Not everyone can be a Kimberly or an Anthony.
Who’s that? Oh, they’re just the duo with the closest bid on a Showcase on The Price is Right game show in recent history. Their guess came within less than $10 (without going over!) of the correct retail price of their selection of prizes, which meant they won all the Showcase prizes.
As amazing as this feat of game-show guessing is, there have been quite a few people who’ve pulled off the double-showcase win over the years. That’s because we generally know how much a certain kind of car might cost or the approximate price of a cruise vacation. But if you were on the proposal software version of The Price is Right, would you be able to guess the cost?
If you create proposals, you know the importance of pricing them just right. And how many factors go into that final number. And how your prospects flip to that pricing page right away.
This is the post where we separate the Flip Flops from the Plinkos. I’ll break down the cost considerations involved in buying and implementing proposal software.
Keep in mind as we go through these details that a blog post can’t take the place of speaking with a sales pro about your specific needs. However, this should give you more clarity on the factors that influence the price of proposal software, how to identify the best proposal software, and the ROI you can expect.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why the cost of proposal software varies
- Our experience with different pricing models
- Factors that influence proposal software pricing
- The true cost of free proposal software
- How to find the best proposal software
- The ROI of proposal software
Why does the cost of proposal software vary?
How much is this gonna cost me?
It’s the natural first reaction to almost any idea, plan, or suggestion. Especially in business, where there can be multiple priorities but still only one budget pool to pull that cash from. Which is why “It depends.” feels like such a cop-out of an answer to an important question.
But there really are a lot of variables at work when it comes to costing out a proposal software package. Why? Packages and pricing tend to depend on user needs and requirements. Total cost also depends on how the packages or pricing tiers are created.
For example, when Proposify first started, plans were based on the amount of active proposals in each account. However, we found that this approach limited customers’ ability to send proposals, which didn’t help them win more business.
Today, we use a per-seat pricing, with unlimited proposals on most plans. Just as each member of your sales team will have a seat on your CRM, it ties the proposal software into that single source of truth, helping data flow back and forth between the two sales tools.
Because there are different pricing models, the cost of proposal software may vary amongst competitors. Be sure to check out exactly what packages include. Speaking of, let’s talk about the things that may or may not come with your purchase and how they factor into the total cost.
Factors to consider that influence the cost of proposal software:
Features and integrations
What features are included? And how does that influence the price? For example, would you need to link up (and pay for) other tools like electronic signature or presentation mode or are those included?
How set in stone are your sales documents? Will you need the ability to edit each one extensively or pull content in from a library to customize it? Will you allow all users to access everything or would you want to gate some content or documents internally with content locking or user roles and permissions? What about approval workflows?
What about metrics and reporting? How in-depth will you need that to go?
Will you need to link other tools, like your CRM? Some software offers basic integrations and premium ones. Do you need regular or advanced integrations?
Onboarding and training
How will you roll this out to your team? Train everyone upfront? Train a certain group of early adopters and have them train their peers? Forego training entirely?
This will factor into the total price, usually as a one-time, upfront fee, but it will also have an impact on the ease of use for your team and their ramp-up time before you start to hit ROI.
Includes template transfer, images, other set-ups. Do you have a template that you can bring in? Will you be creating something new? Is this something you can do in-house or will you be outsourcing it to the software folks?
How important is a certain level of support to you and your team? Are you willing to pay for priority support or a dedicated success manager to help out?
The true costs of free proposal software
So, it’s time to address the popular Google search in the room: free software.
It’s not hard to understand why people try to seek it out. $0 can seem like the right price for a lot of teams. But is free software going to make your sales docs look polished and professional?
Here’s what free software does:
It lowers the bar and any expectations for outcomes.
How many times have you been using a free software tool and thought, Oh, this doesn’t do that particular thing? Well, it’s free, not perfect. Or usage amongst your team wasn’t great but you weren’t worried because it wasn’t a budget line anyway.
The downside? It leads to more time wasted looking for workarounds for features the free version doesn’t offer. It means that your sales team is using a hodgepodge of solutions, which makes for an inconsistent customer experience (at best).
It provides fewer barriers to implementation.
With free software, you don’t have to submit budget requests or back up your purchase to multiple decision-makers. And sometimes you already have the software in use in the company for other use cases, like the Microsoft Office suite of products, which makes it “free” to use for proposal purposes.
The downside? Many of these aren’t purpose-built as proposal solutions and require a lot of manual work to create a decent-looking sales doc. The most powerful among them require specialized knowledge and know-how, like Adobe InDesign, which usually means looping in a graphic designer. Your sales team may be able to use the simpler tools to create their own proposals, but you’d probably be shocked at how many hours are spent on this.
Pros and cons of popular ‘free’ proposal creation software
Let’s take a look at the most common software tools sales teams use to create proposals, both free and the we-already-use-it-for-other-things kind. The factors for and against each tool are taken from feedback we often hear from our customers and online review sites.
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- Quickly pull in products from database to create a quote
- Already use in CRM capacity
- Connected to and can pull in CRM data
- Limited in design and templating
- Editing and formatting can be difficult or rigid
- Can be complicated to implement, even if already using Salesforce CRM
MS Office Suite (Word and PowerPoint)
- May already use as general business tools
- Included as part of a purchased bundle
- Shorter training/ramp-up period as many people have been using this software for years
- Limited features and capabilities
- Lack of control over content with limited roles and permissions settings
- Difficult to collaborate
Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop and InDesign)
- May already be used as general business/marketing tools
- Included as part of an already-purchased software package
- Powerful design capabilities
- Amount of features and tools overwhelms a casual user
- May require specialized skills/expertise to use
- All creation/edits need to go through authorized user (usually designer)
Canva and other free design alternatives
- Freemium model
- Easy to use by design
- Templating for a variety of documents
- Freemium model mean you pay for any upgrades or advanced features
- Limited/generic design
- No security/back-up/admin functions
Keep in mind that these cons mentioned above don’t include the lack of valuable proposal software features like built-in electronic signature tools, deal insight via metrics and tracking, and client input forms that help capture important information right in the proposal document.
You might be thinking, hey, what about open-source proposal software? At this point, it’s just wishful Googling. There really isn’t any such thing available for free. (Although some proprietary proposal software options, including Proposify, offer an API.)
What is the best proposal software?
What’s the best proposal software for you? I don’t want to influence you here; instead, I’ll show you how to evaluate your own needs and requirements.
Since no one wants to pay for things they don’t need, what do you need to consider to find the best proposal software for your team? Start with these seven areas:
1. The volume of proposals your team sends
The higher the volume, the more robust the automation features you’ll need. Think about how much manual work goes into your proposals now, including time-intensive tasks like data entry and physical signatures.
2. How long it takes to prepare proposals
Could you shave hours or days of preparation time off your current workflow? How will the proposal software help you save time? Look for easy-to-use branded templates, pre-set content snippets and images, and other time-saving features.
3. How many people collaborate on proposals
The number of people who have a part in the proposal creation process will factor into your decision. How easy is it to collaborate on a proposal project? At the same time, would you need user roles and permissions to control access to certain assets within your account? What would the ideal level of control be?
4. Your proposal approval process
What does your internal approval process look like? If proposals need the OK from someone other than the person creating them, you’ll need a way to include that approval workflow into the proposal creation workflow.
5. Your proposal sign-off process
Think about how you get client sign-off. Most proposal software will include an electronic signature option these days, so make sure you look for a robust e-signature tool with features like unassigned signature boxes for when your sales rep is unsure who will be signing on the client end.
6. Your technical, legal, or design needs
Make sure the proposal software you choose can meet the requirements of your IT, legal, and/or marketing teams. Where will your proposal data be stored? Does the electronic signature tool comply with worldwide legislation? Will your graphic designers and branding pros be happy with the level of design customization? You’ll need to get these departments on board, too.
7. Your current sales process and sales doc workflow
The biggest mistake sales leaders make is thinking that proposal software can make your proposal process efficient. Proposal software works best when there’s a workflow already in place and the software is there to streamline or enhance it.
How to evaluate proposal software
Once you’ve done some research and narrowed down your software options, here are three ways to evaluate and compare them:
Case studies and testimonials
Success stories, especially ones that feature companies in your or a similar industry can help you envision what your team’s experience might be like. Consider the featured customer’s problem or pain point and how the software solution solved it.
The big software review sites can be overwhelming, but they’re also full of insight into what it’s like to use a particular piece of software. Try filtering the reviews for your proposal software options to only show you reviews from your industry or similarly-sized companies. You can also check to see if the software vendor responds to reviews and what those interactions are like.
Nothing beats a recommendation from someone you trust. In fact, 84% of B2B buyers start their buying process with one. Check around to see if anyone you know at another company is using a proposal software product they would recommend to you.
The ROI of proposal software
We can’t talk about proposal software pricing without talking about the return on investment (ROI) you can achieve. Proposal software automation means less hands-on admin work, which allows more time for other sales activities like prospecting. And automation, along with approved content and approval workflows, can provide peace of mind that proposals are accurate and error-free.
Teams that implement proposal software can expect to see time-savings, whether that’s increased efficiency that helps to get more proposals out to prospects or in front of prospects ahead of the competition.
We created this quick ROI calculator so you can see how saving time via proposal software can also save you money:
Choosing a proposal software solution is about more than simply asking if the price is right. You need tools that fit your proposal management process and allow your sales team to create proposals quickly and accurately.