Because I’ve been involved behind the scenes in so many pitches and proposals over the years, when I watch ads on TV or online, I’m usually not thinking about the product they’re selling. I’m wondering how the agency convinced the client to go with that concept.
Regardless of whether I think it’s a good ad or a bad one, I’m curious how the agency persuaded the client to choose that particular direction because selling your ideas to people is difficult. Especially if it’s something that involves taking a risk or is unusual, like the rainbow-pooping unicorn concept of the Squatty Potty video.
Like, what went on in that pitch? (I think this is a brilliant way to sell an icky subject, btw.)
We’ve probably all been in situations where a potential client chose a competitor even though we know we would have done a much better job, but somehow they were convinced that the other company was the best choice.
When it comes to proposals, it’s not always the most qualified company who wins, but the most convincing company.
Being persuasive is the key to successful sales. It’s about inspiring people to buy, to care, to spread the word.
In this post, I’ll try my own hand at persuasion by sharing my tips on how you can write proposals that convince and convert.
9 steps to a more persuasive proposal
1. Qualify your lead
If your potential client isn’t a good fit for your company to start with, they’re not actually serious about doing business, or they don’t have an appropriate budget, you’re not going to be able to convince them of anything, and you’ll just be wasting your time.
Validating your leads before you spend hours preparing a proposal is probably the most crucial step in sales. Figuring out if this potential client actually has potential should be your first step in the sales process—before you even type one little word of your proposal.
To help with that, here are five things to ask yourself when talking to a lead to see if they’re worth pursuing:
- Is this my ideal client in terms of industry, size, or revenue?
- Can I/my team really help them solve their problem?
- Am I truly excited about this project?
- Does this client have a budget I can work with?
- Is there a personality fit? You don’t have to turn into BFFs but if there isn’t some connection, you might have problems once you start working together.
By confirming that this client is actually a good fit for your business, you’ll have a much better chance of convincing them to choose you.
2. Answer the question, “WHY?”
This is really is the crux of all persuasion but I’m surprised how many proposals don’t directly and clearly address it. People don’t like to be told what to do without a good explanation, so you need to guide them through that.
Every proposal should answer these ‘why?’ questions:
- Why is the client looking for help?
- Why should they choose your business?
- Why shouldn’t they choose the competition?
- Why is your solution the right one for this client?
- Why should they trust you?
- Why are you the expert in this situation?
- Why should I spend this much money when it’s more than what the competition is charging?
When preparing your proposal, you need to think of every ‘why?’ that might emerge that could derail your efforts of persuasion, and be sure to have a compelling answer.
3. Understand the client
To convince anyone of anything you first need to establish that you know something about the situation. Make sure your proposal demonstrates that you understand the client, their business, their customers, their industry, and the challenges they’re facing.
This involves listening to the client, doing research, and directing the proposal to focus on the client, not you. I don’t know how many proposals I’ve read that were just all about the agency or business - me, me, me, and more about me - with very little attention paid to the actual client and their problem.
Proving you get it (and understand them) establishes credibility so the client’s more likely to be open to what you have to say and more easily convinced that you know what you’re talking about.
4. Make your case, consistently
If you want to persuade someone of something, you need to be clear about what that something is and be consistent in defending and proving that point throughout your proposal.
People are very suspicious of others who appear inconsistent in their views and opinions. Sometimes the very the act of changing your mind (justifiably or not) can be viewed negatively by others, as if you don’t have the fortitude to stick to your guns, or that you had poor decision-making abilities the first time around.
Be straightforward with your position and keep proving it over and over throughout your proposal using storytelling, stats, and other proof points to drive it home.
Being consistent is also a form of repetition which is another effective persuasion technique. People need to hear something more than once to really absorb what you’re saying and adopt the same view.
This will establish trust with the client and if they trust you, they’re more likely to be convinced by what you say and that you’ll deliver on your promises.
5. Use the 'Problem, Agitate, Solution' technique
Also known as PAS, this is a classic copywriting formula and persuasion technique, perfect for writing a convincing proposal.
As discussed earlier, it’s important that you show the client you understand the problem or challenge they’re struggling with.
The next step is to agitate the problem, making it a little more painful, demonstrating how dangerous the risks are if the problem persists, and how crucial it is to find a solution.
This isn’t about fear-mongering but again, showing that you understand the pain, you have experience with it, and you want to shelter the client from it getting much worse.
Then you swoop in with your brilliant solution that will make everything better, alleviate the pain, and save the future from certain demise.
An exaggerated and often hilarious example of this technique is regularly used in those gadget commercials on TV, like this one for Wraptastic.
Life before Wraptastic is grey, frustrating, wasteful, and time-consuming. Then along comes Wraptastic and life is in full colour, everything is easy, and not only will I be able to wrap three hero sandwiches in five seconds, but my hands will also be safe from the shark-like aggression of the teeth on the average food wrap box.
Obviously, the way these gadget companies use PAS is waaaaaaay over the top but you can adapt this formula for your own clients and services in a way that is relatable, professional, and convincing. AND TRUTHFUL.
6. Provide social proof
We are social creatures who want to fit in, be accepted, and be associated with the same characteristics as the peer group we admire.
You see this with the rise of influencer marketing. That person I think is smart and successful said this product or service changed their life, saved their business, made them better looking. So because this ‘expert’ said it was awesome and I have the same problem, I’m going to try this product, too. That's good social proof.
Integrate case studies (I prefer the term 'success stories’—more persuasive language!), testimonials, reviews, and referrals in your proposal to help build your case that your solution is the right one.
And don’t worry, you don’t necessarily have to have Gary Vaynerchuk or LeBron James hyping your services. You just need other people and businesses your clients can relate to who talk about how you solved their problem.
7. Watch your tone of voice
Regardless of the message you want to communicate to your potential client, they’re not going to understand or relate to it if you don’t speak their language, or if you use a tone of voice in your writing that alienates them.
While you want to establish yourself as an expert in your proposal, your tone and language are important. You don’t want to come off as condescending to your client or imply that they are idiots for not coming to you sooner.
Avoid using jargon and other overly technical terms your client won’t understand. It doesn’t make you look smarter, it makes them feel excluded. More importantly, if they can’t understand what you’re talking about, they won’t be persuaded by what you have to say.
Establishing a relatable tone of voice in writing your proposal will help to emotionally connect with your clients, and emotionally connecting with your clients is another persuasive technique.
Is your tone professional, conversational, empathic, educational, or irreverent?
Think about your clients - who they are, what they value, how they see themselves, and how they want to see themselves in relation to your service or product. Choose a tone of voice in your writing that speaks to them, while still being on-brand for your company.
8. Use plain language
Plain language writing is about just that — writing in a clear, concise manner so that readers easily and quickly understand what you’re trying to convince them of.
It’s also known as plain English in some circles but whatever you call it, it’s about removing all ambiguity, convoluted language, and jargon from any document.
Making sure your proposals are as straightforward as possible will make it easier for clients to be persuaded. They’ll understand what you’re offering, what the process will be, and what results they should expect.
Plain language makes your proposal easier to understand, easier to remember, and easier for the client to say yes.
You can read a post I wrote a few months ago that outlines the importance of plain language in sales and how to incorporate it into your proposals.
9. Design is persuasive, too
Your products and services may be superior compared to your competition but if they don’t LOOK superior, it’s going to be hard to convince your client otherwise.
Making your proposal legible, aesthetically pleasing, and professional-looking will go a long way in persuading a client that you are the best choice, regardless of the actual words you use.
Here are four basic rules to follow when designing your proposal:
- Don’t cram every page with text.
- Use whitespace and beautiful images to let the design breathe.
- Make appropriate use of colour.
- Use legible and elegant typography.
If you need help, hire a professional to design your template and follow their guidelines, or start with a well-designed stock template ( may I offer a few suggestions? ) and make it your own.
Creating the win-win situation
Being persuasive comes down to gaining the trust, and respect of your potential client so that they are easily convinced by the solution you offer them.
You want to address all their concerns so they feel there little risk in their decision to choose your business, and leave them feeling confident about themselves and the future of their company.
Learning to sell and write more persuasively can be the tipping point for converting more proposals into closed deals. And more closed deals help convince more clients.