By: sapna malhotra

Winter 2019 Issue

Your sales proposal is one of the first touch points with a customer. It’s your first opportunity to explain the value that you bring to the table. It’s a thrill to develop a sales proposal that wins over a prospect but many fall well short of clients’ expectations. A poor proposal can deliver a crushing blow to your chances of securing new business.

Let’s examine what makes a great sales proposal, the most common mistakes, and best practices for exceeding clients’ expectations.

What is a Sales Proposal?
Here’s a helpful starting point from the Shipley Associates Proposal Guide:

“A business proposal is a written offer from a seller to a prospective buyer. Business proposals are often a key step in the complex sales process—i.e., whenever a buyer considers more than price in a purchase.”

Clients are typically looking for support and expertise within a specialized area, as well as someone who truly understands them and can represent their needs. It is important that you provide them with a level of transparency to be able to understand the journey that they are about to embark on with you.

Keep in mind that often the proposal will be discussed with others who may not be familiar with the project or initiative. You’ll need to provide a convincing story and compelling offer in order for potential buyers to depart with their hard-earned money or tight divisional budgets.

Here are some helpful best practice tips to get your sales proposal right the first time.

Avoid the Unqualified Sales Lead Approach
Many consultants send out generic proposals where no one has spoken to the client. It seems that their sales pipeline is based on volume versus qualified sales leads. Have you received those emails or LinkedIn messages with the anonymous ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ approach? Most prospects will consider this kind of communications to be old fashioned, cold, and unconvincing.

Sales proposals are timely activities. They require a level of due diligence and research to understand who your customer is and what they are looking for. Some factors to consider before sending a sales proposal:

  • Does it fit your business criteria and/or business model?
  • Does it fit with your target audience: industry, size and revenue?
  • Does it fit with your go-to-market strategy?
  • Is this a new or existing relationship?
  • Are you dealing with the decision maker or the gatekeeper of the decision maker?

The Importance of the Sales Discovery Call
A proposal should formalize what has already been agreed upon, which means that you should have done some preliminary research and had a discovery call.

The prospect/potential client should have already provided you with some information:

  • The objective, goals, and the value of the project from their perspective;
  • The budget and timelines;
  • How will a consultant help them? What experience are they looking for?
  • Commitment time frame: the turnaround time for them to make a decision.

If the potential client isn’t willing to have a 30 minute call with you to understand their vision, needs and parameters, then they really are not invested in this solution with you. And they may already have a preferred supplier or vendor. 

Detail the Customer Journey
The proposal is a great opportunity to illustrate and articulate the journey that the client will take with you. That journey should include timelines for how & when you’ll deliver your objectives. Some consultants will put information in at random in almost a stream of consciousness manner, which is a great way to confuse the potential client and lose the business.  

Features Tell, Benefits Sell 
We tend to focus on telling potential clients what we want to tell them instead of focusing on what the client wants to know. Why is the service needed from their perspective? We end up listing all the features of the solution instead of the benefits that the potential customer will gain. We need to help translate how the features will enable them to be successful based on the value from the client perspective.

Try the ‘Mom’ Test
The ‘Mom’ test is simply about getting someone who is not overly familiar with the industry or solution to proofread the proposal. We need to remember that the sales proposal is an educational tool. We are providing a story of the journey that we are going to take. If your mom can understand the value that you’re going to provide to the client, then you have likely articulated it very clearly.

Also, check for grammar and spelling mistakes. It’s a surprisingly common occurrence – someone will use an old template and it will have a previous client’s name or the client’s name spelled wrong. We all need editors in our lives.

Other key considerations

  • Is the proposal in UK English, Canadian English, or US English? Where is the client located?
  • Add a Table of Contents to provide structure;
  • Be direct and not overly technical;
  • Avoid using too many acronyms & abbreviations without explaining them;
  • Be consistent; avoid multiple font types/sizes.

Another pro tip is to write the proposal one day and then read it the following day with a clear set of eyes – always give yourself extra time to edit the proposal.

These small details count and are important as they will dictate the level of attention to detail and care you will provide to your clients. It’s a representation of you and your brand – the intent of the sales proposal is to show how easy it will be to work with you.

Sapna Malhotra brings more than two decades of domestic and international management consulting experience in sales and business operations in the technology, financial services, and telecommunications industries. She has significant experience in leading large-scale business and IT transformation programs to deliver consistent end-user experience in demanding and fast paced environments. Sapna is known for her constant industry curiosity and new and emerging technologies that will enable different industries to be on the forefront of this digital revolution. In June 2016, she started the Women Digital Network (WDN) in Canada with over 400 members and growing. Its focus is to enable digital literacy and mindset.

She has also started CanInnovate podcast focusing on Canadian innovators that are changing the game. She truly believes that education and awareness is instrumental in overcoming any obstacles and perception challenges both globally and locally. She is a globally recognized Certified Management Consultant (CMC), and Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). She also holds certificate in Change Management Leadership, Lean Six Sigma accreditation and DevOps & UX Design foundation certifications. You can find Sapna walking / hiking & exploring new areas, trying to win the world’s greatest aunt award, discovering new brunch places, and inventing new recipes. Contact her at: