a value proposition at all. Of course, you want your value proposition to be compelling, but even the simple act of including one in your sales proposal will put you ahead of most of the competition.
- Demonstrate you can deliver on time and within budget.
In a sales proposal, you want to show evidence that answers the question, “Can they really do this?” Include examples of reliable evidence, like case studies, references, and testimonials. In some cases, you may also want to include project plans, management plans, company expertise, and other support, like white papers, awards, and third-party recognition. Avoid overwhelming your prospective customer and be sure your evidence ties to what the prospect cares about.
Why do I need to personalize my sales proposal?
Customers today just expect more from vendors. But why? In part, they’ve been trained to expect more because of the business community’s emphasis on excellence in customer service, the growing focus on “total quality,” and increased market competition.
Boilerplate sales proposals don’t close deals in this climate. In fact, boilerplate messages may be worse than no messages at all because they sound “canned” and can undercut the relationships you’ve built with your prospects. Little tweaks, like including the prospect’s company name throughout your proposal, go a long way to increase engagement and drive conversions.
Beyond that, you have to show you listened to the prospect and tailored a recommendation to suit their needs. Whenever possible, write your sales proposal in the customer’s language and reference their business concerns. These extra touches help convey you wrote the entire sales proposal exclusively for them.
Unfortunately, most salespeople resort to “cloning” proposals from old deals to get the job done fast. Often, they borrow a proposal somebody wrote for a different prospect, use Find/Replace in Microsoft Word to update the client’s name, and then send it. It’s no wonder why these generic sales proposals don’t win deals, but salespeople all over the world keep sending them.
How does the Primacy Principle relate to sales proposals?
The primacy principle is the tendency to judge all future experiences in comparison to your first one. You could also call it the principle of first impressions. For example, if you try a new dry cleaner and they’re rude and lose one of your items, you’ll probably never go back. Even if the dry cleaner is usually efficient and polite and just had an off day, you’ll never know because you’ll never give them a second chance.
Research shows that the primacy principle is so strong that it takes at least seven positive experiences to overcome a negative first impression. Or, the other way around, it takes seven negative experiences to overcome a positive first impression.
Applying the primacy principle to sales proposals means you should lead with the most compelling content. Put the customer’s most important business issues first and list their goals or desired outcomes in order of what they care about most. Usually, this means you’ll want to structure your sales proposal with sections in this order:
- Meeting the prospect’s core needs
- Delivering superior value and ROI
- Complying with all specifications
- Proving vendor competence and success
Never preface your sales proposal with a boilerplate cover letter. Avoid using generic and boring proposal titles like “Sales proposal for x company.” And don’t open your proposal with an executive summary that’s all about you. Keeping this in mind will set you on the right track to building effective sales proposals that close more deals.
The Qvidian team knows sales proposals
For more than 25 years, Qvidian has been helping sales teams create high-quality, proactive sales proposals. Our Customer Success Managers, Education Services team, and Professional Services team have seen it all collaborating with complex enterprises and companies in highly regulated industries, like healthcare and financial services.
With Qvidian, every time you create a proactive sales proposal, it feels like you have an entire team of experts ready and waiting to help you close the deal (tell me more). The Qvidian team is skilled in helping customers get started quickly with a strategy that supports sustained, long-term success. Contact Qvidian for more details and to see how we can help you craft compelling sales proposals that win more.