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How to write an effective sales proposal

Answering these seven questions will help you stand out from the competition

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Preparing a sales proposal can be challenging. Creating one that is attractive, compelling and effective can be even tougher.

The trick is to focus on how you can help your clients solve their problems, BDC Business Advisor Andreas Pollmueller says.

“A lot of companies get caught up in selling product features,” says Pollmueller, who helps entrepreneurs optimize their sales and marketing efforts. “They navel gaze and forget there is a customer with a problem at the other end of the proposal.”

Find out what’s holding back your clients

To avoid this misguided approach, schedule a meeting or call with your potential client before you submit a sales proposal. During this conversation, strive to understand the challenges your prospects are facing so you can position your proposal to solve those issues.

Pollmueller says every proposal should answer the seven client-centric questions presented by author Tom Sant in his book Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win More Customers, Clients, and Contracts.

Seven questions every proposal should answer

The seven questions are:

  1. What is the client’s problem?
  2. Why is it a problem?
  3. What outcomes is the client looking to achieve?
  4. Which outcome is the most important?
  5. What are the potential solutions?
  6. What are the probable results?
  7. Why are we the right choice?

What elements to include in your proposals

Although every proposal will be different, here are the key elements that every sales proposal should include.

Cover letter

Your cover letter will be on top of a physical proposal. In an electronic proposal, your cover letter should be in the body of the email you send.

The cover letter should briefly answer Tom Sant’s seven questions and be written in simple, direct language. “Think about newspaper writing,” says Pollmueller. “Newspapers use simple words and short sentences. That’s what you should be aiming for.”

Sales brochure

It’s a good idea to also include a company brochure. A good brochure will present an overview of your company and its products or services. You can also present a client testimonial as part of your brochure. Outlining the financial benefits of your product is especially powerful.

“If you are able to make a business case with return on investment (ROI) numbers for your solution, you will be miles ahead of the competition,” Pollmueller says.

Supporting documents and technical specifications

Your supporting documents allow you to delve deeper into the technical details of your solution.

But be careful not to use too much jargon or be too technical. Also make sure to have all your documents proofread for typos, grammar mistakes and formatting errors.

Quote

A quote is the core to any proposal, but it should always follow conversations with the client to help you understand their exact needs. In this way you won’t just be competing on price.

Your quote should have a professional look and feel. Many CRM systems and accounting software include quote makers. You may want to work with a designer to create your own template.

The main thing to remember is to never waste the buyer’s time. If you bring valuable information to help them do their job, they will seek you out every time.

Should I use a paper proposal or send a digital copy?

A paper proposal can seem outdated in this digital era. But Pollmueller argues it gives you an excuse to visit the client, with or without an appointment.

A paper proposal is also easy to share he says. “In a typical B2B situation there will be five people with a word to say on a purchase. If the proposal is a physical package, it can be easily shared among colleagues.”

“A physical business, like a printer, will want to make a physical proposal,” he says. “But it makes less sense for tech companies or commodity businesses that only compete on price.”

How is a digital proposal different?

The contents of a digital proposal will be the same as those of a physical proposal: a cover letter, a sales brochure, technical documents and a quote. Make sure attachments aren’t too large for the client’s inbox.

But digital proposals can take other forms. “You can send links to your website, or even better, to a specific landing page for that product or service,” says Pollmueller. “Also consider a videoconference proposal, where you pitch live on video. The presentation can become very dynamic.”

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