How to Write a Sales Proposal: The 3 Elements You’re Missing

In our review of many proposals over the past few years, there are often three missing but critical elements that ever proposal should contain:

How to Write a Sales Proposal: The 3 Elements You’re Missing image 2013 06 20 09.41.04 444x444How to Write a Sales Proposal: The 3 Elements You’re Missing

Sales Proposal Element #1: Brevity

Brevity is the soul of proposals (and wit). Okay, I stole that from Polonius in Hamlet, but it is so so true. I have never reviewed a proposal that was too short. But they are all much too long. For some reason, we assume clients actually read our proposals, so we put in lots of detail. The most common results is that our sales process gets stuck. If we can enforce brevity in our proposals, we continue the sales conversation instead of bog it down.

A proposal should be 3 pages or fewer. (Yes, I am serious.) If you can’t say it in 3 pages, you probably can’t say it at all. (That’s why RFPs can be such a pain.) And if you are selling something large and complex with many moving parts, then all of the detail and minutae belongs in the contract anyway. Think of your proposal and contract as a presentation. The proposal is YOU and the words you say in front of an audience, and your slides are the contract, the supporting documentation of your talk.

Strong Proposal Element #2: References

References are often treated as a to-do that is separate from the proposal process. They shouldn’t be. I encourage people to reference-sell right up front. And when it comes to proposals, we should embed 2-3 references right in the body of the proposal.

But don’t just list a name, phone and email address. Go all the way. Give the contact information and then write a short sentence or two about why this reference might be helpful to the prospect. ”Jenny found herself in a situation similar to yours, and although she had done a lot of things right, our help seemed to enable her push through some critical changes. You might want to ask her about that…”

This short piece gives context and starts the conversation for both your prospect and your reference. You are demonstrating value already.

If and when you get the chance, you can translate these references into stories that communicate the value that you’ve created for your customers.

Strong Proposal Element #3: Not Gonna Do It!

Each and every proposal should say what you are NOT going to do. This list is what consultants refer to as “scope” and “out of scope.” Your proposal should have a short “out of scope” section that clearly communicates what is not included in the deal. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but isn’t that the job of the contract?” Probably. But since most prospects don’t even fully read proposals, you can be damn sure they don’t read contracts.

This discipline of communicating what you are not going to do saves you time and heartache down the road, and it also demonstrates that you are experienced and precise about what you CAN do for a prospect. If your prospect challenges you on some of the items, better to have that conversation now rather than jeopardizing a client relationship later. Make the sales process explicit and both sides of the relationship will benefit.

When was the last time you included these three elements in your sales proposals? If you consciously decide to follow this advice, what kind of impact do you think it would make?

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