From the June 2009 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

June 1, 2009

How to Create a Winning Sales Proposal

A sales proposal organizes your thoughts, presents them in a logical order ... and does a whole lot more!

If you are selling multiple products to a client; if you're offering complex solutions to complex problems; or even if you're dealing with anything more than spare change, you will strengthen your sales hand if you produce a well-done sales proposal.

A sales proposal organizes your thoughts, presents them in a logical order, states the problem, provides backup data to verify the problem and proposes a solution. In addition, it provides data about you, your products and your organization.

What I just did in these first two paragraphs is write an "Executive Summary" for this article. Such a summary should be the first section of your own sales proposal.

An executive summary is intended to provide enough information so that a reader is properly oriented to the longer document and is intrigued enough to open and read it. A summary should be as short as possible. A paragraph or two per every 1,500 words should be about right.

Do you really need a sales proposal? Yes, because you can: (1) demonstrate to the client that you have a well thought-out solution for the problems they brought to you; and (2) gain a competitive advantage against other advisors should the clients seek a second or third opinion.

A strategic decision you will have to make: Should you let the prospect take the proposal home without having become a client? I vote No. If they are still shopping, they will show your proposal to your competitor, who will promptly rip it apart.

Proposal Problems

Over the years, I have seen countless proposals. Most are not very good. Some are too long or short. Some are poorly written. Some look like term papers. Many are a mish-mash of different fonts and font sizes. It is quite evident that a great deal of struggle occurs in preparing these written recommendations. So I thought I would give you some guidelines and make you an offer I hope you cannot refuse.

Here's my offer. If you send me a copy of your proposal, I will prepare a personalized critique for you. This gives me a sense of the current state of the art, and gives you some personalized help in improving one of your most important selling documents. For instructions on how to send me a copy of your proposal, go here: www.billgood.com/proposal. I will also have some other tips as well as a proposal template and other help posted for you there.

Make It Readable

Here are some tips to ensure your proposal is readable:

o There should be one topic per page, and ideally, a lot of white space on the page. If the topic must run longer, still allow wide margins and space between paragraphs.

o Use as many pictures and charts as possible. Charts today can easily be developed using Excel. You can also develop them by scanning in art from your vendors and dropping them into a word-processing file. You can also buy royalty-free photos from sources such as iStockphoto.com or Dreamstime.com.

o Personalize the proposal in the headers and footers. (The header is the top bit of text that appears atop each page. The footer is the bit that appears at the bottom of each page.) Normally, your page numbers should go in the footer. Your header could read, "Prepared for Velda Oldebucks," then right underneath it, "June 22, 2009." So even if you're using boilerplate text for most of your proposal -- which I recommend -- the proposal still looks personalized.

o Use one, or at the most, two fonts. Your "body text" font should be at least 12 points. The older your clientele, the larger the typeface you should use. Your page headings should be 24 pt. and subheads should be 18 pt. For body text, always use a font with a serif. What's that? It's the little squiggly marks on a letter.

o Since you will be presenting the proposal in person (you should almost never mail it out), leave plenty of room for your prospects to make notes as you go over it with them. In fact, you should design portions of it as if it were a hand-out at a seminar. The reality is: A good sales proposal is the outline of your sales presentation.

o Use a personalized cover page. Normally, this is printed on heavy stock. It can say simply: Prepared for Velda Oldebucks, June 22, 2009 by Susan A. Brokerman & James Q. Sellers.

o Bind the proposal attractively.

o Always, always, always have at least two different literate people proof it.

Plan of Action

At its core, a sales proposal is a set of written action steps you want the client or prospect to do. Surrounding the action steps are supporting pages that build a case for your recommendations, including information about you, your team, and your company. Ideally your sales proposal follows the sequence of your sales presentation. A proposal doesn't just recommend; it sells the recommendation.

Now let's look at a proposal outline. There are, of course, many different ways to sell and therefore, just as many ways to write a proposal. The particular example I give here is just one way to do it:

1) Title Page

2) Table of Contents

3) Executive Summary

4) Objectives

5) Statement of Problem

6) Data to Explain the Problem

7) Action Recommendations to Solve the Problem

8) Product Support

9) Credentials

If you have not been writing proposals at all, your first proposal should be just five pages long and should focus strongly on "Action Recommendations":

1) Cover Page

2) Keep These Investments

3) Cash Positions to Reallocate

4) Sell These Investments

5) Buy These Investments

A word about the cover page.

Over at www.billgood.com/proposal, I have a link to a proposal template from the Microsoft Template Library. To create the cover illustration you see here, I added a stock photo from Dreamstime.com ($3.00) and filled in the blanks. Today's very cheap stock photo websites make it affordable to customize even the photos and illustrations in a proposal, not just the text. Have a client who is an antique car enthusiast? Dreamstime.com or iStockphoto.com will have some wonderful photos for use. (Make sure you type the "s" in Dreamstime since Dreamtime is a different site.)

OK. You have completed your first proposal. For your next proposal, let's add some product descriptions. Let's say you want your clients to buy five different investments. Go to the website of each. Copy the description and paste it into your proposal. Put each investment on a separate page.

Naturally get permission from each vendor to use their text. Of course they will be delighted to provide it. And don't forget compliance, but you knew that.

Your proposal has grown to 10 pages.

What if, on your third proposal, you use four of the products you used in the last one? Not a problem. Just delete that page. Then add something else, perhaps a table of contents. On the next one, you add a couple of new product pages and a bio page for yourself. If you are on a roll, introduce each of your team members.

So, get out your garden gloves, your shovel and grow that proposal. And if you are already doing proposals, send me a copy for that personal critique.

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Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing Systems in Draper, Utah; see www.billgood.com.

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