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State of Proposals 2021 is Here: Data-Driven Tactics to Dominate Your Deals NOW

The numbers are in: 2020 is a wrap and we’ve salvaged the most important trends and tactics from the wreckage. In this post, we’re giving you a sneak peek at the findings of the State of Proposals 2021 research report, and outlining 5 actionable, data-driven strategies you can implement into your closing process right now to help your reps dominate their deals in 2021.

State of Proposals 2021 document with data driven closing tactics

10 min. read

How did the way sales teams close deals change in a year that changed everything?

Here at Proposify, that’s been the burning question for approximately 338.5 days.

(But who’s counting, right?)

To find the answer, our team of data scientists crunched the numbers behind:

  • More than 2.6 MILLION sales documents in the Proposify database
  • Including 510,148 sent in 2020 alone
  • And results from a survey of 1,000+ sales pros

And we published the findings in our annual research report, the State of Proposals

Along the way, what we discovered confirmed our suspicions: 2020 wasn’t a total write-off. We searched for (and found) the tactics that drove success and salvaged 'em from the wreckage—and dispensed with the strategies that didn’t pay off.

As we distilled the data from all of those sales docs, we identified ten clear strategies helping high-performing sales teams adapt and win.

And the best part? Those tactics are just as applicable to closing success as we round the bend into 2021 and beyond.

Below is a special sneak peek at five of those ten tactics.

To get the full story, and for the scoop behind the five remaining quota-crushing takeaways, you can grab the report right here.

So, how do you conquer your team’s closing process in 2021?

Let me hit you with some data-driven knowledge.

5 actionable, research-backed ways to close better in 2021

1. Your proposal design (or lack thereof) could be killing your deals.

Proposal design goes way beyond just making your closing docs look good.

Good proposal design is about:

  • Communicating complex ideas and persuasive propositions in a clear, focused manner.
  • Organizing information so your docs are easy to read, understand, and navigate
  • Setting your closing docs apart and giving them an advantage over the competition
  • And, most importantly, it’s about making sure all the elements of your proposal are driving towards a single goal: closing the deal.

You may think presenting a proposal at the closing stages is nothing more than a formality; a contract that needs signing to officially close the deal. Your buyer has made it this far through the sales process, they’re bought in. So focusing effort and resources on creating a persuasive, well-designed proposal is a luxury; a nice-to-have, right?

Nope.

In 2020, the overall close rate for proposals sent through Proposify was 40%. That’s 110% higher than the industry average of 19% and a number we’re incredibly proud of.

But.

That means 60% of deals didn’t close. And that means that sales reps have got a helluva lot of work left to do before they ring that bell.

Your business proposal is a critical document deployed at the most important stage of the sales process. Our research shows, as it does year after year, that well-designed proposals perform better than their bland counterparts.

When it comes to proposal design, successful documents have two things in common, almost across the board:

  1. They are organized into sections.
  2. They contain images and video content

First, proposal structure.

Keep your proposals brief and organized into sections.

Breaking up your proposals into sections makes for easy, organized reading. For a busy decision maker who may be getting caught up on the details of the deal for the first time, keeping things organized makes sure they’re hitting on all the important points.

From your team’s perspective, breaking down the proposal writing process into sections makes putting together a proposal less overwhelming.

It’s just like Mark Twain said:

“The secret to getting ahead in sales is getting started on creating a kick-ass proposal.

The secret to getting started creating a kick-ass proposal is breaking up what can seem like a complex overwhelming task into small manageable sections, and starting on the first one.”

Or something like that.

The father of American literature was full of great sales tips.

Next, proposal content and design.

Spicing up your proposal with images and sharp design can help increase deal close rates.

Now, that doesn't mean you should turn your closing docs into a pictograph—persuasive written content is still essential to closing deals (more on that later).

Instead, it’s about creating a consistent experience for your buyers. Leverage your company’s branded material to make your proposals a seamless extension of your website, sales decks, case studies, white papers; all the content that’s helped move your prospect into the closing stages of the deal.

Don’t fumble the brand ball right as you’re crossing the finish line.

2. Using video in proposals skyrockets success at the bottom of the funnel.

From webinars to team standups, sales calls to prospecting—and, well, life in general—video dominated 2020.

In a world gone remote, sales teams were forced to get comfortable communicating, and selling, virtually.

Video prospecting is perhaps the most talked-about example of using video in sales. And yep, video certainly does help sales reps stand out in an inbox of cold, text-based emails.

However, success with video isn’t limited to top-of-funnel activities; it also skyrockets success at the bottom of the funnel.

Our data shows video is quickly becoming a critical part of the closing process.

In 2020, the number of proposals containing a video increased 31% from the previous year as sales pros looked for creative ways to connect with their prospects. This increase is just the latest example of a trend that’s been growing for the last several years.

Using video in your proposals helps build trust and rapport and make a more personal connection with potential buyers and decision makers—especially those you haven’t met yet.

Whether it’s a personalized message to walk your prospects through the proposal, a more polished company video, or a customer testimonial, video infuses your proposals with personality and clarity by:

  • Telling a compelling story about your brand or company
  • Explaining a complex product, service, or idea quickly and effectively
  • Serving as a short demo for a busy decision maker

If you haven’t already, capitalize on this strategy now to help your deals stand out from the competition.

3. Proposals are summaries; keep ‘em short and sweet

    When it comes to laying out your business proposals, less is often more.

    Close rates follow a clear trend when broken down by document length: as the page count goes up, the close rate goes down.

    The same shorter-is-better idea is also reflected in the number of sections a successful proposal contains. We identified that the ideal proposal contains roughly eleven pages broken up into eight sections.

    Organized, concise proposals help create a logical flow that captivate potential clients to the very last page—the one where they sign.

    It’s true that proposal structure changes depending on your company, the industry you operate within, and the product or service you’re selling. But most deal docs follow a similar framework.

    Grab the free report for a thorough breakdown of the must-have sections you need in your closing docs to close more deals.

    You’re not only selling to your champion.

    There is a fair chance your proposal will be read by decision makers you haven’t met yet.

    That means the fate of the deal depends on how effectively this document communicates your value—and also shows why this document is so crucial to success.

    The best proposals are summaries of all the key points covered so far in the sales process. These documents need to speak to the stakeholders who’ve been involved in the process since the beginning, those who have come in part-way, and those who are seeing all of this for the first time.

    And this one document needs to convince them all to sign.

    Winning proposals are concise, persuasive, and designed to convince potential clients that your reps understand their pain and your company’s solution is uniquely positioned to help them achieve their goals.

    4. Lack of visibility after you send your proposals can doom your deals.

      Visibility into what happens after potential clients receive a business proposal helps reps close more deals, period.

      You wouldn’t send leads through your marketing site without tracking and analytics, so why are so many teams still in the dark about what happens in the sales process after reps send a proposal?

      A low-tech method for keeping track of proposals can be as simple as periodically hopping on the phone to check in to see what’s going on.

      But reps who take that approach run the risk of appearing... overly persistent.

      One level above that is implementing an automated scheduled follow-up system that auto-fires an email or message after a certain amount of time to ask prospects how they’re progressing.

      This approach is better, but it still isn’t sophisticated enough to pick-up on the nuances and subtle intent signals that help reps nail their follow up.

      Proposal management software, like Proposify, sends alerts when someone is active on a proposal, even days or weeks after reps send them. Sales teams with access to this data have unparalleled insight into the closing stages of their sales process, and can identify patterns over time and red-flag indicators when a deal isn’t doing so hot. Reps can use this information to reach out while the deal is top-of-mind for their prospects.

      Timely follow-up can make the difference between a deal closing or a deal going cold. If your reps are in the black box with no way to see what’s happening with their closing docs once they’re in a prospect's hands, follow-up becomes a game of chance.

      If your closing process isn’t measurable, it isn’t optimizable. And yes, that is definitely a word.

      Our report contains a full tear-down of what constitutes a well-timed follow-up based on the view trends from more than 2.6M proposals. What we discovered was surprising, even a little counterintuitive—but you’ll need to grab the report to find out what it is.

      Actual footage of a Proposipup reading the State of Proposals.

      5. Are your closing methods two decades out of date?

      If you need to capture client signatures to close the deal, esignatures are the only way to go.

      That was true even before the pandemic—esignatures have been a legally-binding method of signing for more than 20 years. Now, thanks to COVID, pen-to-paper signatures in business are quickly going the way of the dodo.

      But once you learn that esignatures help increase deal close rates by up to 465%, and help them close up to 66% faster, my guess is you’ll be fine if your reps never request a physical signature from their prospects again.

      Esignatures aren’t just about leveraging technology to span the distance the pandemic has created. It’s about making it easy for your clients to sign-off on your deals, a practice that will remain beneficial long after COVID peaces-out.

      2020 also saw a boost in another signing tactic that helped bump-up close rates even higher. You’ll need to read the full report for that one though—page 39.

      All the secrets to dominating your deals are right here.

      We analyzed a ton of sales docs for the State of Proposals 2021.

      But, really, the proposal that matters most is the next one YOUR team sends.

      If you’re ready to take the guesswork out of your deal-closing process and discover exactly how to elevate your proposals above the rest, this report shows you how.

      Grab your copy now—before the competition does.

      the state of proposals 2021 cover

      Wanna take the guesswork out of closing deals in 2021?

      Millions of proposals. Thousands of survey responses. Ten actionable takeaways.

      All the data-driven secrets to crushing the closing stages of your sales process are right here.