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Turn your sales proposals from ‘MEH’ – to a big fat ‘YEAH!’

You’ve just wrapped up a meeting with a hot new prospect. And it went well. Really well. In fact, your gut is telling you it’s yours to lose. Now all that’s left to do is whip up a killer sales proposal – and the deal is done.

Easy, right?

Wrong.

I hear the same frustrations from salespeople over and over (after they’ve put time and effort into a proposal that simply hasn’t cut it):

Warm leads go mysteriously cold.
Highly engaged prospects go suddenly quiet.
Good opportunities are strangely lost.

I’m not suggesting that ‘meh’ sales proposals are always to blame. But unless you put your best foot forward at the proposal stage, it’s hard to ever know for sure.

I’ve been helping sales teams improve their proposal templates for many years now. And every time I find myself addressing the same problems:

  • Sloppy, unclear writing that makes decision makers lose faith
  • Too much technical jargon that confuses and alienates readers
  • Vague, generic waffle that lacks customer focus
  • Dense, cluttered layouts that bury key information
  • And the list goes on…

So here goes: my key ingredients for a sales proposal that will make your prospects say ‘YEAH!’.

Start with your audience

Boring, I know. You’ve heard it a million times before: get to know your audience first.

But, a true understanding of your audience really is your best chance of connecting, engaging – and ultimately, persuading.

So before you start writing, paint a clear picture of your reader in your mind. Start by asking yourself:

  • Who’s going to read my proposal?
  • What do they already know about this suject matter?
  • What are their key pain points and objectives?
  • What information is most important to them?
  • What criteria will they use to assess our ability to deliver?
  • In the end, what’s most likely to persuade them to choose us?

TOP TIP: Remember, your key contact will not be the only person who reads your proposal. He or she will forward it on to others in the business. So make sure your proposal speaks to other key decision makers and influencers too.

Ensure your prospect takes centre stage

We are capable of…
We have experienced professionals who…
We have extensive qualifications in…
We have won awards for…

Too many proposals are written back to front. They begin with content that’s full of WEs… and nowhere near enough YOUs. 

Instead, ensure your prospect’s challenges and objectives take centre stage from the get-go. By doing so, you’re implying that the rest of the proposal is attuned to their needs – rather than generic waffle.

TOP TIP: Place a ‘Your situation’ section early on to show that you get your prospect. And tailor this section completely. This will help capture attention quickly and prove that their needs are your primary focus.

Let others do the bragging

Listing your points of difference can be compelling. But it’s not necessarily convincing.

All winning proposals glow with social proof and credibility. Testimonials. Case studies. Client logos. Project photos.

Evidence proving the calibre of your work can be the reason a prospect chooses you over your competition.

TOP TIP: Consider only including endorsements that relate to your prospect’s industry. After all, an IT organisation probably won’t be impressed by the work you did for a beauty business.   

Show that your business is human

If you thought all sales proposals should be written in a formal, conservative tone, think again.

In fact, it’s surprisingly easy to differentiate your business from competitors by using personable, conversational language. And the reason is simple: it makes you more likeable and relatable.

One easy way to inject humanity into your writing is by using first-person language.

So instead of writing: Rockford Consulting Group is pleased to present this proposal to Bluebank Homes, go for the more personal: We are pleased to present you this proposal.

And wherever possible, opt for more positive, emotive terms such as:

  • ‘Investment’ instead of ‘cost’
  • ‘Happiness’ instead of ‘satisfaction’
  • ‘Empower’ instead of ‘support’

TOP TIP: Be casual, but not too casual. This means limiting contractions and sentence fragments, and staying away from slang. Strike a healthy balance between friendly and professional.

Ditch the clichés and jargon

Our next-generation solution…
In today’s competitive market…
By following industry best practice…

Our highly experienced, qualified and flexible team…
Intuitive, turn-key and agile…

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Your prospects have heard it all before. And they’re sick to death of it.

So try to avoid the same old words and phrases everyone is using – and replace them with simple, familiar words wherever possible.

TOP TIP: It can be tricky finding good alternatives for all those overused words and phrases. So why not try this Puffspeak Translator to get you going?

Leave no room for guesswork

Specific writing builds credibility. (It’s also more engaging.)

So don’t be vague about the benefits you’re offering. And make sure to state outright what value you will deliver – quantifying them where possible.

Then, tell them exactly how you’re going to do it. Explain your strategies. Outline your resources. Step them through your approach.

By backing your solution with specifics, you instantly give your prospect a reason to trust you. Start by answering some of the following key questions:

  • WHO: Who will do the work? Who will oversee the work? Who does the client call if there is a problem?
  • WHAT: What needs to be delivered? What is needed to do it? What can the client expect? What will everything cost?   
  • HOW: How will the work be carried out? How will quality assurance be achieved? How will risks be mitigated? How will outcomes be measured?
  • WHERE: Where will the work be done? Where will it be delivered?

Create quality templates

Too many businesses expect their salespeople to create miracles from dated or home-baked templates.

It’s a no-brainer: invest the time, effort (and dollars if necessary) into a visually engaging and professionally written template. It’ll make life easy for your sales team and inject consistency into your sales message.

Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  • Include a clear heading hierarchy so scanners can find key information quickly
  • Incorporate plenty of white space to make your proposal appear easy to read
  • Use infographics to communicate important (but drab) timelines, processes and data
  • Ensure it’s simple for your salespeople to tailor the proposal every time without screwing up the design and layout

Also, look for opportunities to streamline the experience to create a more engaging read. For example, try merging your Executive Summary and Table of Contents (whereby you list the page numbers for each section together with their key messages).

TOP TIP: Consider online proposal creators such as Proposify or Pandadoc (both of which integrate with common CRMs such as Hubspot). They’re powerful, efficient and much more flexible than Word.

Upskill your team

Even with a brilliant template at their disposal, your salespeople still need to know how to write. (As we’ve already established, the best proposals are those that are tailored to each prospect. Good writing skills are a must.)

But it’s a mistake to assume their high school English teachers taught them the first thing about effective business writing.

With an in-house business writing workshop, your team will learn how to write clearly and succinctly – for impact, influence and action.

And just as importantly, they’ll begin to write in a consistent style and tone that’s aligned with your brand identity.