Creating a Professional Sales Proposal or Sales Estimate

  • AUTHOR: StartupNation Writer
  • DATE: 06/29/2006

Whether you sell the latest clothing styles wholesale or deliver mulch to homeowners, effective sales proposals and estimates are a must. As an entrepreneur, writing sales proposals and estimates is a huge part of getting new business.

Here’s some tried-and-true wisdom on how to get the most mileage out of your sales proposals.

Know your audience

You must know how your potential customer thinks. Once you understand that, you can create a relationship and a proposal that pitches to their style. “The bottom line is ‘different strokes for different folks’,” says Edie Raether, a sales consultant based in Holly Springs, N.C.

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Before writing a sales proposal, understand the client’s wants and needs, dominant buying motives, and value that your product can provide. Proposals can help clarify your role as you seek to create those relationships.

Include the key components

After your clients read it, you don’t want them feeling like they still have questions for you that went unanswered.

The proposal should begin with the most important part: an executive summary. This should be an overview of the discussions that have already taken place between you and your client. “Explain what you are offering in terms such as ‘our solution’ or ‘our product,’” says Michelle Shoenecker, a proposal manager for Fiserv, a Milwaukee-based company that provides information-management systems to the financial and health-benefit industries. “Explain why it is valuable and why they should care.”

In the next few sections, you can outline your objectives, the value and benefits you can offer to your prospective client, specific timing, scope of work and pricing. For example, if you’re trying to convince a client to use you in the remodeling of their kitchen, illustrate exactly how the client will have more space, a better layout, and more room for their family – being sure to be sensitive to their stated objectives.

Through your proposal, your clients should get a better understanding of what sets you apart from competitors. Do you have a cool new license to do high-tech stuff? Highlight that. Have you been around longer than others in the business? Mention that in your boilerplate. Do you have more resources than competitors? To some customers, that could be a deal-clincher.

Make it organized and visually appealing

Your clients probably have enough mess in their lives. They’ll respond best to something clean and neat with a format that is easily accessible. Lucky for you, there are many ways to get this look.

Structure your proposal in a way that allows for a good balance of white space. Use bullets – have a minimum of three and no more than seven. Headers are also helpful in keeping it organized and understandable. Sloppy presentation is a reflection on you.

Another way to keep the information organized in your client’s mind is to retain the same voice grammatically throughout the proposal – the active voice. The active voice conveys strength and reminds the client that what you are proposing will happen on a specified date, not at some nebulous time in the future.

Keep in mind that “less is more.” Choose only a few font styles and use them throughout the entire proposal. Don’t clutter the proposal by underlining or italicizing too much. A client’s first look at your proposal is an immediate assessment.

The length can have a huge effect on your client’s interest. It should vary according to the type of business you have, how much information the client wants or expects, and how much room you need to say that.

Banks, for example, may send you a list of questions and your proposal may end up being 100 pages long. For other jobs, however, you may only need 10 pages. If you intend to seal driveways for a living, the proposal may just be one page.

Make the delivery professional

When presenting a proposal to a client, the smallest details are important. Before you create their proposal, ask the client how they would like it delivered to them. If it’s via e-mail, make sure the document will open easily on their computer and still look as professional as it did when you sent it.

If they want it in the mail, make sure that the envelope is addressed neatly, with the postage in order. Make sure that the document is secured so that it won’t get crumpled in the mail.

If your proposal is in something larger, like a binder, make sure the box in which it is sent is also neat and new. Don’t use boxes from the basement or leftovers from your last move! You want every impression on your prospective client to be a good one!

Tailor it to your kind of business

“If you only have a hammer, you treat everything like a nail,” jokes Raether. But there’s truth in that idea, as different industries require different kinds of sales presentations.

If you’re in the business of manual work – like contracting, remodeling or landscaping – you may want to use a form that has an old-fashioned carbon copy so that it easy to create an estimate for clients that both of you can have without you taking it back to the office to type up.

If you’re an internet company built on being able to produce cool graphics and designs, your proposal should reflect your creative and graphic prowess. It’s your goal to get the prospective client thinking, “If they’re going to create a website that represents me, they better represent themselves well.”

Our Bottom Line

If you’re starting your own service or contracting business, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to write a sales proposal or estimate sooner or later. By heeding our advice – complete yet concise information, crisp visuals, and an easy-to-follow presentation – you’ll take away yet one more barrier that might have stood between your business and a new customer.

Kaitlyn Buss is a freelance writer for StartupNation.com.

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StartupNation Writer
StartupNation Writer

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