In many sales organizations, you create a sales proposal by going into your files and pulling out a proposal for a previous sale that is similar to a sale you’re trying to make. Change the names and the specific features of previous sale, and you have a new sales proposal. This saves time over writing the proposal from scratch. But the first time you submit a proposal with a previous customer’s name somewhere in it, you may regret doing it that way.

My advice is to use the template feature of Word, InDesign, or whatever document preparation software you have standardized on. Create a sales proposal template that hits all the right targets, and make it so the user must enter the particulars of the current sale (customer name, number of units, delivery schedule, and so on). In this way, the template is more than a labor-saving device. It is a quality-control mechanism.

What belongs in the sales proposal? Every proposal ought to be tailored to the specific sale, but using a template can help you make sure it hits these six highlights:

  1. summary of the customer’s business need
  2. statement of the customer’s goals
  3. how this proposal will meet the customer’s needs within the budget
  4. the customer’s deadlines
  5. your company’s qualifications for delivering the solution
  6. whatever disclaimers your company uses when it makes a sale

Here’s an interesting feature of that list. Just cut the final item about disclaimers, and it can serve as the outline of your sales presentation.

Am I suggesting you should delay making your presentation until it’s time to submit the sales proposal? Yes, I am. You will probably be communicating with the customer many times before the sales process is over. Don’t waste your communication time with a premature proposal. Spend the time learning the customer’s needs, goals, motivations, budget, purchase authority, and deadlines. Your understanding of the customer’s needs allows you to create a link between those needs and your company’s products and services. That link is the essence of your sales proposal. Hold off on the presentation until you’re ready to make the proposal, then use one as the outline for the other.

Your sales proposal should contain nothing that the customer has not heard from you, in some form, in the course of your meetings, phone calls, and emails. In fact, half the content of your proposal (points 1, 2, and 4) comprise only what the customer has told you in response to your Socratic probing.

Should you pad the proposal with fancy graphics and tables, appendices, magazine and journal articles? That depends. There are customers who don’t like the idea of spending a large amount of money without a great deal of documentation. In such cases, a fat proposal may give the customer a feeling of security about the buying decision. This is particularly true when the product is intangible, like consulting.

But if a fat proposal is not strictly necessary, then your proposal should only be as long as it needs to be in order to cover the six parts of your template. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you can overawe the customer with a fat proposal. If you and the customer have not reached a meeting of the minds by now, then it’s probably too late to accomplish that in the proposal.

Learn more about sales proposals and presentations in Sales Presentation Skills™. Learn more about Socratic probing in Socratic Selling Skills® or Socratic Selling Skills® for® Users.


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