What is a sales proposal?
A sales proposal is a documented pitch sent by a salesperson to a new prospective customer to present a project, service, or another offering. The purpose is to put a proposed engagement in writing so that all parties can agree to clear a scope of work and the terms for completing that work. Sales proposals can act as binding contracts when accompanied by e-signatures.
Types of sales proposals
There are many different types of sales proposals.
The common thread? Proposals are usually sent by companies that offer some level of hands-on service. Companies that sell products can also use proposals, but they usually include custom services alongside. For instance, a home theatre company might create a proposal to pitch the recommended products and necessary installation services.
Here are the most common types:
Advertising and marketing proposals
Business consulting proposals
Event management proposals
Commercial lease proposals
Construction job proposals
Corporate photography proposals
Wedding photography proposals
Graphic design proposals
Hotel event venue proposals
Legal services proposals
Who is responsible for creating sales proposals?
The person who creates and sends the proposal is usually the account executive (AE) or regional manager with a direct relationship with that potential client. They know the prospect’s needs better than anyone else, so they’re the best fit to customize the proposal.
However, AEs are not graphic designers and copywriters, so sales teams should work together to create internal-use templates to make it easy for AEs to customize and send new proposals in minutes.
Where do proposals fall within the sales cycle?
Proposals fall within the middle of the sales cycle.
You’ll acquire leads (through outbound lead generation or inbound marketing), then you’ll qualify them. Next, you’ll chat with the prospective client—on anywhere from one to a dozen calls—to discover their needs.
Once you know what you want to pitch to this prospect, it’s time to craft the proposal and follow up with them until the deal is signed.
Lastly, you’ll implement the agreed-upon solution and then expand on this opportunity by upselling or cross-selling.
3 sales proposal examples
Check out these examples of high-quality sales proposals to lay the groundwork for your own approach.
1. Business consulting proposal
This business consulting proposal example includes a detailed project summary, project timeline, and clear pricing. When selling business consulting, it’s important to remember you’re not only selling what the work is but also why the work matters and how it will impact the company.
2. Construction proposal
In this construction proposal example, you’ll find a great cover letter that highlights the knowledge and experience of the vendor company as well as a detailed project schedule with several different milestones. This example can help you set expectations when selling long-term or complex projects.
3. IT services proposal
This IT services proposal example offers a Scope & Services section that you can modify to clarify not only what’s included in your services, but also why each item matters. The example also features a couple of case studies with project goals and measurable results.
What to include in a sales proposal
To win over a prospective new client, you need to not only pitch the right solution but also showcase your company as the best vendor to deliver the transformation that the client is looking for.
You need to include all of the necessary information in a structure that makes sense and progresses the prospect toward saying “yes.”
We analyzed over a million proposals sent with our software, and we found out that proposals that include these key sections are more likely to close:
First off, you’ve gotta have a cover page. This is a pretty straightforward page where you include the title of your proposal, the prospect’s company name, your company name, and the date.
This section should match your branding, whether that’s bold and bright or simple and elegant.
The next section you need to include is often called the executive summary or cover letter. This is where you appeal to your prospect’s needs, goals, pain points, and desires. You might also include information about your own company and briefly summarize the project or service approach.
The approach section looks different for every company. You might make it more of a process section, where you break down your unique process into stages and explain why each stage is important. Or, you might make a quick overview of what you’re pitching, such as the marketing channels you recommend or the categories of food you want to offer during an event.
However you handle it, just make sure that your approach section covers the why.
Why are you proposing these services? Why do they matter?
The deliverables section is where you dive into the details of your pitch. For a construction project, this might look like a project timeline with all of the important project phases. For a photography proposal, you might break down what the client will get, such as a digital folder with 100 edited color photographs and 20 edited black and white photographs.
The pricing section is, of course, one of the most important sections of all. Here, you’ll share the exact investment of the proposed project or service. Through our research, we found that proposals with pricing tables are 35.8% more likely to close.
So if possible, add optional services and editable quantities. Buyers appreciate being able to adjust the scope as desired.
Terms and Conditions
Your sales proposal should include terms and conditions. Consider this the master service agreement, while the rest of the proposal usually clarifies the scope of work. Make sure to chat with your legal team to make sure you’re putting in all the necessary clauses.
Case Studies (or Social Proof)
Excellent sales proposals also include some form of social proof. This could be testimonials, reviews, online rating averages, or case studies. For creative work or construction work, portfolio pieces can be even more valuable, as potential clients will want to see evidence of your successful past projects.
How to write a sales proposal
Now that you understand all of the necessary sections and have a good idea of what they should include, writing the proposal will be that much easier.
Follow these steps:
Step 1. Do deep discovery
The first step is to discover the needs of your potential customer. Depending on your typical sales process, this might require one call or several.
Ask the client why they’re looking for a solution, what their process or situation looks like now, and what they’re struggling with.
With so many bases to cover, you need to keep the conversation on track. Try this technique: Instead of asking them for their pain points in an open-ended way, give them some options that are relevant to the problems your company solves.
“You give them a few options…here’s what others in your shoes are telling us, are any of those relevant to you? And if they say yes, then you’ve steered the conversation to a place where you’re talking about big issues that you can solve. It doesn’t go sideways.” - Daniel Hebert, Director of Sales at Q4
Step 2. Get verbal agreement that you understand the client’s needs
Before you start writing your sales proposal, take a pause. Are you sure that your pitch is exactly what the client needs?
It’s best to get verbal agreement before you take the time to actually create the proposal.
For example, you might tell the client on a quick call what you’re planning on proposing. Listen to their reaction to find out if they actually want to buy your proposed service or project.
If you’d rather pitch it blindly, then you should at least get verbal agreement that you understood their problems and goals correctly.
Step 3. Choose a proposal template
There’s no need to guess or go it alone. Proposal templates do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You can find a proposal template online and customize it to your company, or you can have someone on your team create a proposal template for the whole company to use.
Using a proposal template offers these major benefits:
Covers all of your bases and know what to include
Mimics the approach of top sellers
Improves the professionality of your presentation
Saves time on design and content
Proposify offers 75 unique proposal templates. Check out our proposal template library and choose the best one for your business.
Step 4. Customize the executive summary, approach, pricing, etc.
A winning sales proposal gets to the heart of what the customer cares about—and quickly.
While your company bio and terms and conditions might not change much from proposal to proposal, most sections should be customized to the needs of the person, small business, or enterprise you’re selling to.
Make sure to write custom content for these key sections:
You might also want to select social proof that best matches the sales pitch, whether that’s testimonials from a similar type of customer or service.
Refer to the section above on “what to include” for more details on the purposes and best practices for these elements.
Step 5. Write the delivery email and send the proposal
Next, you’ll need to write the email that will accompany the proposal. You can keep it simple, saying, “The proposal is ready for your review! Let me know if you have any questions or want anything changed.”
Or, you could write a custom email to briefly go over their goals (to remind them why they should open and read the proposal).
With Proposify, you can store your sending templates, reminder templates, and thank you places in one place. Plus, you can automate the delivery of your emails.
7 tips for sales proposal writing
There’s always room for improvement! Use these smart tips to take your sales proposal writing to the next level.
1. Write your proposals using dedicated proposal software
Ditch the PDF tools and design tools. Not only are they a waste of time for sales professionals, but they’re also less effective.
You’re better off using dedicated proposal software so you can collect proposal viewing and signing analytics. Proposal software will also save you time because you can drag and drop content instead of manually formatting and aligning everything.
2. Make sure everyone on your sales team is using the same process
The proposals that your sales team writes and sends are a reflection of your brand.
Is everyone on the same page? They should be using the same tools and content so that everyone is experiencing the same internal standard of productivity while providing a consistent buying experience.
3. Add images and videos to go along with your proposal
Proposals with images are 72% more likely to close, while videos boost closing rates by 41%.
Try adding process illustrations, charts of your average client results, images of past projects, and photos of your team. As for videos, you could add brand videography, 30-second proposal walkthrough videos to add a human element, or explainers of complicated services and processes.
4. Create templates for different services or regions
You shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need to write a proposal. Instead, create a variety of templates. For example, regions of your company can use localized images, such as desert scenes instead of forest vistas.
You can also write templates for different services, such as paid advertising versus SEO content marketing.
5. Maintain a library of approved content snippets
Instead of customizing an entire template, you might be better off writing a variety of content snippets that can be used interchangeably.
Work with senior sales leaders and your branding team to come up with approved content such as:
Then, the sales team can mix and match the right content snippets according to the prospects's needs. This will save hours of time for everyone while ensuring quality control.
6. When you get stuck, ask your potential client for more info
Writer’s block is real.
Fortunately, it’s easily remedied. Usually, the cause of writer’s block is a lack of confidence. If you find yourself getting stuck when writing your sales proposal, it could indicate that you’re unsure about your pitch.
Take a step back. Email the client a question or set up a call to ask more discovery questions. Once you’re sure you’re pitching the right service or project, it should be much easier to complete the proposal content.
7. Measure and improve your proposals over time
One of the best ways to write better proposals is to collect data and take action based on the learnings.
With Proposify, you’ll automatically gather viewing and closing analytics that can be easily filtered and sorted.
For instance, let’s say you analyze the closing rate of one type of service versus another. If you find that one service is more likely to close, you can look at how that proposal template differs. Is it more detailed? Are you doing a better job of explaining that service and selling the client transformation? Use your findings to update the less successful template.
Check out our proposal writing examples for more insights.
How to follow up on a sales proposal
42.5% of proposals are won within 24 hours of closing. That’s a reason to celebrate.
But that also means that—on the flip side—57.5% of proposals likely require some kind of follow-up to close the deal.
Here’s how to rock your follow-ups
Check client activity data to customize your follow-ups
Remember our tip above on using proposal software instead of a PDF? Well, follow-ups are a big reason why.
With Proposify, you can log in to view the client activity for a specific proposal. You can see who viewed the proposal, and when.
This is essential for customizing your follow-ups. For instance, if you know that one decision-maker hasn’t viewed the proposal, you could send an email to your champion buyer saying something like, “Hey, Sarah! I noticed that Ed hasn’t had a chance to view the proposal yet. Would you like to follow up with him or shall I?”
Use automated emails when possible
Customized follow-ups are great, but you might be able to get similar results by automating your follow-ups. Proposals with pre-scheduled reminders have a 35% higher closing rate than those that don’t.