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  • Sarah Frazier

Criteria that separates a winning sales proposal from an average one

Your sales proposal can serve many functions, from introducing buyers to your brand to outlining your solution offering to closing the deal. Not all sales proposals are created equally; here's what you should include to create a winning proposal.

Great news— that prospect you’ve been calling on for months finally reaches out and asks you to send a sales proposal. Hooray! But what do you send them? 🤔

It takes almost no effort to send a standard PDF of product listings with prices attached, and buyers know that. Want to quickly lose the attention of a prospective buyer? Send them generic materials— 25% of buyers will dismiss materials that aren’t tailored to them and move on to the next solution provider. 

Now, let’s talk about how to “wow” your prospect: enter your sales proposal. Your sales proposal can serve many functions:

  • Serve as a introduction to your brand
  • Build buyer confidence by demonstrating you’ve solved similar problems
  • Outline your solution offering 
  • Provide details about pricing, terms and conditions
  • Streamline closing the deal

But of course, to be effective, your proposal needs to get noticed, spark the conversation, and prompt action. How? In this post, we discuss critical elements essential to creating a winning sales proposal and closing more business.

Design

While your mom might have once said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to sales proposals. In fact, the quality of your sales materials influences 36% of buyers, and 26% of buyers are turned off when those materials aren’t visually appealing.

You have only one chance to make a first impression, and the first thing that buyers notice is the design of your proposal. They’ll be able to tell almost immediately how much attention to detail your team has and how deeply you value them as prospects. If you’ve just pulled together a stock Word doc or your standard company Powerpoint and filled in a few customizable lines, the lack of effort will be obvious. Instead, focus on creating a design that reflects both the customer’s value and your business’ aesthetic sense. And, don’t underestimate the emotional power that good design creates, too. 

Let’s say you’re the buyer and you open a proposal sent to you and you see either example A or example B. Which one grabs your attention?

Example A: 

Example B: 

We’re going with example B. Pictures generate emotions; we “feel” them and immediately, the proposal has now become more personal. 

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

–Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

Well said, Donald. And if you voted for example B also, you can download the proposal template free and customize it for your own usage.

Strategically using color

Like images, colors both symbolically and psychologically convey specific messages to their viewers. Along with how specific colors make users feel, they also boost the visual appeal of your proposal and represent your brand. As you incorporate color, consider using it to subtly reinforce your message:

  • Black: associated with power and luxury
  • White: communicates simplicity and freshness
  • Yellow: associated with warmth, happiness, and a willingness to take risks
  • Red: associated with action
  • Blue: communicates stability, safety, dependability, and trustworthy
  • Green: communicates growth, balance, and often used for finances
  • Purple: associated with royalty, spirituality, and imagination

When deciding which colors to use, consider two aspects: high contrast/high impact colors and minimal usage of color.  Which direction you choose largely depends on your brand’s style guide. Using a few high-contrast colors will give you the most beautiful and practical palette for your sales proposals. Conversely, the more varied your colors, the busier your proposal will appear, potentially distracting the reader from your message. Let’s again look at two examples.

Example A:

Example B:

Which example do you prefer? While colors can be personal preference, both of these examples present a very different tone. Which one you use depends on what you are communicating and the impact you want on your buyer.

Pro tip: Proposal templates can be a great starting point if you’re “design challenged” or short on designer resources. 

Content

Moving from design to words, let’s talk about the content to include in your sales proposal. It’s tempting to cram a ton of information onto a page, but remember, this isn’t an exercise to show how much you know, as that’s going to result in information overload. The more information you throw at a prospect, the more likely they are to skim the proposal and miss valuable points.

Instead of doing an “information dump,” qualify what you include— insert content that’s directly related to your prospect and their use case. Less is more, and when your content is highly relevant, it’s impactful! 

When structuring your sales proposal, also think about the “story” you want to tell. In most movies, the conflict or problem is presented within the first 3-5 minutes. The same is true for your sales proposal, too. Restate your prospect’s challenge early in the proposal, to put the focus on them. Then, begin to unfold how you’re going to help solve the dilemma and what a “happy ending” looks like— the impact of your solution on your buyer’s organization.

Content structure

There are a few key sections that every proposal should include. Typically, a sales proposal looks something like this:

​​Introduction

Introduce yourself, your team, and your product. A video works great here, as it allows your prospect to see you as a person and as their contact. People buy from people and a personal video introduction sets the tone for the rest of your sales proposal.

Describe the need

Paint a picture of the prospect’s challenges and how your product can fix them. Help them understand what life will look like without your product and how their experience will improve after they’ve purchased. You may also include testimonials or benchmarks for success from other customers, to build confidence in your ability to effectively solve your prospect’s challenge.

Process

Help the customer understand how your company approaches solving their problems. State objectives, milestones, and what the process will look like from a pre-sales and post-sales perspective. Whenever possible, use visuals (images, graphs, infographics, or even a Gantt chart) to illustrate the process.

Benefits

The benefits section is where you help the customer understand the value of your product. Rather than just listing the features your product includes, this part of the sales proposal is an opportunity to push your value. Try to speak specifically to the benefits of your features rather than the features themselves. Inserting an ROI calculator can also help illustrate the before and after impact.

Pricing

Define the cost of your product and any add-on features available, and for best results, use a configurable pricing model. Buyers want transparency in pricing and the ability to customize the solution to their use case and budget. In our Buyer Experience Study, 66% of respondents said a “build your own” pricing model is essential. What that means is, instead of stating a set, bottom line price, use a pricing model that allows the buyer to select specific features and develop their custom plan— this helps them to feel confident that their purchase is “right-sized.”

Proposal acceptance

An often-overlooked piece, but after you’ve just presented a compelling sales story and business case, why not “seal the deal” by adding in the option to accept and sign your proposal? E-signatures are convenient for buyers plus help to streamline closing the deal. 35% of buyers believe that the sales process is already too long and convoluted. When you make it easy for them to sign, you take giant strides towards simplifying and accelerating your sales process.

Conclusion

Briefly summarize the information that you’ve included above. Remind the customer of their pain, what you can do to resolve it, and the benefits of using your product over a competitor. Testimonials can be hugely powerful as a closer, too. Referring back to our section on design, incorporate visuals here as well. Using images can help your testimonial not only stand out, but be remembered. How much more impactful is this example vs. a text-only quote?

A secondary call to action

Unfortunately, not every prospect is going to be ready to e-sign your proposal. Including a secondary call to action, like your contact information, can keep the conversation open and friendly.

These different sections will look different for every company, but stellar sales proposals will usually include all of them.

Content personalization 

Good selling isn’t about your team, sales reps, or even your company—it’s about the customer. And your sales proposals should be, too. Instead of just regurgitating the same information to every prospect, take time to personalize your content

64% of buyers want personalized sales content; they want to know that you understand their use case situation and can help them solve it. 

Personalized sales collateral demonstrates to your prospect that you’re listening. While it’s easy to provide this type of responsiveness and personalization when meeting in person or over Zoom, it’s less easy to make it felt over a sales document, like your proposal. It can also take a ton of effort to manually personalize every sales proposal before sending it out, although advanced sales proposal software, like Qwilr, integrates with your CRM, enabling personalized proposals to be created in minutes vs. hours.

Consistency

Any sales collateral that you send to your customers should match your branding on your site and any other documents or emails that you’ve sent to them previously. It takes multiple touches for a user to become a prospect, and a prospect to become a buyer, and every single one of those touches should have a similar feel. Consistency and attention to detail build trust and elevates brand recognition: two critical pieces of the marketing pie. 

One of the best ways to provide consistency with your sales materials is to use a proposal template. Templates make it easy for all of your team members to use the approved, on-brand designs and tried-and-true sales proposal formats. Instead of reinventing the wheel with each proposal, templates ensure that every prospect gets a uniform brand and sales experience every time. And, integrating your proposal template with your CRM can also prevent embarrassing pricing and personalization errors, too.

Let’s get selling

Now that you know about all of the ways to create an excellent, stand-out sales proposal, it’s time to start selling! Sales proposal software like Qwilr, can make proposal design easy, simplify the creation, help your brand get noticed, and save your sales team valuable time throughout the process. Book a 15-minute demo— the time you invest now will pay dividends in your future closed/won sales.

Join the thousands of teams building better docs with Qwilr.