There is an art to writing a great proposal. You need to think carefully about what you have to offer and create a well-written, properly structured proposal that effectively sells your services.
Fortunately, you don’t have to start from scratch!
In 2019 we had 439,332 business proposals created using our Better Proposals platform.
And by analyzing each of these proposals, we’ve discovered several tips and tricks that set successful proposals apart from the rest.
#1 The Executive Summary Is Vital
David Ogilvy is famously quoted as saying, “five times as many people read the headline as the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar.”
An Executive Summary is your headline. It’s your first impression. It’s 80 cents out of your dollar, and it needs to be excellent.
So, before we get into the actual structure of your proposal, we need to make sure the executive summary is perfect. Because, if it’s not good, it doesn’t matter how great your proposal is, it won’t get read.
The goal of your executive summary
Your goal here is to show the reader you understand their problem and goals. If you can’t demonstrate this information, you’ll struggle to get them to read and engage with the rest of the proposal.
To accomplish this, you need to get the prospect to share their problems and goals before you get to the proposal stage. You can do this through a meeting or a questionnaire.
When conducting the interview or questionnaire, ask why they need your product or service to dig up the truth. Note down what they say and the phrases that they use. Then use those insights and their same terminology in your Executive Summary.
If you don’t understand the prospect’s pain points and goals, you’re not ready to write a proposal yet.
If the person reading the proposal feels you don’t know what they want, you will likely lose the sale to a competitor.
The introduction to your Executive Summary should go something like this:
“Here’s your current situation and your problems. You want to be achieving XYZ in X amount of time. These are all of the things we’re going to do to get you there. This is how long it’ll take, and this is the process you’ll go through, and here’s how much it’ll cost.
Read this proposal carefully to learn how we’re going to help you achieve your goals.”
You’ll notice I used a cliffhanger at the end of the introduction. That’s because the purpose of the final sentence (like in most writing) is to hook the reader.
Here are a couple of other variations I’ve seen success with:
- “Continue reading to learn how we will have you achieving X in Y time”
- “Pay attention, and we’ll share the steps we’ll take you through on your journey to hitting your goal”
- “Read every word of this proposal carefully to learn how we will help you achieve your goal in no time”
#2 Break Your Sales Proposal Into Sections
A well-designed business proposal is like a good book. It should be broken down into easy to consume chapters.
Each chapter should take the reader through a stage of the customer journey. By the end of the business proposal, the prospect should understand you are perfectly placed to solve their problems and feel compelled to sign on the dotted line.
Based on an analysis of all of the business proposals that were created on our platform, we found that seven is the optimal number of sections for a proposal (Note that we are specifically talking about sections, not pages).
Using seven sections gives potential clients all the relevant details they need without overdoing it or making the proposal excessively long.
The ideal structure:
- Proposed solution to the client’s problem
- A brief plan of action and timeline
- Case study/testimonial
- Investment page/pricing
- Next Steps
- (suggested bonus) Terms & Conditions
Your proposal doesn’t need to be an exact copy of this outline. Depending on your niche and service offering, you might want to adapt the structure, but for most industries, this structure will serve you well.
If you want to learn more about how to structure your proposal, this guide to writing a project proposal includes some more useful information.
#3 Discuss Their Goals, Not Your Services
There are a few common drivers for businesses and individuals requesting a service.
Businesses are often looking to simplify a task, reduce their spending, or make more money. Individuals, on the other hand, are often looking for something to make their lives easier, less stressful, or make them more productive.
The product or service you are providing is a means for them to achieve this goal.
When writing your business proposal, you need to find the right balance between sharing information about what you are doing and discussing how your offer will help them achieve their goals.
One common issue we saw when looking through the thousands of proposals, though, is salespeople spending too much time focusing on how great their product is and all it’s amazing features, rather than focusing on the problem it solves.
Just like in a sales pitch, you need to consider the goal of the reader when writing sales copy. If you can do this well, there’s a good chance you’ll convince the lead to sign a contract.
Don’t spend much time trying to sell what you do. It may seem counterintuitive because that’s what your main goal is, but the prospect doesn’t care about your product (not really). They care about how it can help them.
There are some simple language tricks you can use to overcome this problem.
For example, you have the problem agitate solution method. In this method, you explain the problem, show how things can get worse if they don’t solve it, and then present them your solution.
You also have the “which means that” method. For example, “we’re going to install an SSL certificate,” and then add, “which means that…” to tie the action your product does back to the benefit it creates for the prospect.
Whatever method you use, the key here is that you focus on solving their problem. Don’t focus on how great your product is. Sell the result.
If you need any more tips and inspiration, check out this article on the dos and don’ts of a proposal.
#4 Customize Your Package to Their Budget and Needs
Sometimes it feels like all you need to do for your proposal to succeed is to get the pricing right. And while pricing is a large part of your success, the number itself isn’t everything. How you present your pricing also plays a large part in your success.
Consider their budget
Before you present a price to a prospective client, have a frank discussion with them about their budget. Ask them how much they expect to pay.
There’s no point in creating a proposal if you don’t qualify the prospect first. Secondly, in most instances, you should be creating a custom offer for the client based on their needs. And if you don’t have information about their budget, you won’t be able to do this effectively.
Offer one package
When reviewing proposals, we found that if you offer multiple packages, clients invariably go for the cheapest option. You can avoid this problem by offering a single package.
Then you can use upsells to increase the average order value of a contract.
Reviews from former happy clients in your pricing section will show your prospect that you’re worth the money.
People are far more likely to buy if there is some kind of social proof that the product has worked before, and reviews and testimonials are a powerful kind of social proof.
However, make sure the review or testimonial is from someone in a similar industry or niche to your prospect, otherwise, it won’t hold the same power.
#5 The Best Time To Send Your Proposal
According to our data, the day you send your proposal does not make a significant difference to the conversion rate.
Proposals sent on a Monday convert 0.9% more than proposals sent on any other day of the week, but this is a negligible difference.
Even sending your proposal over the weekend doesn’t appear to lower the conversion rate.
The timing of your send is more important, though.
When analyzing our data, we discovered companies that send a request within 24 hours of a sales meeting had a 14% higher closure rate than businesses that sent proposals 3-4 days after.
Furthermore, business proposals sent within 24 hours of a sales meeting were also signed earlier. On average, agreements were reached within just six days. Waiting more than 24 hours raises that signing time to over 11 days on average.
So, don’t stress about sending your proposal on the right day or at a particular time. Instead, focus on sending it as quickly as possible after receiving the request.
A Few Final Tips
Before I go, I’ll leave you with a few quick tips.
Optimize for mobile
If you’re providing your proposal digitally (which most companies do nowadays), you must make sure it looks great on mobile.
We found that 34% of proposals were first opened on mobile.
If your proposal looks good on mobile, then the prospect can engage with your content whenever they want.
You can use proposal management software to create proposals, save templates, and monitor how people engage with the content.
Ensure your proposal is easy to read.
Break your proposal down into short sentences and paragraphs. Avoid big blocks of text.
It’s also a good idea to use bullet points, charts, graphs, relevant imagery, and plenty of subheadings to break things up and make your proposal scannable.
The Bottom Line
As with anything else in business, practice makes perfect. The more proposals you write, the better you’ll get at it.
But hopefully, these tips we’ve compiled from over 439,000 proposals will set you on the right path and help you land new clients faster than ever before.