Secrets to a Great Sales Proposal

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The following is republished from The SitePoint Tribune #417.

I’ve spoken before about conversation fizzers: egomaniacs who are their own favorite topic. We all know someone like that, right? But are we in danger of coming across that way in our sales proposals?

Pardon, I hear you cry! How could we sound like this? Well, for a start, do you spend the first few pages covering all the awards you have won, and the bright history of your team? How far into the document before you learn what the prospect wants? Are the prospect’s objectives even covered in your proposal?

I’ve read many sales proposals from web companies over the last decade or so, and it still amazes me when I come across this type of example: a mind-numbing twenty pages in length, with pages 1 to 16 about the web company, and page 17 the first sign of discovering what the prospect wanted.

How did I get my hands on this proposal? Well, our company won a job, and the client gave me this blundering document to show what not to do in business. We shared a laugh reading through the novel-length sales pitch together—where they also took the liberty of misspelling the client’s name on the covering page!

The secret of successful proposals is to focus on what the prospect wants to hear. They want solutions to their problems, benefits for their projects, and most of all, they want to be convinced that you understand what they need. Sixteen pages talking about yourself (especially at the beginning) is subconsciously stating that you believe you are far more important than their project!

You should mention who you are and what you do, but after their project details, and one or two pages should suffice. Or perhaps make it a separate document entirely.

Make sure you’ve included the basics: timeline, budget, and deliverables. Reiterate your understanding of the prospect’s requirements, and make sure your proposal clarifies how your solution will help them.

Spell-check, then spell-check again—misspelling a prospect’s name is just plain lazy. Use short sentences, avoid long paragraphs, and keep the entire proposal succinct; a technical specifications document can run to dozens of pages, but a sales proposal shouldn’t. Speaking of technical, don’t get all abbreviated on the client. The average prospect doesn’t know what half the abbreviations we use mean, and we shouldn’t expect them to, either.

Sell benefits, not products. You may have a great content management system, email gateway, or other product, but talk about the benefits of these, not the product features.

Include testimonials or links to similar projects if you can. This shows you have a proven track record, and understand their requirements.

If you lack any design skills, ask a colleague to give the document some sparkle, and then use this as a template. A polished document is clearly marked with headings, sub-headings, and block quotes (if required).

Conclude the proposal with a call to action. Don’t just end it with a price for the job. State what the terms are, and make it easy for the prospect to action the starting process. For example: "Send this page back, signed and dated, and we can commence immediately" is far better than a dollar figure on the last line.

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  • BillyK

    Hi Miles
    You make a lot of sense. Besides being a web designer, I train people world-wide in presentation techniques and sales processes.
    There are three deadly sins of sales presentations or proposals:

    Too Much Information

    The more complex you get, the more confused the client gets, and a confused buyer cannot buy. Leave out all the geek speak, or put it in an appendix for those who are interested.

    Not Presenting From the Customer’s Point of View
    The most important aspect is to focus on the customer. They are interested in your credentials, but only as far as it affects them.
    As wonderful and fascinating as the technology is to you the designer, the customer is only interested in either fixing a problem, accomplishing something, or avoiding a disaster. Tell them how you’re going to do this in general terms, not specific complex technologies.Tell them what living with your solution will MEAN to them.
    Not Telling Them What’s Different About You
    There are lots of web design agencies – what’s different about you that’s important to them?

    The call to action is a vital part of every proposal or presentation – you’re right on the money.

    I’m passionate about this, email me if you want any more info or tips

    BillyK

  • Paras

    This blog is really nice and informative. We are pleased to know this blog is really helping people.
    Indian Stock Market

  • http://www.wplancer.com banago

    I really loved this article. I even wrote sth in my blog about this. Thanks very much for this.

  • Muhammad Adnan

    Nice article ,

    the techniques that about u talk for making great proposals are good . but the countries like i live (pakistan). people first ask about the price . and then talk about their needs . even though the business man’s there who have a very good export .

    once i gave the proposal to the CEO and he rejected it by saying that he have a 3,000 Rs proposal .

    i said the price 14,00 Rs.

    Rs. is the pakistani currency.

  • Derreck

    I want to read about it in a book… Can you advice me some ?
    Продвижение сайтов

  • SBWS

    Are there any examples of a proposal that meet the qualifications spoken about here? I use a customized version of the proposal in the website design busuness kit sold here on sitepoint, it is a very informative proposal, but it can be 20+ pages.

    Thanks,
    David

    PageOne Website Design