Every Proposal Tells a Story (Don’t It?): Proposal templates that communicate value

We’ve seen thousands of sales proposals come across our desks. With most of them, we—like many busy business people—typically scan the first paragraph (the executive summary), flip to the quote, and skip the rest.

How much of your sales proposal actually gets absorbed by the prospect, and how much do they view as not worth their time? We’ve heard that it usually breaks out to 10% killer and 90% filler. So why don’t people read sales proposals? We’ve broken it down into three main reasons.

Reason #1: most feel like a proposal template

First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using proposal templates! The competitive business requires a repeatable process, and that means templates for quotes, proposals, emails, and more. The challenge is making a proposal template not feel like a templated approach.

So if you’re using a proposal template, ensure you take time to customize it for each prospect. The key phrase there is “ensure you take time.” We’ve seen proposals where the rush job was immediately apparent, such as the one where, in the template field that said “Insert company name here,” it said Insert company name here. Not a good attempt at getting our business.

Reason #2: most proposals aren’t page turners

No one is going to approach your sales proposal like a Stephen King novel, but it also shouldn’t make your prospect feel like they’re reading a technical manual.

But if you set-up your templates with a narrative structure—an introduction (executive summary), a cast of characters (the prospect, your product), a plot (their business problem meets your business solution), and a satisfying conclusion (“all for only $X per month, delivering ROI inside of a year”)—you can transform a proposal into a benefit-driven “story” they’ll want to read to the very end.

A successful sales proposal does not present the prospect with a “yes or no” question. It walks them through the challenges they face and the benefits you provide toward an understanding where the only answer is “Yes.”

proposal template book on table

Reason #3: it’s not your proposal—it’s the customer’s

The typical proposal starts with an “About Us” section, then details about the product, then a price. This approach has been the template for years… and it’s time to bring that approach to a screeching halt.

The first thing a customer wants to know is, “Does this company understand my business needs? Do they understand ME?” So don’t start by letting them see what you can do—start by letting them see themselves. Reiterate their business needs, give them assurance they’re understood. Present case studies from businesses similar to theirs, show them the trust you’re asking them to put in you now has been put in you before. Provide data points that demonstrate how a business like theirs benefits from partnering with a business like yours.

In the end: a proposal should tell a story, rather than present a price; it should be fueled by benefits, not features; above all, it should be focused on the customer, not yourself. Tell the customer their story, and you’ll win their business.