It is sometimes appropriate, at some stage of the sale process, to provide your prospect with a proposal. A well-done proposal can make closing the sale a lot easier.
Some companies expect their proposal to do the selling. This is a mistake. A proposal is the natural conclusion of a well-thought-out and well-executed sales process. It is a confirmation of things discussed, not a primary selling tool.
A proposal serves three primary purposes. The first is to confirm what was discussed during the course of the selling activities. Second, it should explain what you are offering and outline the terms and conditions of the sale. Third, it is your last opportunity to sell the value of your product/services and yourself to the prospect.
This last point shouldn’t be taken too lightly as your proposal may end up being reviewed by someone, often the final decision-maker, who was previously unavailable or inaccessible during your initial sales presentations. This person may be seeing your information for the first time and your ability to create a good impression is critical.
Because someone may be seeing your information for the first time, it is important that the proposal be complete. There should be no unanswered questions or unexplained terms and conditions, etc.
It’s also important that your proposal contain no new information and no surprises for your prospect. The proposal should capture the essence of your discussions with the prospect, your understanding of their situation, and confirmation of your proposed solution or offering.
It is appropriate to include supporting collateral material even if the material hasn’t been previously seen by the prospect, providing it doesn’t provide new information that may cause the prospect to reopen the sales process.
There is no standard format for a proposal. The format outlined here has been proven to be extremely effective and should become your starting point to developing your own format for a winning proposal.
You can modify or delete any sections that may not be appropriate to your specific situation but it is important to maintain the order that the sections are presented.
Section 1: Executive Summary
The executive summary is intended to provide a concise overview to those prospects that have neither the time nor inclination to read through the complete document.
This section should summarize the contents of sections two, three, and four. The executive summary may take the form of a covering letter and is usually written last.
Section 2: Understanding of Requirements
This is where you show your understanding of the prospect’s specific needs, problem, challenge, or requirement for your product/service.
Remember, prospects feel that the salesperson or company that best understands the problem is likely to have the best solution. This is where you demonstrate your understanding of their problem or situation so go into as much detail as needed to display your understanding.
Section 3: Proposed Solutions or Recommendations
You use this section to outline the details of your offering. You should also use this section to list the key facts and benefits required to reinforce the merits of the prospect moving forward and accepting your proposal.
Section 4: The Investment
This is the dollar-and-cents portion of the proposal. The financial aspects of your offering should be presented in a clear, concise manner. Check your numbers for accuracy. An error at this stage can seriously undermine your credibility.
If possible, include a return on investment section that shows the prospect how he will recover his investment in a reasonable period of time. Alternately, show how much money accepting your proposal may save.
Section 5: Corporate Information
This is where you tell the prospect why he should award you the business and basically answers the question, “Why you?”
This section is usually a boilerplate format and rarely changes from one proposal to the next.
Section 6: Client List & Testimonials
This section is intended to answer the questions, “Who says so?” and “Prove it.”
Like the information in the Corporate Information section, third-party testimonials are important in giving the prospect some comfort in knowing he is dealing with a reputable organization. Inserting one or two appropriate testimonial letters or a client list can go a long way to providing the prospect with peace of mind.
Section 7: Terms and Conditions
This is where you outline, in clear form, any terms or conditions that will apply to this transaction. It is very common for this section to remain the same from one proposal to another and can be boilerplate.
Section 8: Appendix
Use this section to include any collateral material such as brochures, marketing material, articles, and other supporting material.
Each section should be a page onto itself. Some sections may have a number of pages. With the possible exception of highly technical proposals, if you follow the format we recommend above, your proposals will range from eight to twenty pages in length depending upon the quantity of supporting material you include in the last section.
As you develop your first several proposals, you are likely to find that you are essentially saying the same thing in each and every proposal. These are the parts that can be boilerplate and used over and over again.
Another Set of Eyes
It’s extremely wise to let someone else read over your proposal. If something is incorrect, this person is likely to catch it before the prospect does. If something you’ve written doesn’t make sense to the reviewer, it won’t make sense to your prospect either. Use another set of eyes to review your proposal. You won’t regret it.
Presenting Your Proposal
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, you should present your proposal in person to the prospect. This may be your last opportunity to make a sales presentation and simply mailing your proposal to the prospect is inappropriate.
When making a formal presentation before a committee, be sure to have copies of your proposal for each attendee. Before launching into your presentation, it is both appropriate and wise to briefly poll the group to find out what things in particular each person is interested in hearing and seeing. This will allow you to tailor your presentation on the fly, emphasizing those parts that are of interest and glossing over those things that are of minimal interest to the group.
Because people are less interested in who you are and more interested with what you can do for them, it is wise to leave the detailed overview of your organization until later in the presentation. Start with a brief overview (executive summary), then move on to your understanding of the situation and the prospect’s need for what it is you are offering.
By keeping the focus of the presentation on the prospect and his needs, you will generate a strong level of interest on the part of the prospect.
Keep it Simple
If you use the format shown above, you will find yourself writing a simple yet winning proposal, one that will summarize your offering and provide the information required for the prospect to make an informed buying decision.
SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional training firm that specializes in helping companies navigate their way in a Salesforce.com environment. SalesForce Training is based in Toronto, with trainers in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, providing sales coaching, sales management consulting, Salesforce.com training, selling skills sales training and sales team assessments.