Seven ways to improve your sales proposals

Contributor - Andy Bounds


Seven ways to improve your sales proposals

Persuading people to do what you want is hard; especially if you aren't there to do it -- which happens when someone has asked you to submit a written proposal

Here are seven quick ways to make your proposals more persuasive:

  1. Agree your solution before writing it.
  2. Agree the layout before writing it.
  3. Agree the follow-up before writing it.
  4. Ensure your titles engage ("Our proposal" doesn't).
  5. Ensure your emails impress.
  6. Include a timeline.
  7. Make it easy to read.

1. Agree your solution before writing it

You are more persuasive than any piece of paper could ever be. So, don't rely on your proposal to do your selling for you. Instead, make your proposals a confirmation, not an exploration.

In other words, agree your proposed solution verbally during your meetings with your prospect. Then use your proposal to confirm with her what you've already agreed.

This is much better than using your proposal to explore possibilities you haven't discussed with her yet. (A good check: you should be able to write "as discussed" before every sentence in your proposal).

Benefits: It's more likely to work; it's much quicker to write.

2. Agree the layout before writing it

It's also important to agree with her what you'll write in the proposal. If you don't, you're guessing what she wants to read. And you'll be wrong. You'll write too much. And it'll take ages to think what to put in there. And, even then, she won't read much of it.

To bring this up in your meeting, simply say "I don't want to bore you by sending irrelevant information. So let's agree what the headings of the proposal will be".

How can she possibly refuse? She isn't going to say: "It's ok - be irrelevant".

Benefits: It's much quicker to write; she's more likely to open it instantly, because it contains exactly what she asked for.

3. Agree the follow-up before writing it

If you've ever written a proposal, you'll have experienced the Black Hole of Doom that many proposals fall into. You send it. You don't hear back. You then worry - do you chase (and maybe annoy her) or wait (and feel powerless)?

The simplest way to resolve this: agree before sending it when you'll speak afterwards. Something like "So, I'll confirm what we've agreed in a proposal for you. When shall we speak again, to discuss it?"

Benefits: You keep momentum high; there's no Black Hole of Doom.

4. Ensure your titles impress

Most proposal titles are dull - "Our proposal" and the like. And the section titles can also be dull - "About us", "Our experience", "Our track record"…

But titles drive everything. They're a document's first impression. So they have to draw the reader in. You know this to be true -- after all, if this wasn't the case, every article in every newspaper would have the title "More news".

For the title of your proposal, include her number one priority. So, if it's to increase market share in Belgium, call it "Proposal: how we'll increase your market share in Belgium".

For the sections, think what she'll find most interesting in that section, and put that in the title.

For example, I recently helped a large IT company win a multi-million-pound contract with a customer that wanted to improve their competitive advantage. We changed one section's title from "Our cutting-edge IT" to "How our cutting-edge IT will transform your competitive advantage" -- much more interesting and relevant to the client.

Benefits: Great first impression; the prospect reads everything.

5. Ensure your emails impress

If you email your proposal, she'll have read lots of things before even looking at it. Ensure they all impress:

  • Subject line: Not just "Your proposal". Instead, something like "As discussed: our proposal about increasing your market share in Belgium".
  • Covering email: Make it short; after all, you want her to open the proposal. But it must be well written and benefits-rich; plus remind her of the follow-up you've already agreed.
  • Your attachment: The attachment file name will probably be similar to your email title. This is much better than a proposal file name I saw recently - "Proposal TS000625April15".

Benefits: Great first impression (plus, you don't undo all the good work you've done so far).

6. Include a timeline

When people buy, they want certainty. So, help her visualise how things will go. Timelines work really well for this. They clearly show who is doing what, and by when. And that, the sooner she agrees to go ahead, what will happen immediately - always good for building pace.

Benefits: Clarity of offering; injects pace into the process as she sees what she'll get the minute she says yes.

7. Make it easy to read

I know you think she'll print out your proposal, turn off her email, put the phone on divert, go into her favourite room with a cup of tea and devour it over many hours… But she won't.

It will be a skim-read, where she's searching for the content she's most interested in.

So, it must be easy to read quickly:

  • Short paragraphs -- four lines maximum.
  • Short sentences.
  • Short phrases/words. So turn things like "prior to the commencement of" to "before".

None of these seven approaches take more time than you currently spend on proposals. In fact, most reduce it.

So, seven ways to write better proposals… and in less time. Good for the customer; good for you.

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Andy Bounds

Awarded the title Britain’s Sales Trainer of the Year, and described by AstraZeneca’s Global Communication Director as “a genius, whose advice can’t be ignored”, Andy’s insights stem from the fact his mother is blind.