How to build and present a sales proposal
Keep it simple. Focus on your customer. Cut the bloat.
Of all the sales materials in your library, your proposal is the one document that is most likely to be viewed by all stakeholders on the buying team, so it needs to stand on its own.
However, there are a lot of awful proposals sent out every day. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve been on the receiving end of that had one or more of the following issues:
A lack of understanding of customer needs, especially the needs of the broader buying team, reflecting a lack of multi-threaded discovery and a lack of active listening.
An unclear value proposition, often packed with cryptic technical jargon that doesn’t speak to the impact customers are looking for, reflecting poor company-wide messaging.
Poorly structured, often packed with irrelevant product information, reflecting the seller’s desire to tell the customer about every corner of their product and confusing pricing options, reflecting the bloated product information.
This post is a step-by-step guide to building an impactful proposal and covers the following topics:
The 5 key sections of a proposal and what goes into each of them.
Tips on how to present the proposal to maximize your chances of success.
A template that you can use as a starting point for your own proposals.
A sales proposal has 5 key sections
1. Executive summary
Everyone on the buying team will read this section so it needs to be clear and easy to understand. Two best practices for this are
Write it using the customer’s own words. It demonstrates that you’ve listened, understood the problem and are prescribing a relevant solution, and sets the tone that you are going to be a good partner to work with.
Write it in the same format that your customer uses for internal communication of projects. If they use long form prose, write it in a doc. If they use decks, write it in a slide.
I prefer to use a slide format because it’s easy to read and easy to create if you align it with your sales methodology. For example, if you use the SPICED methodology, you can break your executive summary into 5 sub-sections like this:
A one sentence description of the customer’s business in their words. You can usually find this on their About page or in a recording of your intro call when your customer explained who they were and what they do.
A one sentence description of your customer’s customer — this is the group of people or businesses that your customer will serve better as a result of using your solution. Your customer’s customer could be an internal group within their own company or an external group at their vendor or customer.
A baseline summary of the relevant key metric(s) that your customer is trying to move as part of the initiative to which you are attaching yourself.
Key Challenges (aka pain points)
A one sentence description of each pain point. This should be in your call notes or call transcripts. Be sure to use your customer’s words.
Repeat for at least 2-3 pain points and ensure you cover pain points of all stakeholders.
A one sentence description of each desired impact they are looking for, written in your customer’s words.
Capture at least one emotional impact and one rational impact. Emotional impact is usually felt by the person closest to the day to day problem, while rational impact is usually more important for an executive level buyer.
A one sentence description of the internal initiative to which your purchase is attached, described in your customer’s words.
The date by which the impact needs to start being felt.
The names and job titles of each of your key stakeholders — champion, executive sponsor, power user/influencer, legal/procurement contact(s) etc.
Your name and job title and your sales leader’s name and job title. Doing this further underscores that you are committing to a partnership rather than just to making a sale.
2. Solution overview
This section is where proposal bloat typically occurs, as sellers and sales enablement folks often feel the need to describe every feature of the product just in case the champion gets asked about it. It’s analogous to feature dumping in a demo.
Give yourself a 1-2 page limit to explain your solution and tie it directly to the pain points, just as you would when giving a demo. There are lots of ways to organize this information. I find the 3 boxes approach works well:
3. Impact timeline
This section is about showing the timeline for delivering the impact by the critical event date. Adding this to your proposal further underscores how you view the relationship as a partnership rather than a transactional sale.
There are lots of ways to show a timeline. Here’s one example:
4. Pricing options
Everyone reads the pricing section because everyone has an opinion on how much something should cost, so its essential to provide more than one pricing option.