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14 tips, steps and templates to help you write the perfect sales proposal

What is a sales proposal?
6tips for submitting a professional sales proposal
What is a request for proposal (RFP)?
How to write your sales proposal in 5 steps
What happens after you send your proposal?
Final thoughts

Your formal proposals, whether they’re sales proposals, project proposals or business proposals, should present a future in which your product or service has solved your prospective customers’ problems. They need to inform and inspire your audience.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of making your sales proposal too long, too vague or too generic. These mistakes can overshadow even the most perfect solution. Understanding what it takes to write an effective proposal and using a sales proposal template can make drafting a winning pitch easier.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to writing winning sales proposals. We’ll also share tips and a sales proposal template for drafting a professional, convincing document every time.

What is a sales proposal?

A sales proposal is a document used to pitch your services or products to potential clients and customers. You might also hear them referred to as business proposals, project proposals or executive summaries.

Sales proposals can be used by sales teams, consultants, agencies and anyone looking to show how their offerings serve their target market.

A good sales proposal will help you achieve the following outcomes:

  • Demonstrate that you fully understand your prospect’s needs. It proves that you’ve deeply researched their needs based on your previous conversations or their request for proposal (RFP).

  • Convince your prospect you’re the best solution. A great proposal narrative links the challenges your prospect faces with the benefits of your offer. As a result, your prospect can imagine a future with their pain points solved thanks to your product or service.

  • Inspire your prospect 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 next steps (e.g. a specific call to action) to kick off the process.

Ultimately, a winning sales proposal conveys the value of working with you. It’s authentic, clear and tailored to your prospect’s needs and expectations.

6 tips for submitting a professional sales proposal

Your proposal should reflect your professionalism. You want prospective customers to know you’ve got the experience and the know-how to help them, so use these tips to produce a professional document.

1. Analyze your prospects

If you don’t deeply understand your potential customer’s needs, your sales proposal will be a guessing game. Conduct in-depth research to tailor your sales proposals to each client.

Do research into their:

  • Objectives. What are the problems and challenges they want to solve?

  • Budget. Is there any room for negotiation or is it a fixed amount?

  • Stakeholders and decision-makers. Who do you have to tailor your message to, and how should you deliver it?

  • 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 already use to describe their situation. Use these in your proposal to make them feel truly heard.

2. Analyze your top customers

Looking at your history with your best customers can give you insights into how to approach new clients.

Your top customers are those who have:

  • Been with you the longest

  • Spent the most money with you

  • Made the most repeat purchases

  • Referred the most business to you

Look into these clients’ journeys with your company to see what worked.

Review customer service logs, emails and sales call notes in your CRM for information on their objectives, budget, urgency and main pain points. What concerns did they have? What moved them to the next stage of your sales process?

You may also want to look at the proposals you wrote for these top clients. While you shouldn’t use the same proposal word for word, a template based on them can provide a good starting point.

3. Include your unique selling proposition

A unique selling proposition (USP) is what makes your business stand out. It’s a statement that differentiates the products you sell, and your brand, from the competition, speaking directly to the problems you solve.

It’s not just a tagline on your website. It’s the backbone of all your communications, including branding, marketing, PR, customer service and, of course, sales conversations.

For example, say you’re a real estate agent and you’re preparing a property proposal. You want to communicate:

  • Your advantage over other agents

  • A process or experience unique to you

  • Credibility based on results you’ve achieved

Instead of a vague statement of your qualifications, you’d write something that shows your strengths, such as:

  • I help more first-time home buyers than any other real estate agent in [city/country]. More than X% of our clients are first-time buyers.

  • I use my bespoke X-step system to sell your house in [time period] at full market value.

Use a strong USP to establish credibility and give your future customer confidence in your solution.

4. Use business writing best practices

Websites, social media ads, billboards and other forms of marketing all rely on clear, powerful writing. Writing needs to inform the reader and inspire them to action.

The same is true when it comes to writing proposals. To make your proposal easy to navigate, follow these five writing best practices:

  1. Use headings, bullet points and short paragraphs

  2. Use storytelling principles in your sales pitch so each part leads naturally to the next

  3. Only make it as long as it needs to be (avoid unnecessary words and filler text)

  4. Use active voice to make your copy more engaging and immediate (e.g. “see the results” instead of “the results can be seen here”)

  5. Use high-quality graphics if they can add value to your key messages

5. Use a sales proposal template

Instead of working from scratch every time you’re pitching a potential customer, build or download a template you can customize for each new prospect.

A template will help your sales team save time in the pitching process and ensure they remember the key elements of a proposal.

6. Make it easy to move the deal forward

Once a prospect knows what you’re offering, they need to know what steps to take next. Simplify the process and include as few steps as possible to avoid stalling the client at this crucial stage. For instance, if clients need to sign a contract, consider an automated selection that lets them e-sign instantly. Pipedrive’s Smart Docs has eSignatures built in to make this process simple.

What is a request for proposal (RFP)?

Often, when you write a business sales proposal, it’s a response to a request for proposal (RFP). An RFP is a written document a company creates when they’re looking for a service provider to work with. It’s a description of a problem or project and an invitation to submit a proposal for your particular solution.

A helpful RFP will outline the details of the problem or project, such as:

  • Background

  • Scope and goals

  • Timeline for proposal submission and review

  • Proposal evaluation criteria

  • Budget

  • Timeline for deliverables

On top of project specifics, a detailed RFP will also briefly cover the company’s background, including their main offerings and target market.

Think of a request for proposal as a map. It shows you how to approach the prospect and give them only the information they need.

On the surface, it may seem limiting because you’ll want to share everything about your product, but it’s important to only include the most necessary information.

Your bid proposal (the document you write in response) should address how your product or solution will meet all the needs outlined in the RFP. Include only relevant information to your proposal, such as:

  • The key features of your offering

  • Your approach and methodology

  • Key people and their background and expertise

  • Relevant success stories from past customers

Your prospect will use a request for proposal to compare vendors (i.e. every company competing to win their business) objectively. So, how do you start writing a great sales proposal?

How to write your sales proposal in 5 steps

Ready to write the perfect business sales proposal? Follow these five steps to make it happen.

Step 1: Understand what your prospect is looking for

What does your prospect want to achieve? What problem are you solving? Make sure you’re crystal clear on the need by studying the RFP and asking direct questions during your lead qualification conversations

Take into consideration all the pain points your prospect is experiencing and any steps they’ve already taken to try to solve them. Answer any other helpful questions. For instance:

  • 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 etc.)?

Step 2: Dive into deeper research

The first step was all about clarifying information from your prospective client.

The second step is about gathering details you find on your own. You’re looking to add more context to their story, which you can use to send more targeted messages.

Find details like:

  • 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

  • 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 writing more specific. They’ll help you understand more about why the client is looking for a new solution and let you emphasize things that matter to the prospect.

Step 3: Outline your sales proposal

No matter how specific your prospect’s needs are, your proposal will include most or all of these standard building blocks:

  • Title, front page and cover letter

  • Your company name

  • About us (company background)

  • Challenges and goals/outcomes

  • Proposed solutions

  • Pricing

  • Timeline with key dates

  • Case studies

  • Client testimonials

  • Terms

  • Next steps (solution selection, space for signature and date)

Start with an outline so you’ll know where to begin filling in relevant research and information about your solution.

Step 4: Draft your sales proposal

Turn the bullet points from your outline into the subheaders for your proposal. Draft the text for each subheader, drawing from your research and the RFP.

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, include any information you think will help you make your case.

Step 5: Edit and proofread

If 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 see a clearer way to make a point.

Use these editing guidelines to revise your sales proposal and tailor it to your prospective clients:

  • Order your pricing from high to low

  • Replace or eliminate jargon or complex statements

  • Shorten sentences when possible

  • Note where visuals could add value

  • Use a consistent tone of voice throughout (don’t go from formal to casual)

  • Confirm that the order of sections makes sense and flows naturally

Finally, ensure your sales proposal is professional, easy to read and error-free:

  • Run it through a tool like Hemingway Editor 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 proposal to help spot any errors or inconsistencies

Your goal is to make it easy for prospective clients to see how and why your solution is the best. Following these steps will help you produce a clean draft that communicates your solution clearly.

You want your proposal to be professional and present your company in a way that inspires confidence.

Sales proposal template

Each proposal should be unique to the prospective client and the solution you’re offering, but that doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch every time. A template with the key building blocks can give you a good foundation to work from.

Get a free download of Pipedrive’s sales proposal template, complete with example content.

Download Your Guide to Perfecting Your Sales Proposals

Everything you need in your sales proposals to win more business, how you can automate the process and a free template to get you started.

Depending on your market, you may need to include industry-specific information in your proposal. Our template includes sample add-ons that let you use it as a real estate or consulting proposal template.

What happens after you send your proposal?

After you send your sales proposal, one of these three things will happen:

  • Your prospect accepts the proposal and becomes a customer

  • Your prospect rejects the proposal

  • You don’t hear back at all from your prospect

Here’s what you need to do in each scenario.

Your proposal is accepted

If the client accepts, congratulations! Honor what you’ve outlined in the proposal (timelines and key dates). Let your new customer know what your next step is and tell them exactly what you need from them to move forward.

Your proposal is rejected

If your proposal is not accepted, analyze your prospect’s response. If it’s appropriate, ask them why they declined or consider these options:

  • Are they looking for something that would require a compromise?

  • Did your proposal exceed their actual budget?

  • Are they looking for a different format?

  • Do they need more time to decide?

If the reasons are something that can be negotiated, arrange a call or follow up over email to discuss terms that will work for both you and your prospect.

If you’ve had a definitive “no” and don’t receive a clear reason behind the decision, review your sales process and the final proposal or scope of work (SOW) you shared and look for places that could be improved.

Your prospective client has ghosted you

You’ve sent what you thought was a slam dunk sales proposal, but you’re not hearing back.

There’s a chance your prospect is out of office or dealing with new priorities that are currently more important than solving their lingering problem.

The key in this scenario 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. Follow up more frequently in the first few weeks and then check in at least once a quarter.

If you still don’t hear back, add this potential customer to your cold leads list. You want to be ready to offer your solution again if they should continue to have the same challenges or find they need your unique offerings after all.

Final thoughts

Creating a winning sales proposal comes down to listening to your potential customers. Once you’ve gathered enough information, use sales proposals as a tool to paint a picture of how and why your product is the best solution to their problem.

If your sales proposal ticks every box in this guide, you’ll improve your chances of winning your prospect over. Use our free sales proposal template to get started, streamline the process and close deals.

Download Your Guide to Perfecting Your Sales Proposals

Everything you need in your sales proposals to win more business, how you can automate the process and a free template to get you started.

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