How does proposal length affect close rates?
The long and the short of it is: shorter proposals tend to close better.
Hold up, though.
Before you rush off to cut whole sections out of your sales docs and start rewriting your executive summary like you’re Brian from The Office, there are a few caveats to this statistic.
In this post, I’m going to break down what the data really says about proposal page count vs. close rates and how to create a proposal that’s concise yet still comprehensive.
First, I’ll start with something accountant Brian would be into: let’s talk numbers.
How many pages should a business proposal be for an optimal close rate?
When we examined the 2.6 million proposals in the Proposify database, we found that shorter proposals tend to close better. For example, the average five-page proposal has about a 50/50 chance of closing. For a 30-page proposal, however, the close rate drops down to around 35%.
Since these are over-arching stats, there can obviously be outliers and fringe cases. In a particular market or industry, a 20-page proposal might be completely expected and a longer page count like that might not affect the close rate at all. In another situation, proposals that include more than a few pages with the standard pricing, terms & conditions, and sign-off sections might be a harder sell.
But, since proposals are supposed to be the ‘story of the sale’, why would shorter seem to be the winner here?
Why do shorter proposals close better?
The success of shorter proposals likely comes down to time—on both the internal sales team side and the client-side.
Short proposals can be quicker to create and send
We all know that time is a deal-killer. Shorter proposals have fewer ‘moving parts’ and can be quicker for your sales team to pull together. This means that they can get them out to prospects faster and get ahead of any competition. For example, 64% of Proposify proposals are created and sent in under an hour.
Shorter proposals appeal to busy decision-makers
Most people, including (especially?) your decision-makers, are busy. When you give them only what they need to give your sales rep that sign-off and no filler, it makes it easier for them to say yes.
How easy? Well, we found that 16% of proposals are won within just 10 minutes of the prospect opening them.
As HubSpot’s Dharmesh Shah tweets, “Simplicity drives sales. If you want to sell more, make people think less.”
Put another way: a confused mind says no. Confusion is not the reaction you want when your prospect views your proposal.
Shorter does not always equal simple and straightforward, though. What happens when you want to send a brief proposal but you have pages upon pages worth of deal details to include? Shoving 10 pages of information into a five-page proposal isn’t going to do your sales team or your prospects any good. It will be harder to put together and harder for your prospect to read and find all the important details they need.
With that in mind, I’m sharing some approaches that can help you simplify your proposals and keep your page count to a minimum without sacrificing the things that make a proposal a winner, like customized content, quality design, and interactive features.
How to write a concise proposal
Sure, you could take a (real-life or digital) red pen to your proposals and edit the ever-loving crap out of them. As a writer/editor, I’m always in favour of tightening up any piece of writing.
But some good old-fashioned editing probably won’t be enough to simplify and streamline your proposal. These tips for creating a concise proposal will help you better organize your vital deal details, rather than removing them altogether.
1. Don't include everything.
Okay, I know I just said we wouldn’t be removing information. But, to split a hair or two, I said not to remove ‘vital deal details’. This is about simplifying and avoiding confusion.
In our recent sales-pro survey, respondents agreed that the three must-have, can’t-live-without proposal sections are terms and conditions, signature, and pricing. No surprises there. That means that, for most salespeople, the inclusion and length of other sections are entirely negotiable.
I think we can agree, though, that no matter how multithreaded your sales process is, there will likely be a decision-maker who doesn’t have the context required to make an informed decision. Your proposal needs a frame of reference to get that CFO to sign off on spending money with you.
Somewhere between a two-page “order form” proposal and adding every single thing discussed during the sales cycle is probably the sweet spot. The trick is to watch out for including too many “nice-to-know” details with one simple question: does this specifically help the decision-maker in saying yes?
For example, does your proposal have to include your exhaustive ‘getting started with us’ guide? Sure, your project managers would flip out if new customers didn’t receive it at all, but maybe the guide becomes the cornerstone of a helpful welcome package sent after the deal is signed.
2. Do include a video.
Did you know that video use in proposals increased by 31% in 2020?
It’s no wonder why sales teams love video throughout the sales process but especially in proposals. You can show and explain a lot more in a short video than you can on the page and their on-demand nature is great for when you can’t present the proposal in person (or even virtually-in-person).
What are some other ways to use video in proposals? If you have a decision-maker who hasn't been hands-on in the sales process until the closing stage, try embedding a custom video for them right in the proposal that hits the highlights of the deal. Our sales-pro survey showed that only about 1 out of every 10 salespeople are doing this right now, so yours will likely stand out!
Other ways sales teams are using video in proposals:
- a mini demo of the product,
- a sizzle reel of previous work,
- a friendly team introduction in the About Us section,
- to showcase customer testimonials,
- or as a quick primer on the brand.
For example, experience design and build company Dimensional Innovations could include their brand video to explain exactly what a design and build firm does:
3. Do include images.
Not only do images add to the overall good design of your proposal, having images in your sales docs can increase deal close rates by up to 26%.
They can also help you keep your proposals concise. Check out this example from EverLine Coatings, an outdoor and indoor line painting service.
Sure, EverLine could spend pages of their proposal comparing the coating they use to the standard oil-based product. But why bloat your word count when an effective photo like this drives straight to the point?
4. Don’t let your team wing it.
Our collective tendency to write long documents is nothing new. As 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Creating content is hard and it's easy to get carried away and, as Pascal points out, it takes even more effort to write something concise.
The modern solution is proposal templates and pre-approved content. Not only will your reps not waste valuable selling time trying to rewrite or repurpose content, but not starting from scratch also speeds up deal velocity and the internal approval process.
One final vote for using standardized proposal templates and content across your sales team? Your competition probably already does—nine out of 10 sales pros we surveyed said they create their proposal from a template.
So you have a concise, yet comprehensive, proposal. What now?
Creating a proposal that’s your ideal length is only the beginning. You still have to deliver it to the client, right? We’ve found that presentation is just as important as your proposal content.
In our proposal analysis I quoted above, the data was also clear on this point: electronic signatures make proposals significantly more likely to close. Including places for both clients and internal stakeholders to esign increased close rates by a massive 465%.
It makes sense. Nobody, not even anyone on your own team, is interested in printing, signing, and scanning back a proposal, no matter how short it is. An online document is much easier to navigate and read, not to mention sign off on.
So here’s one final ‘do’ for you: Do deliver your proposal as a link to an online document with an electronic signature.
Why? Not only does this give your prospects a modern proposal experience, but it also gives you and your sales team valuable insight that PDFs and paper proposals can’t. You can track key closing metrics like who has viewed the document, how many times it was opened, how long was spent on each section, and more.
Plus, if you’re using proposal software, legally-binding electronic signatures are an easy drag-and-drop feature for your sales reps to add. Your prospects can then quickly initial and/or sign with just a few clicks.
So simple even Brian could do it.