How to write a successful sales proposal

Posted on: June 4, 2024

Stand out from the Crowd

While an essential part of winning work, writing a sales proposal sometimes fills people with dread. Having to create a document that is appealing enough to win the business and fend off the competition can be a real pressure.

And for those at the receiving end, wading through dull and lengthy proposals can result in them simply skim-reading to get the job over with as quickly as possible.

So how do you write a sales proposal that engages the reader and makes them feel working with you is an absolute must?




Look through their eyes

It’s common practice for customers to source 3 or more quotes before they select a supplier. This means that’s 3+ sales proposals/ estimates they’ve got to review and compare. So, let’s imagine them for a moment sitting at their desk reviewing these.

This is the information they want to get:

  • How much will this cost?
  • What do I get for that (in terms of the product or service)?
  • How will this make my life easier or solve an issue I’ve currently got?
  • How much was it again?
  • Can I afford this with my cash flow?

Combined, these questions form a key filter by which they’ll assess the ‘value for money’ your proposition represents. That’s not to say the cheapest will always win. If your solution is slightly pricier, but offers the greatest benefits to the customer, they may be happy to pay at the higher range.

Going back to that customer facing the 3 proposals:

What do they do first? Well, they’ll probably take a quick glance over the 3 options.  Their initial thoughts in doing so are probably going to be along the lines of one of these:

  • Wow that looks text heavy– a lot to get through here. Have I got time? Not sure. I’ll just scroll through to the back where the costs usually are
  • This seems an easier one I’ll just give it a skim read for now
  • Oh, that’s really concise, clear and to the point. I’ll review that now

If their day or week is extremely busy, the longer and wordier proposals will probably get relegated and relegated down the ‘to-do’ pile. With a risk they never make it to the top of the list!

Proposals’ bad reputations

We’ve seen many attempts where businesspeople feel they have to create a novel of a sales proposal, in order to sell their business offering and justify their costs. It’s one of the reasons why people find the process of putting these documents together so laborious… and why the recipients often find them dull and a drain on their time.

What’s worse is when people try and cut corners to save time, pasting chunks of previous proposals into the new one. This is so obvious to the reader and just fills the document with general junk that puts people off rather than impresses them.

The best proposals, cost estimates, pitch documents and quotations are those that are concise and tailored to the customer. What’s more, they lay out the information according to what the customer most wants to know. So here are some thoughts on how to make your proposals stand out from the crowd and get read in full.

Digital proposals – understand how it will be read

The majority of proposals are now sent and reviewed digitally, typically as a pdf. Improved technology and environmental concerns are driving many businesses to go paperless.

It’s worth asking up front if your customer will be reading your proposal on a mobile device or desktop? Will they in fact be printing it out at their end? We’ve even heard of some companies carving up different proposal sections and getting different members of the team to review them – so the proposal is never read in its entirety.

If your customer contact is going to read on screen (and particularly on a mobile), then keep everything concise with plenty of white space. Test how the document looks on mobile and avoid the customer having to scroll through masses of dense text.

Similarly if you know the customer is going to print off the document at their end make sure it is concise and doesn’t mean printing off lots of pages that might visually appealing but don’t offer any value when reading it.

Printed proposals – what does it look and feel like when your proposal lands on the desk?

If your clients has asked for a more formal printed proposal opt for something that feels light to the touch, perhaps printed on both sides of the paper to reduce pages. Lay out your proposition in a format that will appeal naturally to the eye – for example in a magazine-style with 3 or 2 columns per page.

Sprinkle in lots of white space and incorporate visuals as much as possible. These can be photos, diagrams and key text points highlighted in boxes like ‘quotations’. Do consider the skim-reader and make your choice of headings and sub-headings grab their interest.

Speak the customer’s language and use their words

Don’t blast customers with your industry terminology, adopt a writing style that they will connect with. Use acronyms and specific jargon only if they do. If they’ve used specific phrases to describe key wants or needs, then include these to show you listened and are on their wavelength.

Make it visually appealing

Well-designed sales proposals are attractive and have a bigger impact by making content enjoyable and easier to read.

  • Use diagrams and charts instead of paragraphs and paragraphs of words
  • If you are using a digital document – embed short videos which bring your key messages to life (check first though the customer has the software/firewall permissions in their organisation to view these)
  • If you have a lengthy report, include a ‘our proposal at a glance’ with a summary of the key points you want to convey and which the customer will be looking to find
  • Make it easy for the customer to say yes. Don’t swamp them with loads of material they have to wade through.

Be enthusiastic

Words are emotive and dry technical language will present you as a dull supplier. Do you want this new business/customer? Well show it.

You don’t have to be gushy or pushy, but you should convey your enthusiasm to help this customer. They will be impressed – especially if this is on top of a proposal that has been tailored to their situation 100%.


If you’ve worked hard to develop a relationship and win this customer, your sales proposal should be a mere tick box exercise for them that you are right for the job.

Ideally, you should have shown in the process up to now how good it would be to work with you/buy from you. If you’ve asked the right questions the answers will guide you on, not just what needs to go into the proposal, but how it should look and feel to get the customer’s buy-in.

So, ditch your boring ‘War and Peace’ proposals and instead impress those you’re selling to with punchy ones that perk up that person’s attention. They’ll be relieved, they’ll be thankful, and it may well motivate them to give you the YES rather than a rival!

For more advice on marketing your business contact us or tel. 01483 429111.

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