Sales Proposals That Matter


Excited, happy girl giving thumbs up showing success, isolated on pink background.

Many sales leaders dismiss the value of good proposals and quotes. They look at those documents as a hurdle to securing the win, and they do everything they can to circumvent the process. Of course, with leaders who have this attitude, it’s no surprise that the sales teams follow suit and provide lackluster proposals. It is also not surprising to learn that these businesses wish their close rates were higher.


There is a lot to be gained by producing outstanding written proposals and quotes, especially for transactional businesses—companies that sell products or services that are not purchased through a formal RFP process. Customers ask for proposals for a reason: to share that information internally; to obtain the proper signoff from the business; or simply to compare apples-to-apples when weighing your product or service against other vendors (even if they have told you they are not looking at anyone else—but that’s a topic for another day).

So if we recognize that quotes and proposals play a valuable role in the sales cycle, and that it’s in our best interest to produce a perfect presentation to send to the customer, what can we actually do to make proposals that matter to the customer?

Producing Exceptional Proposals

First, it’s all about concise quality. The proposal needs to quickly instill confidence in you and your company, both to those who have had sales interactions with you, and to their superiors or colleagues who may never have heard your voice. Everything you do in the sales process to create the vision of your firm as the solution to your customers’ biggest challenges, you now have to do in writing. And just like a sales call that has a specific time limit, your proposal has to do that with the brevity and impact of an elegant tweet.

In addition to being concise and easy to understand, there are a few simple writing rules to keep in mind. First, it’s important to know your audience. Make sure you’re speaking their language. Text should be straightforward and written at an 8th-grade reading comprehension level. Don’t write more about yourself than your customer. Your job is to show the customer, in writing, why their business will improve by working with you. If you spend the entirety of the document talking about yourself, you will be forgotten as soon as they pick up the next proposal to review.

Make It Visual

Content is king, and without the right numbers in your quote and the right arguments in your writing, you will fail. Assuming you can get that worked out—and you produce something short enough even a CEO would read—then you have only passed the first hurdle. Next, you have to produce a proposal that looks appealing so someone will actually pick it up and take the time to read it. There are a few simple things you can do to achieve this.

Your design of the overall proposal needs to be something that’s easy to read. If you didn’t get at least a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, you’re not qualified to design… so don’t! What you can do is use a template that was produced by someone who knows what they’re doing. If that’s just not possible, make sure you keep it clean and simple. Stick to one font family, two at the most. Make sure your headers and footers are consistent, that page numbers are always in the same spot, and items don’t “jump” from page to page. Leave plenty of white space—in fact, don’t ever feel like you have to “fill up” the page. Your readers will thank you—by selecting your company as their vendor!

After you have the basics like content and design covered, try to focus on using imagery in your proposal. Avoid kitschy clip art which can hurt your reputation or make you look like a dinosaur. There are plenty of sites where you can find modern, low-cost images. Visuals are important because, like the old adage says, a picture is worth a thousand words. More scientifically speaking, visuals are processed 60,000x faster in the brain than text (source: Neo Mammalian Studios). To put that in perspective, if your sales cycle is typically one year, and you could improve by 60,000 times, your deal would close in less than nine minutes—wouldn’t we all love that? So take advantage of human evolution and psychology and employ images whenever possible to reinforce your point.

Audit to Win

Then you’re done, right? Wrong! You need to make sure that what you’ve done is going to impress the customer. This is where you need to take the time to review the proposal with a keen eye for detail. Having your proposal proofread by a professional is ideal, but if that’s not possible given time and budget, ask someone in your organization (or your facebook friends, even!) for their invaluable insight.

Proposals matter because customers expect a high level of performance from your organization. If you have presented well, spoken well, and set the expectation that the customer will receive exceptional service once they’re engaged, then providing them a sub-par proposal hurts or even kills your reputation. Conversely, if you execute flawlessly, you have everything to gain.

This article first appeared in Top Sales World this week.

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