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14 Tips, Steps and Templates to Help You Write the Perfect Sales Proposal

Your sales proposal, project proposal, business proposals – whatever kind of formal proposal you draw up – should present a future in which your prospective customers have overcome their hurdles and solved their problem after adopting your product or service.

However, it’s 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? In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to writing perfect sales proposals. We’ll also share tips, proposal examples and sales proposal templates you can use.

Table of contents

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. 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 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 researched 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 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.

  • 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 (e.g. a specific call to action) 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 sales 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. You can look at top sales proposal examples and templates all day, but you’ll still need to conduct in-depth research to tailor your sales proposals to each client’s needs.

The key action here is research. Aim to uncover their:

  • Objectives. What are the tangible 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 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 customers typically 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 identified, analyze their experience as your customer and how they communicated with your team. There’s likely tons of indicators in the conversations you had 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 call notes in your CRM and any other indicators of their objectives, budget, urgency and main pain points.

If you have old material or proposals from when you were first selling to them, use those as sale proposal examples with new clients. While you’ll still need to edit and tweak a bit, a quality proposal example is a good place to start.

3. Include your unique selling proposition (USP)

A unique selling proposition (USP for short) is how you describe what makes your business unique, as well as how your products or services benefit your target audience. 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 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 so each part leads naturally to 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 value 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, your sales team can save time in the pitching process while also making sure they're not forgetting any of the key elements of their 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. If you have too many steps for your prospects to go through, a great business proposal might not be enough to make the sale. For example, if clients 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, which effectively removes manual work from the process and reduces potential errors

  • Create quote tables within documents that will automatically pull in information related to the deal

  • Store quotes, proposals and contracts in Google Drive and Google Docs 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

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.

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 or 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:

  • 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, such as target market and main offerings.

For you as a salesperson, a request for proposal is a map. It helps you boil down 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, but it’s important to only include the most necessary information. You can share more details with your prospect in follow-up conversations, but you need to make a lasting, direct impact with your sales proposal.

An RFP should help you gain clarity and add the most relevant information to your proposal, including:

  • The key features of your offering

  • Your approach and methodology

  • Key people and their background and expertise

  • Relevant success stories of your past customers and clients

Your prospect will use a request for proposal to compare vendors (i.e. 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 letter

  • 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, etc.)?

Step 2: Dive into deeper research

The first step was all about gathering information your prospective client 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 do add more context to their story, which you can use to send more targeted messages that resonate.

This includes 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 (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 writing 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, front page and cover letter

  • About us (company background)

  • Challenges and goals/outcomes

  • Proposed solutions (one or a few products/services)

  • Pricing

  • Timeline with key dates

  • Case studies

  • Client testimonials

  • Terms

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

This will help you get the entire picture of 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 to revise your sales proposal template 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

  • 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, 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 should be ready. If you need assistance from a designer for graphics or other visual improvements to your proposal, this is the time to get it. Steps like that make your business proposal more professional and can sometimes mean the difference between closing a deal or losing business.

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 stems from sending unsolicited proposals is the recipient hasn’t budgeted or planned for it in any way. Keep this in mind when setting your expectations and make sure to have different sale proposal examples at the ready to help your team overcome sales objections.

However, there’s a great benefit to well-executed unsolicited proposals: You aren’t competing yet. Use our templates linked below to maximize your chances of success, 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 example is 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 sample 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, one of these three things will happen:

  • Your prospect accepts the proposal (they’re becoming your customer!)

  • Your prospect rejects the proposal

  • You aren’t hearing back from your prospect

If they accept, 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.

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 way to negotiate and come to a compromise?

  • Do they not have the budget you thought they did?

  • Are they looking for a different format of your solution or need 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). If you’ve had a definitive “no” and you’re not hearing any reasoning behind the decision, review your sales process and the final proposal or scope of work (SOW) you shared and try to learn from what went wrong.

What if 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 went on vacation or got swept under a load of tasks and emails that are currently more important than solving their lingering problem.

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

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 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 over yours (if they did choose one) and be back on the market in a matter of months.

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 clearly paint a picture of how and why your product is the best one to solve their problem.

If your sales proposal ticks every box in this guide and resonates, your prospect will likely be excited and eager to get started. To get started, utilize our free sales proposal templates to 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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