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Sales Coaching
Creating the Winning Proposal
By Jim Kasper, President & CEO, Interactive Resource Group

As a professional salesperson, you expend a lot of energy creating favorable first impressions.

As a professional salesperson, you expend a lot of energy creating favorable first impressions. You work hard at prospecting, making numerous cold calls and demonstrate strong questioning and listening skills during your initial sales interviews with prospective customers. Through your steadfast efforts, you're able to create interest for your product or service and have moved a prospect forward in your sales cycle. It's at this point that you look forward to setting the date for presenting a proposal.

You've now entered the proposal stage of your sales cycle. This is where you take all of the information you've carefully extracted from interviews and incorporate it into a formal proposal. Like most professional salespeople, you use a standard business proposal format. In many sales environments that we've seen, the proposal format is often overlooked and, like Rodney Dangerfield, "gets no respect." Instead, your proposal format is perhaps the most important instrument in your sales cycle.

You need to ensure that your proposal format directly reflects your sales style and product/service position. If you have an upbeat aggressive sales style, your proposals should mirror that style; it shouldn't be "dry" or "antiseptic." On the other hand, if you operate in a technical sales environment, your format should focus more on the data and specification areas. If positioning your product/service as a quality high end offering, your proposal should reflect a corresponding level of "polish." No matter what your selling style or position, there are rules to follow that will insure a strong, thoroughly read, widely distributed and understood proposal.

Test your proposal format for readership by asking customers and prospects what they like and what suggestions they would offer to make it easier to read and understand. Audit your proposal using the following elements as a benchmark:
  • The project name, customer's name, customer contact name, date, your name, company, address, telephone, e-mail, and web site
  • An objective: a summary statement identifying the objectives of the proposal
  • An overview or brief description of the events that need to take place
  • A timeline of events and suggested dates
  • The proposition: Here's what I'm proposing to you, including specifications
  • The pricing and terms page (near the end)
  • A page on your company's background and your personal qualifications
  • Professional references (other satisfied customers).
Your proposal should make extensive use of your customer's "shorthand" where appropriate. This shows them you were listening and have grasped their culture and environment. Good examples are to use specific titles such as the Vice President of North American Laser Repair or specific names of internal departments and groups. Be sure to highlight the key points that the customer explained during your sales interview and, if possible, use graphs and charts to illustrate those points. Business proposals should be generated on your best paper stock.

And don't ever let a proposal leave your office until it is proofed by someone other than yourself and who knows your business. Bind all proposals in a cover or presentation jacket. That lends a strong sense of professionalism to your prospect. Run as many original documents as needed for the customer and an additional copy for backup.

Avoid loading up your proposals with quotes or references to products or projects you've delivered to other customers which don't relate to the customer you're proposing to. Instead, use ones which are valid and applicable to that specific customer. While it may be impressive to include an extensive list of completed work delivered to customers, remember that the customer will likely lose interest if they have to read through too much material that doesn't pertain to them.

Many proposal templates we've seen include a statement of acceptance, typically appearing at the end of the proposal. This paragraph states that the customer accepts the proposal as presented, including the price and terms. Some companies have their legal counsel draft this paragraph to reduce the event of litigation. An alternative is to confine the legal agreement to a separate letter of acceptance or in a purchase order that is given to the customer after a verbal proposal agreement.

The final paragraph on the proposal price and terms page should state how long the price and terms are valid. This depends upon your industry sales cycle and pending cost increases. You should not state that the proposal is good for 30 days if traditionally it takes 60 days to run your sales cycle.

It's best that you deliver as many proposals in-person as possible. Remember that your customer performance objective at the sales interview stage of the sales cycle was to get them to grant you the next appointment to deliver the proposal. Your presence shows the customer or prospect how important their business is to you by setting a tone of immediacy. It also speeds up your sale cycle by allowing you to address their questions and overcome their objections.

If unable to deliver your proposal in person, then overnight courier delivery or electronic delivery are your remaining options. Be sure to ask your prospect for their preference and if they request electronic, be sure to use a protected file format such as Adobe PDF and in all cases set a specific time and date for follow-up.

By following these basic steps, you won't lose a sale in the proposal stage!

Jim Kasper is the Founder and President of Interactive Resource Group. Mr. Kasper has over 26 years of practical experience in direct sales, sales management, sales training, and marketing. Contact him at or call 800-891-7355

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