Sales proposal formats: match your content with their context

When it comes to a sales proposal and the ways to format its content—the templates we can use, the graphics, the fonts—some of us become like a kid in a candy shop. We add this screenshot, that table, this bulleted list, that chart… until our proposal becomes a dizzying document beyond human comprehension.

For others, the opposite problem arises, ultimately producing nothing more than a Word doc or Outlook email with 12 pt. Times New Roman text featuring a product name and a quote—a sales proposal in a bare-bones format so “meh” it could have been done on a Post-it note and lost none of its engagement potential… because it had none to begin with.

The catch is that, while the right format can pull a prospect in and the wrong one can turn a prospect away—the decision “to sign on the line which is dotted” is based less on the look and feel of your proposal, and more on ensuring your proposal’s content is aligned to your prospect’s context.

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Content—your proposal, its format—is king

Your products, your price, your deployment schedule, your support/service offering—the basic content of any sales proposal. Yet content includes “the packaging” as well.

A poorly formatted quote, or a proposal template that doesn’t render on mobile devices, a look/feel that departs too far from the expected format of a sales document, or even simpul thngs like tpyos—these can make whatever it is you’re trying to sell confusing to the prospect.

Some easy wins: responsive templates (that “stretch/shrink to fit” on any device), standard fonts, going easy on the graphics—in other words, keep it clean and simple. And don’t forget what’s most important… context.

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Context—their market, their business need—is queen

What’s the most powerful piece on the chessboard? The queen. And the most powerful piece in any proposal is rarely its format or even your price point—it’s showing you understand a customer and their business.

To win new business, establish a customer-friendly context by touching on the following in every proposal:

  • customer’s business challenge (short paragraph written in language the customer might themselves use to describe what they’re up against)
  • competitive landscape (bullets, brief sentences—demonstrate you understand their market, and that you know who they’re up against)
  • possible solutions you offer (if you can give more than one option, do it; here’s where you start to talk about yourself, but always in the context of your prospect’s business)
  • pricing options (if you can give more than one pricing option, DEFINITELY do so; be brief, offer volume/long-term contract discounts)
  • case studies (let them see they’re among friends, show them how others have won by going with you)
  • a little about your company (a formality—keep it brief: they can always look you up online)

Every proposal and quote you send is a de facto ambassador for your brand, so make its format clean, simple, and representative of your business. But, above all, ensure that the proposal’s content matches the prospect’s context. Understand their context and you’ll win their business.