(This article was originally published on 4/17/2018 and updated on 5/25/2021 and 10/18/2022)
The sales landscape is constantly evolving, but we’ve come up with a proven proposal writing process that continues to close. And lucky for you, we like to share. By the end of this article, you’ll have everything you need to write a winning business proposal of your own.
How To Prepare to Write a Business Proposal
A business proposal is a sales document that is used to persuade a prospective client to purchase goods or services. It’s your chance to convince them that your company is the right choice for the job, so it’s crucial that you get it right. There are multiple ways to deliver a business proposal, but the end goal remains the same: sell.
Solicited vs unsolicited business proposals
A solicited business proposal is exactly what it sounds like -- a business proposal that is sent to a potential customer after they submit a formal or informal request for proposals from vendors.
On the other hand, an unsolicited business proposal is sent to prospective customers (think direct mail or cold email) that haven’t requested it. In this situation, companies use generic proposals to cast a wide net that filters out uninterested recipients from potential clients.
Without details about your prospects business or needs, unsolicited business proposals are pretty much a shot in the dark. While you can certainly send off a bunch of cold emails in hopes of pulling in a few leads, chances are your message will go straight to spam or end up in the trash. We recommend avoiding unsolicited proposals and instead focusing that energy on your lead qualification process and sending them the perfect proposal.
What you need to include in a business proposal
Starting a proposal can feel overwhelming. However, if you break your proposal writing process down into sections, it becomes much easier to get the ball rolling. Once you’ve organized your thoughts, you can tackle one section at a time. By the end, you’ll end up with some great content you can even reuse for future proposals.
The key elements of a business proposal:
- Proposal cover
- Executive summary
- Problem statement
- Proposed solution
- Project deliverables
- Project milestones
- About us/team
- Social proof
1. Proposal cover
The cover of your proposal is the first thing that your prospect will see, so it needs to be appealing. It doesn’t have to be flashy -- simple is usually better -- but it must be well-designed. The proposal cover should include all the pertinent information like:
- Name of the project
- Project reference numbers
- Name of the client and contact to whom you’re submitting
- Name of your company and contact info
- Date proposal was submitted
The main goals of a proposal cover are to grab the prospect’s attention and set the stage for your proposal before you dive into the details. A good proposal cover can leave a great first impression and get the prospect excited for your pitch.
2. Executive summary
One of the biggest misconceptions about proposals is that the executive summary is a summary of your whole proposal. It’s not; it’s a summary of why your solution is the right one. It outlines why your potential client should choose your company over the competition.
The purpose of the executive summary is to sell, so it should be persuasive and focused on the benefits of your company/product/service, rather than descriptive and focused on the features. A good executive summary should have five key components:
- The opener
- The need
- The solution
- The evidence
- The call to action
Put them all together, and you have the recipe for a winning executive summary that will knock your prospect’s socks off.
If you’re still wondering how to write an executive summary for your proposal, we’ve got you covered. Learn about the do’s and don’t of executive summaries and more in our blog post.
3. Problem statement
Potential clients want to know that you get them, and this section is the perfect place for you to show your diligence. Understand and outline the exact problems and challenges that your prospect is facing, whether they are aware of them or not. This will help build trust and reinforce the importance of solving their issues, which paves the way for you to sell your solution.
4. Proposed solution
Describe the approach your team would use to solve your prospect’s challenges, along with the process involved. Skip the generic pitch and be as specific as possible -- you don’t want to give the impression that you sent a boilerplate proposal and simply swapped out another lead’s name for theirs. Even if the service is the same one you sell to most of your clients, make the context of the proposal feel customized.
5. Project deliverables
Specify what’s included in the proposal and what the prospect can expect to receive from you. It’s important that you have detailed descriptions for each deliverable. Don’t assume your lead already knows the scope of each service, or even what it means. Clarity and transparency early on can help you avoid any misunderstandings about expectations later.
Keep in mind that the person you deliver the proposal to might not be the only (or final) decision maker. In the event that your proposal is shown to other stakeholders, a detailed breakdown of the deliverables can help them understand exactly what they're signing off on.
6. Project milestones
Give potential clients an idea of what to expect and when they can expect it by breaking the project into phases. This will allow you to outline the events and deliverables for each, including how long it will take, who is responsible for what, and what will be accomplished at the completion of each milestone. By keeping potential customers in the loop right from the start, you’ll be better prepared if either party needs to make any adjustments to timing or deadlines.
The pricing section includes everything related to… pricing. It covers everything from fees and taxes to discounts and beyond, helping potential clients understand exactly what they are paying for. While this section was once considered optional, it's now pretty much essential. In fact, we analyzed over 2.6 million proposals and found that 97.6% of proposals contain pricing information. So don’t skip it.
Instead, find a way to make it work for you. Many sales professionals use interactive pricing tables to display the pricing section, as they provide an easy way for clients to experiment with options and create opportunities for cross selling. Plus, our research shows that proposals with interactive pricing have a close rate 12.6% higher than those with static pricing.
Here at Proposify, we recommend calling this section “your investment” because it positions the project as an investment into the prospect company’s growth and success rather than just a cost.
8. About Us/team
Explain who you are as a company; what you do, why you exist, your expertise, and your unique selling proposition. Outline all the services or products you offer, not just the ones relevant to this proposal. It may be a chance to cross-sell your clients, or can at least give them an idea of what else you have to offer.
Don’t forget to show off your greatest resource - your team! Make your potential client feel confident that they’re hiring the best by highlighting the experience and strength of the team members who will be working on their project.
9. Social proof
While proposals outline what you’re going to do for a client, social proof proves that you can do it. No matter how many times you claim that your company has “extensive experience,” without a case study or other form of social proof to back it up, those words can be meaningless and risky to a new prospect.
Businesses are often hesitant to include case studies with their proposals because it’s more work on top of everything else, especially when you’re in the depths of preparing and sending a proposal on a tight deadline. The key is to stop seeing case studies as optional and instead view them as an essential selling tool; the tool that just might be the tipping point between you and competition.
But case studies aren’t the only way to prove that you can walk the walk -- social proof comes in many shapes and forms. Testimonials, customer stories, and reviews are just a few of the many ways you can leverage your past work to build trust with your prospects. Whether you’re looking for another way to demonstrate your value or aiming to supplement existing case studies, incorporating other forms of social proof can help you take your business proposals to the next level.
Save time with proposal templates
Proposal templates are an extremely effective way to write winning business proposals. Instead of winging it each time you start a new proposal, get a leg up by using a professionally designed template that can be customized to your needs. Say goodbye to the boring Word docs, bland pricing tables, and mismatched images, proposal templates make it easy to showcase your brand and accelerate your deals. Here are just a few of the many perks:
Send proposals faster
Business proposal templates help you get your proposal off the ground faster by giving you an established starting point. Rather than starting from scratch each time you approach a new prospect, you’ll start with a template and fill in sections according to the needs of each prospect.
Get peace of mind
If you're still manually assembling your sales documents and sending them off to prospects, you've probably had things go wrong in the past. Big PDFs often get stuck in spam filters, files refuse to open, and compatibility issues are rampant. Using a business proposal template, you simply send a link to your prospect and they can view your proposal online, anytime, anywhere. Plus, you'll be able to track who has viewed it and when.
Be more consistent
If you have multiple people or teams working on your proposals, you know how hard it can be to maintain consistency in your sales documents. From formatting to design and everything in between, it’s difficult to ensure everyone is on the same page (and version). By creating your own proposal templates, your sales documents will always be consistent as your team collaborates to deliver them to potential clients.
Avoid errors and omissions
Creating proposals from scratch and emailing them back and forth between different stakeholders leaves plenty of room for error. Let's face it: without a streamlined document review process, typos and incorrect information are bound to slip through the cracks every once in a while. Avoid the headache by using a proposal template that puts creating, approving, and sending proposals in the same place.
Any good proposal software has a content library that allows you to create and save sections, images, and other info you use frequently. So instead of digging up content or re-writing copy every time you send a new proposal, you can pull pre-saved and up-to-date information directly from your library into your proposal template.
Browse our library of proposal templates, then explore some winning business proposal examples to get your creative juices flowing.
Business proposal examples
If you’re looking for sample business proposals to get you started, you’ve come to the right place. From accounting to website design and everything in between, we have a comprehensive library of proposal samples that will help you close deals faster.
Tips for writing a memorable business proposal
Creating a memorable business proposal requires more than just writing. In order to stand out from your competition, you need to connect with your potential clients and tailor each proposal you send. After all, no prospect wants to receive a boring cookie-cutter business proposal that was clearly repurposed at the last minute. Here are some tips to help you go the extra mile and create memorable business proposals that your prospects can’t resist:
Own your proposal writing
The actual writing part of a proposal is arguably the most challenging part of the process. It can be easy to get bogged down in not just what to say, but how to say it.
The way you express yourself in your proposal reflects on your company, your expertise, and your working style. You need to convey information clearly, persuasively, and efficiently. At Proposify, we achieve this by adhering to the (new) three P’s of marketing:
Less is more. Attention spans are short, so you have little time to get people interested. It's important to be concise and expressive in your writing, but you should also look beyond the words. Use white space, headings, headings, tables, bullet points, and other elements to make your content easier to digest.
In order to stand out to your prospects, your solution needs to be seen as valuable. Social proof is the best way to demonstrate your value, and word of mouth is your golden ticket. Incorporate testimonials, referrals, and reviews into your proposal to persuade prospects to join your long list of happy customers.
Even if your product is miles ahead of your competition, you need to demonstrate that higher value doesn't mean higher risk. Customers like going with the lower-risk option, so it's important to find ways to reassure them that you're providing a value-packed, risk-reduced solution. Do this by highlighting perks such as training programs, 24/7 customer support, money-back guarantees, or any other "risk-reducing" extras you offer.
Learn how to price a business proposal
Between building trust with your new client, getting them to open up about their real budget, convincing them of your value, and trying to make it all profitable, pricing can feel like an uphill battle. You can use proposal pricing discounts to guide your prospects across the finish line, but whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short.
Find the pricing method that works best for you and focus on your own profitability. You don’t want to be known as the lowest-priced business in your industry, but you definitely don’t want to scare away prospects with prices they could never afford. Interactive pricing tables are a friendly way to present multiple pricing options, and they can even create opportunities for cross-selling. Not to mention that the close rate for proposals with interactive pricing is 12.6% higher than proposals with static pricing.
Pricing is a tricky subject, so we wrote a guide on how to price a business proposal to help you find the right balance.
Curious about how other sales professionals handle pricing? Download the State of Proposals 2021 to get data-driven insights on pricing, discounting, and more.
Gone are the days of sending physical copies of your proposals and contracts. Even before COVID, delivering and signing paper documents was a huge bottleneck, so we’re happy to say good riddance. Nowadays, over 97% of closing documents are delivered virtually, so there's really no reason to go back. But if you’re still hesitant for some reason, you might want to know that eSignatures help increase deal close rates by up to 465%, and help them close up to 66% faster. Beyond the numbers, here are many other reasons why you should use eSignatures in all of your sales documents.
If you really want to impress your prospect, consider countersigning your proposal before sending to avoid the back-and-forth. We analyzed over 2 million proposals and found that countersigned proposals had a 12% higher close rate compared to proposals that weren't.
Create a proposal conversion strategy
Writing the perfect proposal is only part of the story. In order to seal the deal, you'll need to figure out how you're going to use your proposal to convert your prospect into a client. Here’s how:
1. Establish your goal.
Most times, that goal is getting your prospect to sign off on your proposal and keep them moving through the sales pipeline.
2. Create an outline.
If you haven’t started writing your proposal, now is a good time to create an outline. Examine each section and establish how each one moves the prospect towards your goal. By ensuring that each section has a specific purpose, your outline acts as a guide for your writing.
3. Audit your proposal.
Once you’ve completed your proposal, look at every section and ask yourself if it pushes your client towards your goal. If it doesn't, adjust it to align with your goal or get rid of it.
4. Nail your delivery.
Now that you’ve created the perfect proposal, take some time to perfect your delivery. Make sure to touch on your prospect's pain points and add a personal touch to continue building rapport. Don't forget to follow up and offer to answer questions or walk them through the proposal.
Incorporate visual elements
Like it or not, your prospects are going to judge your proposal by its cover, so it’s essential that your documents look as good as they sound. Potential clients see the design of your proposal as a reflection of your company and your abilities, so it’s time to skip the boring one-page Word doc and opt for something more on-brand. At the end of the day,if your proposals don’t match your brand image, your deals could be doomed. Here’s why:
1. Buyers get behind brands.
If your proposal effectively conveys your brand and evokes a connection from your prospect, you've got a much better chance of closing.
2. Buyers like things that are familiar.
Consistency is important. If your website, emails, and demo are cohesive, but your proposals stick out like a sore thumb, you're off to a bad start.
3. Buyers like proposals that are easy on the eyes.
Nobody wants to read a wall of text, so you should use visual elements to your advantage. In fact, including images in your proposal can improve your close rate by 23%.
Whether you’re a graphic designer-turned-sales rep or brand new to the world of design, Proposify makes it easy to create business proposals that will wow your prospects. Explore some of the winning proposal design and layout tips (and examples) that can make the cover -- and the rest of your proposal -- look like a million bucks.
Learn when to send a business proposal
Your proposals and, more importantly, your time, are precious; you don’t want to waste the effort on a lead that has no intention of actually doing business with you, even if they seem well-intentioned.
So before you start rushing around and spending a whole lot of blood, sweat, and not-so-virtual tears trying to pull together your next business proposal, stop and ask yourself this:
Does this sales lead even DESERVE a proposal?
Because sometimes the answer is a hard NO. And if you want to be more profitable, you need to know how to pick your battles. Here are five questions to help you learn how to qualify a lead and determine if they are proposal-worthy.
Use online proposal software
One of the biggest complaints we hear about creating business proposals is how time-consuming the process can be. If you want to make it easier to get proposals out faster, the only solution is to automate your process. And the best way to do that is with online proposal software.
Another major pain point in the proposal process is a lack of transparency. It’s crazy how businesses measure every single part of their sales and marketing efforts, then send their proposals into the void without any way to track them. Sure, you can turn on read receipts to see if your prospect opened the email, but you still won’t know key details like:
- Did they open the proposal?
- Did they read it or did they just skip to pricing?
- How long did they spend on it?
- What sections did they focus on?
- Did they open it for 10 seconds, get stuck, and close it?
- Did they forward it to another decision-maker?
Without proposal software, there's a black box in your sales process, and it could be costing you deals. Using Proposify, you can take back control and gain visibility over your proposal process. You'll be able to track your proposals as soon as they leave your inbox, allowing you to see who opens your documents, how they spend time on them, where they're getting stuck, who they're forwarding them to, and more.
Online proposal software is designed to streamline your entire proposal process. From writing, to design, to sending and tracking, it unites all your separate tools and steps under one efficient roof.
Your business proposal is a chance to show potential clients why you’re uniquely positioned to help them solve their issues. But between finding the best proposal format, writing the actual proposal, and tailoring it to each client and project, the process can really bog down your deal velocity.
Proposify can help you kick things back into gear with proposal software that streamlines your proposal workflow. Take control of your sales process with the tools you need to dominate your deals.