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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Five Ways to Avoid Proposals That Are Beautiful, Boilerplate, and Boring


In today’s sales world, it’s apparent that most companies have mastered PowerPoint or Prezi to compose absolutely gorgeous proposals. In fact, many companies have dedicated teams or specialists to create seemingly-compelling, graphically-rich proposal pages that go onto a shared drive, making it much easier for salespeople or the support people they work with to simply grab some of those pages and assemble them with a minimal amount of customization necessary. One could argue this approach saves countless hours for the sales operation and puts presentation elements in the hands of those who build such things every day. On the surface, this appears to be a breakthrough akin to Henry Ford’s assembly line. But there is problem, and I bet you know what it is.

I have read about 300 proposals in the last year in my consulting practice, and nearly all of them were, indeed, beautiful. And nearly all I read looked alike – a reference to mostly generic needs that most prospects could have, pages and pages of product information (more than anyone would read), and some boilerplate information about the company offering the proposal. Just imagine you are a professional buyer or business owner who sees multiple proposals of this type every week. It would be an effective organic cure to insomnia, for sure. The number one complaint I hear from salespeople is that they put out a proposal to their prospect and then never hear anything again. Is it any wonder? 

So, how can you make sure your proposal doesn’t blend into the weeds?

  1. Begin with a title that alludes to the solution you proposing – one that addresses a pressing need the prospect has. Most salespeople seem to think the cover was invented in order to paste the prospect’s logo (and yours) on a page. Not. How about, “How To Make Sure HVAC Prospects Never Search For Your Competitors.” If your needs analysis revealed that your prospect’s best and most profitable customers called them first, that title would make them want to see more, right?
  2. Make the second page all about the needs you discussed in your previous meetings, and focus on the assignment upon which you and the prospect have agreed. Be very specific about listing those needs and use the very words your prospect used when describing them. “We need to find ways to sample this new product with the club-going scene so we can create new fans and sell through new on-premise locations.” Sure beats, “Need to attract club goers.”
  3. Make your third page a brief and focused summary of your idea. By the way, your idea should be more than to buy your product – perhaps something like a contest to triple their email database or five locations to showcase the new car model to the perfect prospects.
  4. Page four can simply outline the basics on how your plan will work and what they need to do to adopt it. Not necessarily tons of detail, but what they need to know about how your plan works, what is included, and what it costs.
  5. If you must use some of those boiler-plate pages, put them in an appendix. You can reference support material and research on why your products are the ideal fit, where you outlined the plan. Make a note or asterisk to let them know where they can find the research on particular pages in the appendix. Then, for those who really want to study the supporting documentation on why what you are recommending makes perfect sense, they can do that. The problem I see most often is the appendix, where all of the product information IS the proposal. No wonder they get ignored so often.  

Dr. Tony Allessandra said in his book, Non-Manipulative Selling, “People buy most often because they believe they and their problems are understood by the seller, not because they were made to understand the product by an insistent salesperson.” Does your proposal make it clear you understand their needs and have responded with a tailored solution, or is your proposal absolutely beautiful, boilerplate, and boring?

eliminate objections in your proposals

Topics: Proposal Sales