I used to write sales proposals pitching Fortune 500 clients on $XXX,XXX consulting projects. One thing I remember about writing those sales proposals was the presence of FEAR.
Fear of getting rejected… Fear of making embarrassing typos… Fear of copy-pasting something in Client A’s proposal that was intended for Client B… Fear of missing the deadline.
If you write proposals for web development… or bid on projects in the public sector… or freelance… or consult… then you’ve probably experienced these same fears.
This blog post should help.
We recently asked Jennifer Riggins from Quote Roller – the proposal software experts – to share some of her tips on writing sales proposals that don’t suck. Here’s what she had to say…
Some of our readers might have the impression that writing a sales proposal is a mere formality when it comes to doing business. Are there certain industries or specific situations where sales proposals are THE determining factor for winning a contract?
Jennifer: Certainly for some sectors, especially construction or anything in the public bid sectors , proposals are THE deciding factor. [Ryan notes: public bids are typically government projects funded by tax dollars]
For the private sector it’s more about building relationships and trust, but you are often required to submit an official proposal.
Using proposal software and pre-built templates helps you to write sales proposals faster and assures they appear professional. You can spend more time nurturing the relationship and less time formatting charts and tables.
What are some common mistakes you see people make when writing a sales proposal?
#1 They don’t set aside enough time.
Timing can be a major issue if you need to start from scratch and don’t have a template. You need to budget time for writing the content, editing the content, and formatting the content. You’ll probably also need some time for peer review or manager review.
Keep timing in mind because, if you’ve promised a proposal within a certain number of days, it’s critical that you hit the deadline [Ryan notes: and probably preferable that you turn it in a few days early to demonstrate that you run ahead of schedule]. For example, if you miss the deadline for an request for proposal, you’ll be automatically excluded from the running.
#2 They don’t accurately summarize the client’s business objectives.
Many times proposals are submitted and the client can immediately tell that the writer didn’t have a grasp of the business objectives. Proposal objectives are typically missed for three reasons:
- The sales proposal writer was not present during client discussions. Often times a junior staffer will be tasked with writing the sales proposal even though they didn’t attend the client meetings. In these cases, the objectives typically get lost in translation. The simple solution is to start inviting the sales proposal writer to client meetings or record the client meetings with a voice recorder.
- The wrong questions were asked. This is common when a business has a preset “menu” of features or services that they like to sell to clients. Instead of engaging the client in an open-ended discussion about their objectives, they ask leading questions that steer the client towards a specific choice on the “menu.” Here are some ideas for open-ended questions that can help suss out your client’s objectives.
- The objectives were not restated to the client. Sometimes clients change their minds. Sometimes clients forget what they said. Sometimes clients request something they didn’t really want. Save them from themselves. Before sending a proposal, send your client a quick email that restates their objectives as you understood them. Give them a chance to offer feedback and edit before considering the objectives final and including them in the sales proposal.
[Ryan notes: As someone who used to review supplier proposals every week, I can attest to this. Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours discussing objectives only to see them completely left out or misstated in the proposal.]
#3 They write the sales proposal from a narcissistic point of view.
Prospective clients are not all that interested in you or your company; they care more about the value you can add to their business. We all tend to get stuck in ruts when writing proposals and just copy-paste the same boilerplate info that talks about our companies instead of the client. Your proposal should focus on the client’s objectives, not the credentials of your company. Put your accomplishments and past experience in the addendum section.
How can software make it easier to write sales proposals?
Jennifer: First of all, online proposal software saves the writer time.
For example, Quote Roller offers more than 35 ready-made templates for free. You can use them online or download them.
There are fields that you can auto-populate or just pull-in the info directly from your Customer Relationship Management tool.
The templates give basic options and fields that are in templates for traditional products and services for each major industry, from SEO & WordPress specialists to cleaning and construction services. Then, it’s the user’s job to talk to their clients and add anything to the templates that the client is specifically looking for. Whether it’s a house, a used car, or a website design, all successful salespeople gear their sale to what the client needs.
Proposal software also makes it easier for clients to say “Yes”. When your client has to take the time to download your attachment, print it out, sign, scan, re-upload and email it, it leaves a lot of time to rethink things; e-signature avoids this shuffle. The integration of photos, videos and hyperlinks breaks up the monotony of a sales proposal and makes it more engaging, while not wasting pages of unnecessary, mind-numbing text.
One thing clients often like — and we added to Quote Roller a few months ago for this reason — is that they can make comments within the contract or proposal. Think about how frustrating it is to go back and forth in an email trying to figure out which version is which and to figure out what exactly your clients’ doubts are.
Often proposals writers come across prospects hemming and hawing over specific things, but, especially with price, they maybe don’t necessarily want to admit it. With Quote Roller’s in-proposal analytics, you see exactly what they’ve been spending their time looking at. Having this knowledge allows you to redirect the conversation to what you now know the client has been focusing on.
For readers interested in Quote Roller, where can they go to learn more?
Jennifer: Readers can try out Quote Roller for two weeks free and create irresistible online proposals in a matter of minutes! Here’s a special coupon code they can use to get half off their first month: 50OFF1STMO . Prices start at $14.95 a month and save users an average of two hours per sales proposal.