What You Need to Know to Write Winning Sales Proposals (Part 2)

Previously, we looked at the large picture issues involved with writing effective sales proposals. Today, we’re bringing you the second part of this two-part series and digging deeper into the interior specifics for strong proposals.

Establish what needs the customer has and detail your solution(s) explicitly.
During the discovery phase, you uncovered your client’s needs that your product will resolve. But human memory is an imperfect thing, whether in the realm of eyewitness testimony or recalling conversations. Too, our legal system is designed around the written word. So in your proposal, be sure to spell out what problems you’re addressing. That way, both you and the client know what exact issues are covered.

Your solutions should likewise be detailed. Specify how long the agreement is for, the step by step process of execution, implementation, and available supports and warranties. Also include numbers – for example, if you’re a software company, how many user licenses are provided?

Show your expertise.
A key part of the proposal is demonstrating that you’re a leader or expert in the particular space you’re working in. This is especially important for complex or multi-faceted solutions that call for a high level of expertise. Be careful to stay attuned to the customer needs, however. Like we indicated in our last entry, this is not the place to trumpet your own horn. There’s a very fine line between illustrating your competitive advantages that help the buyer choose you and sounding like a braggy pants.

In general, simple language and formatting is best.
You know the ins and outs of your business. But the customer might not, and in fact probably doesn’t, or they wouldn’t be contracting an outside vendor. Eliminate the industry jargon and pare down your language so that it’s easy for anyone to understand. Consider the sixth-grade reading level that’s mass journalism’s standards as a baseline.

The same is true of your formatting. In a proposal, you want to make sure your document is designed for maximum readability. Generally speaking, that means shorter paragraphs, plenty of white space, and use of easily scannable supporting tables, bullet points, and other methods of differentiation. Next-level tip: Use italics only sparingly. While they’re distinct, they’re also harder for people to read and should be restricted to short phrases and legal disclaimers or fine print.

Include a table of contents with in-document hyperlinks.
Part of the readability factor is creating a table of contents with embedded hyperlinks to allow the customer to jump to relevant sections. This is crucial because these days, there’s a very good chance more than one person is going to be reading your proposal, and it’ll likely be read multiple times. Save your buyer the aggravation of having to scroll and hunt for the pertinent information (such as the price list) by using this design principle.

When possible, consider listing products and pricing together.
While this won’t apply to every proposal situation, when you can itemize the products together with their prices, do so. It’s going to be one of the most viewed segments of the document, and separating product from price is probably going to annoy the buyer, who wants the information presented succinctly.

Consider optional add-ons.
Through discovery, you should be able to present a customized solution that meets the customer’s needs. However, you might want to consider including additional optional items that anticipate projected future needs or add even more convenience to the transaction. This also lays the groundwork for future upselling and cross-selling opportunities, even if the buyer declines all of the options.

Proofread before you send the proposal.
Crazy as it sounds, we’ve seen proposals that included significant spelling and grammar mistakes. That’s a one-way ticket to the garbage bin. It might sound nitpicking but consider this: Your proposal is a reflection of your care and attention to detail – a foreshadowing of what working with you will be like. If you show sloppiness here, before you even deliver a single product, that doesn’t bode well in the buyer’s mind for your future relationship.

There’s a number of nuances and fine details needed in a successful sales proposal. Be sure to include everything that’s required, cover all your bases, and double-check your work before final submission. This careful attention to specificity and approaching the proposal from the customer’s perspective will help you draft your best possible sales proposals.