Great sales proposals present a future in which your prospective customers have overcome their hurdles and solved their problem, where your product or solution is what makes that future a reality.
However, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of making your sales proposal too long, too vague, or too generic. Even if you have a perfect solution for your prospect, these mistakes will lose you that sale.
In fact, according to the RAIN Group’s research, only 47% of proposals result in a sale. Despite that, proposal development is low on the list of sales enablement priorities for companies. Sales proposals still aren’t being used to their full potential.
Want to do better than that? Follow this guide to learn the steps to writing perfect sales proposals, along with tips, examples and templates you can use.
What is a sales proposal?
A sales proposal is a document a person or a business uses to pitch their services or products to potential clients and customers.
Sales proposals can be used by sales teams, consultants, agencies and anyone looking to show how they can serve their target market with their offerings.
An excellent sales proposal will help you achieve the following outcomes:
- It shows that you fully understand the needs of your prospect. It proves that you’ve deeply understood their needs based on your previous conversations or their request for proposal (RFP).
- It convinces your prospect you’re the best solution available to them. A great proposal will link the challenges your prospect faces with the benefits of your offer. As a result, your prospect can see a future version of themselves that successfully solved their pain points thanks to your product or service.
- It inspires them to take action. It gives your prospect the confidence that they have all the information they need to make their decision. This includes clarity around budget, deliverables and the steps they must take to kick off the process.
Ultimately, a winning sales proposal clearly conveys the value of working with you. It’s authentic, clear and tailored to your prospect’s needs and expectations.
6 ways to make sure you submit a professional proposal
Your business is unique, and so is the way you match your offers to your audience’s needs. Your sales proposals should reflect this.
However, there are some tips and strategies behind successful sales proposals that can be applied to all industries and sales cycles. Implement these tips to make your proposals professional and irresistible.
1. Analyze your prospects
Without deeply understanding what your prospect needs, your sales proposal will be a guessing game.
The key action here is research. Try to uncover:
- Their objectives. What are the tangible problems and challenges they want to solve?
- Their budget. Is there any room for negotiation or is it a fixed amount?
- Stakeholders and decision-makers. Who do you have to tailor your wording to?
- Their urgency. Is this a burning issue or something they’re taking slowly?
As you gather these answers, take note of the exact words and phrases your potential customers are already using to describe their situation. Use these in your proposal to make them feel truly heard.
2. Do the same analysis on your most successful customers
You’ll gain the best insights by combining the above research with the data about your existing customers or clients. Even better—use data about your best customers.
Your best, most successful customers are typically those that have:
- Been with you the longest
- Spent the most money with you
- Made the most repeat purchases
- Referred the most business to you
They usually have a mix of these traits or even all of them. Once you’ve identified them, analyze their experience as your customer—their communication with you in that process—as well as your conversations with them when they were still a prospect.
Recall their process as they evaluated, and ultimately picked, your solution as the best one. Look through customer service logs, sales calls notes in your CRM and any other indicators of their objectives, budget, urgency and main pain points.
3. Include your unique selling proposition (USP)
A unique selling proposition (USP for short) is the one thing that separates your business from the competition. It’s a statement that differentiates the products you sell from all the other options on the market.
It’s not just a tagline on your website; it’s the backbone of all the communications you do, including branding, marketing, PR, customer service and, of course, sales conversations.
Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say you’re a real estate agent and you’re preparing a property proposal. By adding your unique selling proposition, you can stand out in a sea of other proposals.
Why is that? It’s because a USP shows some or all of the following:
- Your unique advantage compared to other agents
- A process or experience unique to you
- Credibility based on extraordinary results you’ve achieved
This means that instead of a vague statement that anyone could copy, you could have a USP such as:
- We help more first-time home buyers than any other real estate agency in [city/country]. More than X% of our clients are first-time buyers.
- We use our bespoke X-step system to sell your house in [time period] at full market value.
Use a strong USP to infuse your future client or customer with confidence.
4. Use copywriting best practices
Websites, social media ads, billboards and any other form of marketing you can think of all rely on great copywriting. Without it, the marketing message could be unclear.
The same goes for your sales proposal. Use these copywriting principles to strengthen your proposal:
- Use headings, bullet points and short paragraphs
- Use storytelling principles in your sales pitch, making each part lead naturally into the next
- Only make it as long as it needs to be (avoid unnecessary words and filler text)
- Use active voice to make your copy more engaging and immediate (e.g. ‘see the results’ instead of ‘the results can be seen here’)
- Use high-quality graphics if they can add to your key messages
5. Build a sales proposal template
Instead of working from scratch every time you’re pitching a potential customer, build a sales proposal template you can customize to each new prospect.
This way, you’ll save time in the pitching process while also making sure you’re not forgetting any of the key elements of your proposal.
6. Make it easy to accept and move the deal forward
How does your prospect move forward and buy from you or hire you? Have you made it difficult for them to do so?
Remove as much friction from this crucial step as possible. This friction is one of the main reasons your clients aren’t signing your sales proposals. For example, if they need to select one option and sign it, there are two very different ways they could do it:
- They email or call you to pick an option, receive a contract from you, print it, sign it, scan it, and wait for your confirmation
- They click on their preferred option and e-sign your contract within minutes
We recommend the second option as it’s a lightweight, simple way to win a prospect over.
Smart Docs helps you make the proposal signing phase completely frictionless. Here are some of the key benefits:
- You can set up sales document templates to include any Pipedrive fields, including custom fields, enabling you to send quotes faster with less effort and reducing the need for manual work, edits and the chance of errors being made
- Create quote tables within documents that will automatically pull in information related to the deal
- Store quotes, proposals and contracts in Google Drive so they’re easy to find later
- Track them against deals in Pipedrive or your chosen storage drive to evaluate their effectiveness and make improvements
- Share new links with recipients when you update documents so you’re always on the same page
- Get notified about document views so you know when prospects are keen and can strike when the deal is hot
What is a Request for Proposal (RFP)?
A request for proposal is a written document a company will create when looking to outsource a certain job—when they’re looking for a service provider to work with.
RFPs are most common on complex and ongoing projects. A solid RFP will outline the details of the project such as:
- Scope and goals
- Timeline for proposal submission and review
- Proposal evaluation criteria
- Timeline for deliverables
On top of project specifics, a detailed RFP will also briefly cover the company’s background, such as target market and main offerings.
For you as a salesperson, a request for proposal is a map. It helps you boil everything there is to know about your product or service down to the essentials. On the surface, it may seem limiting because you’ll want to share everything great about your product.
It’s the exact opposite: the RFP will help you gain clarity instead and allow you to add the most relevant information to your proposal, such as:
- The key features of your offering
- Your approach and methodology
- Key people and their background and expertise
- The relevant success stories of your past customers and clients
Your prospect will use a request for proposal to compare vendors—every company competing to win their business—objectively. Of course, the way you respond to an RFP will have a huge bearing on your chances of winning the deal.
So, how do you start writing a great sales proposal?
How to write your sales proposal in 5 steps
Ready to write the perfect sales proposal? Follow these five steps to make it happen.
Step 1: Understand what your prospect is looking for
What is your prospect looking to achieve? Which problem are you solving?
Before you write a single letter of your sales proposal, you need the answers to these questions. You’ll get them in one of two ways:
- From the request for proposal
- From your conversations with the prospect during your lead qualification conversations
In this step, it’s your job to list all the pain points your prospect is experiencing. Have they already tried solving them some other way? Add that to your list, too.
Some other questions you should answer in this step are:
- Was there a sense of urgency in your prospect’s RFP or their conversations with you?
- Who is the decision maker? Is there more than one? What are their roles?
- What is the bigger impact of solving this problem for your prospect (for example, on their revenue)?
- Have they specified the format of the solution they’re looking for (e.g. software, consulting, outsourcing…)?
Step 2: Dive into deeper research
The first step was all about gathering information your prospect told you.
The second step is about gathering details they haven’t told you. In other words, you’re looking for clues that aren’t as explicit, but convey their issue further.
This includes details such as:
- Recent news about their company—especially funding rounds or significant hires
- Content they’re sharing on social media
- Conversations they’re having on social media
- Interviews they’ve given (both for new hires and in the press)
- Conferences and trade shows they attend
- Online groups (Facebook groups, Slack communities, LinkedIn groups, Twitter chats) they’re active in
While you probably won’t use these insights directly in your proposal, they can make your wording more specific and help you emphasize the most painful points for your prospect. They can also help you get a bearing on the reason the client is looking to move in a new direction with a solution in your field.
Step 3: List the building blocks of your sales proposal
Luckily, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. No matter how specific your prospect’s needs are, your proposal will include most or all of these building blocks:
- Title or front page
- About us (company background)
- Challenges and goals/outcomes
- Proposed solutions (one or a few products/services)
- Timeline with key dates
- Case studies
- Client testimonials
- Next steps (solution selection, space for signature and date)
Pick the blocks that match your offering and your research from the previous two steps.
Step 4: Outline and draft your sales proposal
Turn the list of your building blocks into the subheaders for your proposal’s main section. Next, draft the text for each of them, drawing from your research and the request for proposal or your conversation with the prospect.
The goal is to make your proposal only as long as it needs to be—for most scenarios, two to three pages are enough. However, in this step, include any information you see as important for making your case.
This will help you get the entire picture on how your offering could fit into your prospect’s life. You’ll clarify and clean up this information in the next step.
Step 5: Walk away, then edit and proofread
If at all possible, let your first sales proposal draft breathe for a couple of hours or a day. Walking away from it and returning to it with fresh eyes may help you notice things you’ve forgotten to include or a clearer way to make a point.
Use these editing guidelines you can use to revise your sales proposal:
- Order your pricing from high to low
- Replace or eliminate jargon or complex statements
- Shorten sentences when possible
- Make a note on areas where visuals could add value
- Use consistent tone of voice throughout (don’t go from super formal to casual and vice versa)
- Confirm that the order of sections makes sense and flows naturally
Finally, you’re left with a few last steps to ensure your sales proposal is professional, easy to read and error-free:
- Run it through a tool like Hemingway to make sure it’s not overloaded with passive voice and hard-to-read sentences
- Run it through a checker like Grammarly for grammar mistakes and typos
- Ask a colleague to read your sales proposal in case you’ve overlooked an error
After that, your sales proposal is ready! If you need assistance from a designer for graphics you want to include or other visual improvements to your proposal, this is the time to get it.
Sales proposal examples and template
There are two main types of sales proposal:
- Solicited sales proposal: If you’re sending a proposal after talking to your prospect or receiving a request for proposal, you need to create a solicited proposal.
- Unsolicited sales proposal: If your prospect isn’t expecting your proposal (perhaps they’re a prospect that you know is looking for a solution like yours, but hasn’t had direct contact with your company), then you’re sending an unsolicited proposal.
One of the most frequent challenges that arises from sending unsolicited proposals is that its recipient hasn’t budgeted for your offering or planned for it in any way. They haven’t asked for it, so keep that in mind when setting your expectations.
However, there’s a great benefit to well thought out and executed unsolicited proposals: you aren’t competing yet. Use our templates linked below to maximize your chances, whether your proposal is solicited or not.
Different industries also need different elements in their sales proposal, but no matter what type of sales proposal is the right for you, they all rely on the essential building blocks we outlined earlier.
In other words, they will all paint a picture of your prospect’s challenges, present one or more solutions, outline the pricing and timelines, and define the terms.
Check out our sales proposal template and simply add information specific to you and your prospect. If you’re looking for a more specific type of sales proposal template, such as real estate or consulting, we’ve included building blocks you can add.
What happens after sending your proposal?
After you send your sales proposal, all possible scenarios fall into one of these three categories:
- Your prospect accepts the proposal (they’re becoming your customer!)
- Your prospect rejects the proposal
- You aren’t hearing back from your prospect
If your scenario is the first one—congratulations! Honor what you’ve outlined in the proposal (timelines and key dates). Let your new customer know what’s your next step, as well as their next step.
But what if your proposal was rejected?
If your proposal is flat out rejected, analyze your prospect’s response. Ask them why. Is there no fit completely and no way to succeed from here? Do they not have the budget you thought they did?
Or are they looking for a different format of your solution or more time to decide?
Arrange a call or follow up over email to negotiate terms that will work for both you and your prospect.
It can be challenging to get feedback (and sometimes it’s not very constructive), so if you’ve had a definitive ‘no’ and you’re not hearing any reasoning behind the decision, review the process and proposal yourself to find out what you can learn for next time.
What if they’ve ghosted you?
You’ve sent what you thought was a slam dunk sales proposal. It’s a perfect fit, but you’re not hearing back.
There’s a chance your prospect went on vacation or got swept under a load of tasks and emails that are of higher priority than the problem you’re solving.
The key here is to persistently follow up. If you’re convinced they’re a great fit and you haven’t been told ‘no’, use our list of follow up email templates to keep the conversation moving and add extra value. You can follow up more frequently in the first few weeks and then check in once a quarter thereafter.
This strategy is particularly useful if you can track when your sales proposals are opened. With a tool like Smart Docs, you can see how your prospects engage with your sales documents and then follow up with perfect timing
If you don’t hear a “yes”, or anything at all, add this potential customer to your cold leads list—they may struggle to integrate or use the solution they chose and be back on the market in a matter of months.
Creating a winning sales proposal comes down to listening to your potential customers and using sales proposals as a tool to paint the picture of an outcome you can provide.
If your sales proposal can make your prospect feel what it’s like to own or use what you offer—and how that differs from your competitors—they will be more excited to get started. Even better—utilizing templates as a shortcut will make you super-efficient in this process.