4 Tips for Writing Effective Sales Proposals
In some ways, sales proposals are the overlooked middle child of the selling process. Sure, everyone knows their importance. But as a mid-funnel activity, sellers often place more emphasis on lead generation and closing. It’s understandable. Without an effective prospecting process, you won’t have leads to pursue nor deals to close.
This makes proposals a key component of your sales strategy. Considering the time devoted to prospecting and lead gen, proposals are the bridge to the close. With ineffective proposals, promising leads can quickly become lost opportunities. Here are four tips for writing effective sales proposals:
Prospects are busy people. Like you, they have their daily activities. Of course, they also have a problem that brought them to you. And they have a vested interest in making a deal. However, this is not a foregone conclusion. As much as they want solutions, they don’t have time to dilly dally. Complex proposals can be a big turnoff. Here are ways to keep yours simple:
- Add visuals
- Call to action
For proposals, pictures really are worth a thousand words. Think of memes. While they can be overdone, the right visual makes the best lines stand out. The same is true in sales proposals. Visual aids, like photos, icons, tables, graphs, and charts, can help highlight and simplify complex data points without the need for extensive copy.
A common challenge of proposals is organization. The greatest solutions can get lost in poorly constructed proposals. Prospects shouldn’t have to sift through extraneous information for the data they need. They will tune out before you they reach the end. Of course, planning helps. Start with an outline. Consider your headings. As overviews of sections, keep these between one and five words.
Under the heading, use bullet points. These should be succinct and concise. Avoid too many bullets. This negates the very reason to use them. Also, try to keep the number of bullets consistent or close to it. Generally, think between three and five bullets per section.
At the end of your proposal, include a call to action. This too should be brief and entice prospects to do something. This can be as simple as clicking a link for additional information. It can also be the next steps they should take. The goal of any call to action is keeping the prospect engaged and the process moving forward.
Proposals range in size. As every prospect is different and each deal unique, there is no set rule. However, the more concise a proposal is, the better. This does not mean sacrifice essential content. Here are some guides for the length of your proposal:
- Deal dictates length
- Rewrite, revise, and edit
- Make every word count
For each proposal, consider the components. This should include a summary of their problem (to confirm that you understood them), the solutions you’re proposing, pricing, as well as information about the solution provider. Be succinct. Prospects will not be impressed by the length of a proposal. More likely, they will skim or stop reading.
Of course, most salespeople are not writers or editors. They are not tuned to the intricacies of grammar and punction. However, these things count. Just because a sentence popped in your head does not mean it belongs in your proposal. Instead, it might be a great line, but you must rewrite, revise, and edit to make it effective. Read out loud. Learn to hear sentences that are too long. Listen for their natural ends. You won’t see these things when reading, but you will hear it.
Good writers never use 10 words when five will do. Also, never a use $25 word when a $5 word works better. Sellers may question their writing skills and overuse a thesaurus. This often backfires. However, used correctly, a thesaurus is a helpful tool. Find a variety of words. Then select the one that works best—not the longest, most foreign, or smartest sounding.
Words have specific meanings. They also convey feelings and judgements. Think “cheap.” Yes, it means less expensive, but it also means shoddy or not well made. This can be disastrous when discussing products. Inexpensive is better.
Of course, sellers streamline. They use email templates and phone scripts. Top sellers use these as guides and customize for the client. The same is true of proposals. You may have a proposal template to ensure uniformity. But each should be tailored to the prospect. Here are some considerations:
- Less about you
- Understand the prospect
- Focus on their problem
- Highlight your solution as related to their needs
In proposals, it can be tempting to start with your organization. Sellers can be a proud group. They like to stress accomplishments and achievements. In the right setting, this is important. However, in proposals, relegate it to the end. Expertise and experience are great but avoid the I/We trap. In proposals, this sounds promotional and self-centered. Proposals shouldn’t be about you. They’re about prospects, their problems, and your proposed solutions.
Think of your previous communication in prospecting and discovery. When possible, recall their specific words. Show you heard them.
Within each sales proposal is a problem. Without this, clients do not need solutions. Keep this is mind when crafting proposals. Never miss a chance to reiterate need. Remind them what they said and conveyed. This is why we stress active listening. Everything you learned throughout the sales process is useful in proposals. Focus on their problems and needs.
In addition to problems, solutions are the heart of sales proposals. Remember, though, prospects are not luxury shoppers, buying the latest and best. They don’t care about aesthetics, appreciating fine craftsmanship and the scent of exotic leather. They want solutions that work well, solve problems, and last longer.
In sales proposals, value can be a determining factor. If prospects see, understand, and appreciate your value, they are more likely to close with you. Of course, price is always contingent on value. Buyers want to know what they get for the money they spend. However, price alone is not the only consideration of value. There are intangibles. When discussing value in proposals, consider these tips:
- Demonstrate commitment
- Highlight service levels
- Explain the long-term, cost-benefit analysis
- Specify deliverables
- Prove competence, professionalism, and dedication
One key element of value is a seller’s commitment. This will not appear on a balance sheet. There is no quantifiable numerical value that factors into price. However, it is a value prospects sense, feel, and want. It starts with rapport. It moves through trust and into relationships. In proposals, as you discuss problems, products, and solutions, never forget people. Demonstrate your commitment to helping them.
In a perfect world, products would last forever. However, even the best products fail. Parts wear out. It’s the nature of manufacturing. Your prospects know this better than you do. In fact, it’s often a central subconscious concern. In proposals, highlight your warranties and service agreements. These address the prospect’s fears and provide security. They are also prominent factors in price. When products fail at 3:00 a.m., prospects want to know they’ll get someone to help. This value mitigates higher prices.
In proposals, explain the long-term, cost-benefit analysis of your solutions. In discussions of products and prices, prospects want numbers. Sellers want to present value before price. In this dichotomy, your operative term is cost effective. When you illustrate how a solution saves money, prospects understand the price. Once they understand, they’re more likely to accept
With all that go into sales proposals, it’s easy to overlook some things. However, never skimp the details, such as deliverables. Sellers can sometimes be so myopic on deals they neglect delivery. Or they figure this is something they’ll work out later. In fact, consistent, on-time, problem-free delivery is another main concern for prospects. It’s also another value point to emphasize in proposals.
Taken together, these things create the value sellers must establish before they discuss price. It’s how sellers prove their competence, professionalism, and dedication that make a number worth the price.
If a sale is a journey, it’s easy to focus on the beginning and end. Sellers know they must prospect to generate leads. And closing deals is a rush worth anticipating. Hence, the sales proposal’s middle status. Sure, sellers know its importance. But as a central funnel activity, sellers figure they’ll cross the proposal bridge when they get to it. When you do, remember proposals remind prospects they were right to trust you. And they’re a reason to continue that trust to see them to the close.
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