Business writing - Featured Content

How to write a sales proposal


In most organisations, the conversion rate of proposals to sales is very poor. Here, we give you the advice you need now to write a sales proposal. In this article, we'll look at the problems with sales proposals and provide advice on writing successful ones.

This advice has come about as part of the process of us developing a sales proposal system for ourselves, and subsequently offering it as a solution to others. We have drawn upon the advice from the best sales books we could find, our experience as information designers, and from our studies into how other organisations deal with proposal writing.

The problems with proposals

In this section we look at some of most common problems we hear from organisations about proposals, and analyse some of the reasons for these.

They are time consuming and expensive to produce

Not only do sales proposals seem to take a long time to write, it seems like you have to re-invent the wheel for each proposal. Reviewers have to review the same content each time. We've experienced it ourselves in the past: wasting time trying to find information for tenders, such as the insurance cover, that already existed in previous proposals.

It is hard to be consistent and to make sure improvements are included in future proposals

In order to describe your proposed solution that best matches a particular buyer's situation and requirements, it's common to modify previous content.

For example, if you are proposing Freda Blogs for a Web-related project, you may provide additional information on her Web skills. You may also update the previously existing information at the same time. However, when someone needs to write a new proposal they may refer to the original proposal that now contains out of date information. If they refer to the new proposal they may include Web-related information that is irrelevant to the new prospect.

This is because organisations don't normally have a single, definitive and correct source to base each new proposal.

This causes even more problems:

  • Your proposal may be unclear and incoherent.
  • Buyers might receive completely different proposals depending on the salesman they are dealing with.
  • Your information can be inconsistent across different documents and different media. For example, information on your Web site, in data sheets and in marketing brochures.
  • It can be difficult to have more than one person writing the tender. Different versions of a proposal can be sent back and forth between the bid team as more complex bids develop.
  • When sales proposals are proofread and checked, you can find you are changing the same sections each time. The same errors keep re-appearing.
Many proposals are unsuccessful

Most sales experts would argue that the low conversion rate is due to poor selling rather than a poor sales proposal. Whilst this is true, a poorly developed proposal can also sink a sale by showing the buyer that you neither understand their requirements nor have a solution that meets their needs.