How to write a killer sales proposal (examples and best practices)
A successful sales proposal can make the difference between winning or losing a sale. Learn best practices for writing a proposal that helps you close more deals.
Last updated July 27, 2022
Everyone loves an elevator pitch. A couple of snappy lines, a few enticing key words, and people are ready to set up a meeting to discuss your shiny new product.
But somewhere in between your elevator chat, a productive sales call, and closing the deal, you have to get your prospect a mountain of information—both factual and emotional. Neither of you has the time to sit and relay every single fact about your company or its solutions, so what do you do?
Ideally, you give them a stellar sales proposal.
When done right, a sales proposal tells your prospect everything they need to know while also demonstrating your empathy and understanding of their pain points.
In this piece:
What is a sales proposal?
A sales proposal is a paper or digital document used to pitch services or products to prospective clients and current customers. Different companies and professionals have different names for them, so you might also hear them called “business proposals” or “product proposals”—they’re all the same thing. Sales proposals are most commonly used in the middle or end of the sales pipeline, so your team usually won’t need to worry about them in the prospecting stage.
A great sales proposal acts as an illustration of why a prospect should work with (or buy from) your company. Ideally, a succinct proposal lets your potential clients know that you understand their pain points, that you have a solution to those pain points, and that you are ready and prepared to help.
What a sales proposal does not do is go into a great amount of detail about individual products or services. This information is necessary throughout the sales journey, but it’s not the point of your proposal. Once a prospect feels comfortable with you and feels confident in your company, then you can start handing out product details to move them down the sales pipeline.
Who creates sales proposals?
Sales proposals can be put together by anyone in your company, but ideally, they’re a collaboration between sales, marketing, finance, and operations. Your sales team is obviously going to be the most influential, but the other three shouldn’t be left out.
Marketing needs to employ accurate and consistent branding, finance needs to sign off on pricing breakdowns and proposal budgets, and operations must ensure the proposal accurately represents the quality, quantity, and/or capabilities of your product or service. It’s all about working together to present a cohesive package to your potential customers.
Why do sales proposals matter?
Sales proposals certainly aren’t the only way to build relationships with prospects, but they are the best way to simultaneously build relationships and present information in one package. One of the most common issues in sales is prospects getting different information from different people and ending up confused or frustrated. Sales proposals work as an important component of your streamlined sales strategy because they ensure all the information a prospect needs is in one, easy-to-digest document.
Additionally, tracking the success of sales proposals helps your team improve their sales forecasting and (ideally) increase sales in following quarters.
9 key components of a sales proposal
Not all sales proposals are created equal. Depending on company size, deal size, product type, and buyer persona, each sales proposal brings its own persuasive style to the table. However, all proposals will have key logistical components in common.
No matter what type of sales proposal you’re working on, you’ll need to include:
- An executive summary of the entire proposal
- Basic company information (and rep information if applicable)
- Contact information
- Pricing breakdowns
- Any terms and conditions relevant to the products or services
- Descriptions of the products or services
- A unique selling proposition
- A clear statement of value
- A draft of a genuine company sales contract
These aren’t necessarily the aspects you’ll focus on, but they do need to be included in order to complete the project. In the following section, we’ll dive deeper into the non-logistical components that will really make your proposal pop.
How to write a winning sales proposal
Now that we have the building blocks, let’s take a look at the best ways to make them shine. Sales proposals are largely about information, but the way that information is gathered and presented deeply influences how the proposal is received. Here are nine best practices when constructing a winning proposal.
1. Keep it simple
A sales proposal is usually not the first time or the last time you speak with a prospect, so there’s no need to get overly complicated. Getting information across in a compelling way doesn’t mean jamming every single fact about your product or company into a presentation.
This is especially important when you take prospect personalities into account. By the time you’re putting together a sales proposal, you should have a fair assessment of your prospect’s demeanor. If you’re dealing with people who love to get straight to the point, it’s harmful to your sales success to give them lengthy documents.
2. Stay accurate to previous discussions
The fastest way to lose a prospect is to make them feel unheard or confused. For every potential client, you should be logging interactions, taking personal notes, and keeping your proposal accurate to their expressed needs and preferences. If you’ve chatted with a prospect about a certain product and price, don’t throw different numbers or features into your sales proposal. If they agree to the proposal, you’ll have plenty of time to upsell down the line.
3. Use templates
There are handy sales tools that can help you personalize proposals without having to reinvent the wheel for every prospect. Templates are a quick way to ensure that all your bases are covered and that your information is presented clearly. They serve as a great foundation that you can build customizations onto if needed.
Many CRMs offer a variety of templates, including sales proposal, sales forecast, sales pipeline, and sales process templates. Personalization is an essential part of sales, but not at the risk of eating up all your reps’ time.
4. Keep it clean
A streamlined presentation is essential whether you’re presenting a 20-page packet or a one-page sheet. You want your prospects to focus on the important information, so create a clear flow for them to follow. Not to mention, prospects want cleanliness. Humans process visuals approximately 60,000 times faster than text. If you hand someone a sheet full of words, they’re less likely to absorb any of it than if you hand them a page of compelling images overlaid with key information.
Additionally, always proofread your copy. Nothing says unprofessional like an embarrassing typo.
5. Do your research
You obviously need to understand your buyer in order to connect to them, but you should also understand their perspective on the market and the market’s influence on your sale. For instance, knowing the buyer’s competitors and what products they use for their own success can give you a persuasive edge.
You can always ask the buyer these questions, but sometimes, the buyer doesn’t have the answers. It’s your job to dig into your research and use those findings to propose the best possible solutions.
6. Include a new CTA
You want to control the next step of your prospect’s journey as much as possible. Making your call to action (CTA) as specific as possible is a great way to encourage prospects to move forward.
For example, instead of saying, “Let’s move to the next step,” try something like, “Let’s set up a meeting to discuss the next steps on Wednesday.” Not only does that paint a clear picture for your prospect, but it also makes it harder for them to say no. If they say they can’t do Wednesday, you can counter with another offer instead of letting them drop the subject.
7. Add testimonials
A full 97 percent of B2B customers cite testimonials and peer recommendations as the most reliable type of content. Testimonials can seem unnecessary to a sales proposal because they’re not directly about that prospect or your current deal, but they make a huge difference. If you don’t have room in your proposal to include full statements, provide links or attachments that prospects can read in their own time.
8. Customize your proposal content
We talked about this a bit when we looked at templates, but always be sure to personalize your proposal content. You don’t have to start from scratch, but you do need to make sure your prospect knows this proposal is geared toward them. For instance, if you’re going to have a product features section, highlight the features you know your prospect cares about and explain how those features relate to their pain points.
Remember, they can get basic information on your website. Your proposal has to go deeper than that.
9. Present your proposal face-to-face
This isn’t always possible in the digital world (especially with the rise of email proposals), but try and talk through your proposal face-to-face with your prospect. It doesn’t matter if you talk in person or via video call—your presence enables your prospect to ask clarifying questions and gives you the opportunity to jump on any missed information.
Sales proposal example
Now that we’ve looked at components and best practices, let’s write a sales proposal. Below, we’ll walk you through a basic proposal for our sales CRM, Zendesk Sell.
Sales proposal for Zendesk Sell
Prepared by Zendesk
Phone (hypothetical): 000-000-0000
Rep email (hypothetical): firstname.lastname@example.org
[Insert small business name] is a thriving startup with an exponentially growing client list. Your small business is in need of a CRM to organize sales, maintain internal communication, and handle the influx of customers. In our latest meeting, we discussed some of the benefits other small businesses have seen when using Zendesk. Overall, user feedback illustrates that our CRM is an affordable and easily integratable option that leaves growing businesses room to scale.
By partnering with Zendesk, we project that your business will see increases in activity efficiency, rep communication, lead qualification, and accurate sales forecasting. Based on our experience with ambitious and well-situated small businesses like yours, we also project that you will likely experience significant revenue growth at your current company size.
Zendesk is a leading provider of sales and customer service software for companies of all sizes. We currently assist over 160,000 businesses and owners in 160 countries. We believe in using sales software to automate and simplify the details of the sales industry so that sales reps can focus on building customer relationships.
(Note: This section can be pages long, but we’re going to do a simplified version. This section should also include your value statement.)
Zendesk will work with [insert small business name] to establish the best available CRM package and necessary features. We will also (if desired) provide training, certification, webinars, professional services, and community resources. In the event of any troubleshooting, we will provide service and technical assistance. Our software includes the following features:
- Sales tracking
- Email tracking
- Sales dialer
- Calendar integration
- Collaboration tools
- Mobile access
- Sales dashboard
- Customizable forms
Onboarding and implementation will start immediately upon proposal acceptance. 70 percent of Sell users are fully onboarded in fewer than eight weeks.
Pricing and budget
Zendesk Sell pricing starts at $19/user/month for the Team plan and is billed annually. We also have our Growth plan ($49/user/month) and our Professional plan ($99/user/month). In previous meetings, we have discussed the Team plan as a solution for your business. Integrations with Zendesk Sell at any level are free of charge, and there are no manufacturing charges.
Attached to this proposal are the following Zendesk documents:
- Sample contract
- Sales contacts and representative information
- Demos and examples on the use of Zendesk Sell
What to do after sending a sales proposal
In a perfect world, your prospect is so compelled by your proposal that they say yes right on the spot, and you can move on to closing the deal. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world. Even if a prospect accepts your proposal, you might have to do a bit of waiting while they talk to other decision-makers.
You don’t have to spend this time praying and twiddling your thumbs, however. Create an outreach plan for your post-proposal period. Decide on time markers (for example, a day or week post-proposal), and set up automated outreach—your CRM manager can easily do this for you. You can also set up reminders for manual outreach by phone.
Once you’ve given your prospect a moment to think things through, make sure you’re ready for any of the three possible outcomes:
1. The yes
The ideal outcome! If you’re successful, you can easily move forward with your established sales plan and complete the sale. If you have the chance, you should also ask your prospect what made them decide to convert. The more you know about the most effective parts of your proposal, the better you can make it in the future.
2. The no
While it’s not the response anyone hopes for, rejections are common in sales. In fact, 60 percent of customers will say no up to four times before saying yes (if they say yes at all). The key to handling a no is how you move forward. You don’t have to persuade your prospect to buy, but you should find out why they’re refusing. Reach out with a call or a survey to see if they’re willing to provide feedback. Sometimes it’s case-by-case, but if there’s something wrong with the proposal itself, you need to know ASAP.
3. The ghost
The ghost is the worst possible reaction you can get to a proposal, but it’s not always a complete loss. If you’re not hearing anything from a prospect and you’ve sent follow-ups, take a beat and move on to the next one. They might have missed your follow-ups, but it’s far more likely that something didn’t work out in their budget or they went with a competitor. That’s okay. Keep them as a qualified lead and add them to the lead roster for a few months out. You can always check back in and see if it’s a better time for them to purchase.
Use a top CRM to streamline your sales proposals and track your sales pipeline
The sales proposal process is all about gathering the right information at the right time in the right place. The best way to tackle that level of organization is with a stellar CRM.
Zendesk Sell is a comprehensive sales CRM that prioritizes optimal pipeline visibility and communication. With Zendesk, developing sales proposals is a simple, streamlined process. Our templates give you a strong base to start with, while our sales engagement platform delivers deep insights into your prospects’ needs. Want to know if your proposals are meeting the mark? Our built-in sales reports and analytics will detail where your process is succeeding and where it could use some improvements.
Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today, and start making every proposal one your prospects will say yes to.