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Proposals That Sell: How to Write a Winning Sales Proposal

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Proposals can make or break any sales deal. They give you an opportunity to show that you truly understand your prospect's needs, that you have listened to them intently and that you will provide a compelling solution. Notice I used the word compelling. Not only do you want to give your prospect an idea of the details of the solution along with pricing information, it's also your final chance to make a lasting impression before asking for the order. You've got to be sure your proposal is top notch.

There are 10 key elements to writing a powerful proposal that will not only help you make a favorable final impression before closing the deal, but will actually help improve your close ratio.

First, the header testimonial is a quote from an existing client who has used your products and services in the same application that you are now proposing to your prospect. The quote should include a statement that speaks to the results your solution has provided as well as statistics to back it up. The quote should not be more than one or two sentences. The function of the header testimonial is to grab the attention of your prospect so he or she will read the rest of your proposal, and not just skip to the pricing/investment section, like many prospects tend to do.

The next key element is the opening statement. The opening statement should include a sincere thank-you to your prospect for the opportunity to present your proposal, as well as an enthusiastic statement from you regarding your interest in providing a solution that will meet the needs of the prospect. The third key element is the scope of work statement, a one- or two-sentence description of your understanding of the prospect's needs, and the solution you are proposing to address those needs.

Next, the scope of work detailed description is the place where you provide details of the project including the solution itself, and any relevant scheduling details including time frames and/or deadlines. It is also the portion of the proposal that speaks to items the prospect will be responsible for, if any, to make the project a success. It is important to set expectations of your prospect early so that they know exactly what they are agreeing to up front, before you close the deal.

The fifth element is the project deliverables description. It should include the tangible items you will deliver as a part of your solution. The best way to present this portion of the proposal it to use bullet points to present clear, concise action items associated with your solution.

The sixth element, the investment details section, is the part of the proposal where you address the pricing details of your solution. Notice it is called the investment details section, not the pricing details section. This is done purposefully because the word investment indicates something of value in exchange for the money spent, or invested, in your solution. Stay away from words like price and cost as they suggest only that money will be spent, without the suggestion of getting something of value in exchange.

Whether you choose to itemize your proposal is a personal choice of style. One nice aspect of an itemized proposal is that if the client balks at the total investment, rather than dropping the price for the same level of service, you can ask the prospect which items to remove from the proposal in order to lower the price. In other words, you can come down on the price, but only with the understanding that the solution will be less than what you originally proposed.

If you're going to give a little, your prospect needs to give a little too. Too often we drop the price of our solution in hopes of winning the business; however, not only does it appear you don't see the value in your own solution, the message to your prospect is that you didn't start with your best price. Also, coming down on your price sets a precedent and your clients may come to expect it after you do it once.

The next key element is the return on investment statement. This is a section many salespeople miss. Maybe it's assumed the prospect will immediately see the return on their investment, without you having to explain it, but that is unlikely. If you can, spell it out so the prospect has a clear understanding of how your solution will either save them money, make them money or save them time. If you can show a return on investment for your solution that makes sense, you will win the majority of the time.

Next, the call to action statement is the portion of the proposal where you tell your prospect exactly what will happen next, such as, "I will contact you next Tuesday to review the proposal in detail and answer any questions you may have."

An even better approach is to have a commitment from your prospect to review the proposal before you submit the proposal. This will help prevent the pattern of sending the proposal and having the sale die because you had no commitment from the prospect for follow up before presenting the proposal. In other words, before you even prepare the proposal, ask your prospect for a specific date and time you will review the proposal together, rather than just sending it to him to review on his own.

The ninth key element, the thank-you statement, may seem obvious, but many people forget to thank their prospects for the opportunity. As important as the thank you is tying it to the results your solution will create for the prospect. Showing some enthusiasm for the project doesn't hurt either.

Finally, the footer testimonial is your final chance to leave the prospect with a quote or testimonial from a client who has experienced a favorable outcome as a result of your solution.