Your Sales Proposal Sucks

Sales Proposal SucksVery often, many salespeople look at their sales proposals and are happy with the way they tell the story of their companies, their services, etc. What they don’t realize is how bad their proposals….suck.

Most likely, you have a terrible sales proposal and don’t even know it.  It isn’t that these sales proposals are poorly written, formatted or designed. In fact, the opposite is true – they often look very professional and the author has invested a ton of time on the content, formatting, proofing, etc. The real problem with these proposals is that they are just TERRIBLE at helping close deals. If you sales proposal does suck, you likely fit into one or more of the following categories of sales proposal writers:

The Egomaniac

Egomaniac sales proposal writers feel that they need to demonstrate how amazing they are or how wonderful their company is through the body of the proposal. Very often, Egomaniacs opens up their proposal with an extensive “About Us” section, followed by an “Our Philosphy” section, followed by an “Another Hundred Things My Client Doesn’t Care About” section.

Sales proposals should demonstrate your understanding of the client’s situation. This should occur FIRST. Start your sales proposals with a basic “Background and Understanding” section that clearly details what you know of the client’s situation, problems and needs. Try as much as you can to articulate any problems in a similar manner to how the client articulated them to you. The most important thing in this section is that you make it very clear to your client that you completely understand any issues at hand.

The Peacekeeper

Peacekeepers NEVER wants to upset the apple cart. They have the weakest sales proposal because they are scared to ask for the deal. They often use “options” instead of “recommendations” in their scope of work.

One of the most important things to do when writing a sales proposal is to demonstrate confidence over the sales process. There is a big difference between being “pushy/salesy” and being assertive. Especially when selling professional services, it is critical to demonstrate yourself as the subject matter expert, capable of recommending the appropriate approach to solve the client’s problem. At some point you need to clearly confront the problem at hand and position your company as the solution, or else the client will lack confidence in your ability.

Clients pay you to hear the truth, so give it to them. This is especially important when you are selling to owners and CEO’s of businesses. These people are used to being told everything they want to hear – they don’t need you for that. Very often a candid approach will be appreciated by clients as you provide an external perspective and they will learn to rely on you for the hard truth.

As a final note for Peacekeepers – never discount your services. You priced your services at a certain rate because that is what you needed to make on the project for your business to be successful. If you give your client a fair price up front, you shouldn’t have a lot of room to discount anyway. Again, your clients will respect and value you a lot more if you present a fair price consistently. If the client then wants to reduce the price further, you should reduce the scope of the offerings in your sales proposal.

Sales proposals should demonstrate your confidence in your approach and how it is a clear solution to the client’s problem. Don’t be ambivalent about the direction in your sales proposal. Present the client’s problem, provide your solution, and display a fair but firm price. You will win a lot more respect from your clients, and close a lot more sales proposals.

The Intellectual

Intellectuals have one of the toughest jobs when writing effective sales proposals as they are often too smart for their own good. Relying on their vast knowledge when creating sales proposals, Intellectuals tends to provide exquisitely written, content rich solutions throughout the entire document. While these proposals can be likened to impressive works of art, they also have one of the lowest sales proposal acceptance rates out of all the sales proposal personality types out there.

So why does a sales proposal writer with 1) a near perfect solution to the client’s problem and 2) a masterpiece of a proposal, find him or herself ranked as one of the worst salespeople? Here are the reasons:

  • Too much time writing proposals, not enough selling – Good salespeople get into a rhythm of 1) lead generation, 2) selling, 3) writing sales proposals and 4) closing the deal. The Intellectual spends the most amount of time crafting the perfect proposal and the least amount of time on the other three activities. It is important to not recreate the wheel every time you write a proposal – it is too time consuming and takes away from the generation of new leads or the closing of existing ones. There are online sales proposal softwares that can help create sales proposal templates to speed up the writing process.
  • Too intellectual – As previously mentioned, sometimes a person can just be “too smart for his/her own good.” The average American reads at a 7-8th grade reading level. Combine that with the fact that a CEO of a company barely has any time to spend reading the proposal (yes, he or she is most likely skimming it on a plane flight, or in the back of a taxi from his or her phone), and an “intellectual” proposal has a high likelihood of ending up in the “to read later” box. Closing a sales proposal quickly is one of the most important parts of selling. The likelihood of your proposal being accepted is at its highest point immediately after a customer has identified a problem and has become excited about your potential solution. Prolonging the sales process in any way allows that level of excitement to diminish, significantly reducing chances of closing the sale. Therefore, if your proposal takes too long to read, or is too difficult to understand, then you risk losing the potential customer.

Please don’t take this the wrong way and think that I am advocating for you to talk down to your clients. There is a difference between a readable proposal and one that is condescending. Having a readable proposal doesn’t mean you can’t articulate a good solution. Just make sure to leave out the fancy words. If you can find a way to integrate images and/or video into your sales proposal, even better!

The Quick Draw

The Quick Draw is an interesting sales proposal type as it doesn’t suffer from the same ailments as the other sales proposal writers. The Quick Draw is often a salesperson who correctly emphasizes the business development, sales and closing proposal function but still suffers from a low proposal closing percentage (hit ratio). Why do Quick Draws fail?

  • Lack of qualification – Every lead or opportunity doesn’t deserve a sales proposal. Many sales people, especially ones that are tracked using hard-number based sales metrics, firmly believe that if they send out a lot of proposals they will get more deals. The Quick Draw salesperson often offers to craft a sales proposal without really listening to the customer. The Quick Draw has the overall mentality that “any lead is a good customer”. This is obviously not the case as many leads are not even capable of being customers (your solution doesn’t solve their problem, they can’t afford your solution, etc.)
  • Too generic – While it’s important not to spend too much time creating sales proposals and you don’t want to recreate the wheel, you definitely need to make sure that you have restated your client’s problem and your specific solution. The Quick Draw salesperson often finds whatever sales proposal template is nearby, slaps a new company name on it and sends it out. This “boilerplate” approach is very obvious and while some boilerplate pieces are often accepted by clients, no one wants to feel like they are getting blown off or that you don’t understand their company’s specific need.
  • Brevity – Often the proposals of Quick Draws are too short, causing their clients to wonder if they put any time at all into 1) considering the client’s situation and 2) thinking up an appropriate solution.

Overall the Quick Draw is great at getting a lot of proposals out the door. However, more emphasis needs to be put on qualifying and personalizing the proposals so that their closing percentage rate (hit ratio) increases.

The Novelist

Very similar to this blog article, the Novelist’s proposal often contains way too much content. In fact, the Novelist and the Intellectual share a very similar issue in that they both waste way too much time writing. Novelists rely on “thud factor” to sell proposals (the idea that quantity=quality). There are a few issues with Novelists’ approach that can be harmful to the sales proposal process.

  • Time wasting – It takes time to write a 15 page sales proposal. So much time that Novelists end up neglecting the other important activities that generate proposal sales.
  • Boring the reader – As interesting as your business might be, your client is looking for you to demonstrate that you 1) understand the problem and 2) can provide a solution. If it has taken you 15 pages to explain that to your client, you have failed.
  • Possible scope miss – When you write a shorter proposal and you broadly describe your solution and objectives, it is a little easier to get away with missing one of the minor steps that is assumed to be part of the process. However, a miss when you have had 15 pages to articulate the solution??? That is not acceptable.

Conclusion for Sales Proposal Writers

In reality, each one of these sales proposal writer types has its merits and its weaknesses. The best way to drive better sales proposal conversation rates is to evaluate your sales team and help guide them to writing more efficient, effective sales proposals. Doing this will make sure they are spending much more time generating new leads, which is the hardest part of the equation for any salesperson.

Sean Taylor is the founder and a principal of Jaroop, a web application and software development company based out of Berlin, Connecticut. Jaroop is also the creator of the cloud-based online sales proposal application ClientSky, an online sales proposal management platform for generating, sending and tracking professional sales proposals online. Sean can be reached at 860-357-2060 ext 300 or