Great sales proposals: The basics

Published On: March 1, 2016Categories: Management, Resources

As marine fabricators, you sell both products and services, and sales proposals are probably part of your business. Proposals educate prospective customers, motivate them to buy, and ultimately inspire them to establish and deepen a business relationship with you.

What makes a great sales proposal? For starters, it:

  • Establishes your credibility, providing evidence to your customer that you’re able to meet the
    customer’s needs.
  • Demonstrates that you’re able to help your customer make or save money, or provide some other
    tangible benefit.
  • Reinforces the qualities that make you and your offerings unique.
  • Presents your case to the customer in a clear, simple, reader-oriented manner.

These ideas about preparing and presenting great sales proposals might seem to be directed to larger organizations than most canvas shops represent. But the advice they offer are applicable to businesses of all sizes. Just scale them down to meet your sales needs.

Organizing your proposal

Putting your sales proposal together is much easier than you might think. You already know the information you must impart to your customer. The key to success in your proposal is organizing the information for maximum impact.

In a few cases, your customer might ask you to present your data in a predetermined format. If so, by all means, do so. But generally, you’ll be able to organize your material how you think best. Here’s a starting point:

  • Cover letter. Many proposals are accompanied by a simple cover letter, alluding to the proposal contents and expressing pleasure at providing the proposal.
  • Executive summary. This is the opener of your proposal—a summary of its highlights, for quick and easy reading.
  • Need summary. A recap of your understanding of the customer’s need or problem.
  • Objectives and deliverables. An itemization of the concrete outcomes your customer will receive from you.
  • Benefits. A specific listing of the advantages your customer will receive by accepting your proposal.
  • Methodology. This optional section of your proposal explains how you propose to bring the product or service to your customer. “Methodology” sections commonly appear in proposals for services.
  • Timeline. Delivery or service completion dates, as well as key milestones when providing services.
  • Costs. A summary of what your customer will pay, itemized if necessary.
  • Background. A summary of your knowledge, experience and qualifications. A solid background statement adds credibility to your proposal. “Background” sections are more common and more elaborate in service proposals.
  • Testimonials. These can include references from past customers, as well as excerpts from customer letters or statements to you.

Offer easy reading

Great proposals make for easy reading and quick comprehension. Once you’ve outlined your thoughts for your customer, you can begin to sharpen your proposal so that it makes a powerful impact on your reader.

  • Organize. Organize each section of the proposal around a key idea (“the most efficient widget of its kind” or “favorable payment terms,” for example). Content within each section should then flow logically from this central idea.
  • Break it up. Use headlines and titles to visually indicate key points to the reader—and to create visual breaks between blocks of related text.
  • Illustrate. Many great proposals use simple charts and diagrams to help the customer understand your key points. Comparison graphs and flow charts, for example, can speak volumes without words.
  • Aim for easy-to-read fonts. A commonly used serif font usually makes for easiest reading among customers. Avoid decorative or artistic fonts.
  • Stick with active voice. Your proposal will sound more lively and dynamic.
  • Keep paragraphs and sentences short. This simple trick makes your proposal more visually attractive and easier to read.
  • Use white space. “White space” is nothing more than “open” space on a page. Usually it refers to ample margins on all sides of the text, open area around visuals, and at least one full space between sections. Open space devices that give your proposal a feeling of expansiveness make your overall proposal more attractive.
  • Make liberal use of checklists. If your customer needs basic information—for example, on key features of your product or service—include the data in an easy-to-grasp checklist format.
  • Make your length the “right” length. Ideal length, of course, depends on the nature of your proposal and your customer’s needs. But as you prepare your proposal, prune it to include only the information you need. Eliminate excess vocabulary, trite examples, or conversational chit-chat.
  • Be sure you include a call to action. Make it precisely clear how your customer can obtain what you’re offering—and make it easy.
  • Include appendices if necessary. Rather than including overly detailed statistical or technical information in the body of the proposal, refer to it or summarize it in the body of your text but include the content in one or more appendices.
  • Proofread. Check and double-check spelling, grammar and punctuation before submitting your proposal. If it’s a long document, give it to a colleague or friend to proofread first.