How to Write Effective Selling Proposals

Depending upon how much you enjoy writing, writing sales proposals can be a joy, purgatory, or something in between. However, if you sell a complex product or one that involves the delivery of professional services, learning how to write effective selling proposals can be critical to your success.

Some proposals are written in response to an RFP (Request for Proposal) or RFI (Request for Information). Organizations that go to the trouble of writing RFP's want to receive highly structured proposals, as this makes it easier for them to compare responses from various bidders.

Some proposals are "Boilerplate Bombs". These proposals tend to be long, boring, and tedious to read. Often these proposals are written under the assumption that "bounce factor" (how high objects on a desk bounce when the proposal is dropped on the desk) is what makes a proposal effective.

The proposal category that is the focus of this article is effective selling proposals. These proposals are lean, highly focused, customer-specific documents that are written to sell anyone that reads them. How can a written document accomplish this feat? Through text that invokes emotion and provides compelling reasons that support a buying decision.

Before we go any further, let's review the single most common flaw in proposal generation -- lack of proper opportunity qualification. Companies waste incredible amounts of time and resources preparing proposals for poorly qualified opportunities. These proposals have little chance of producing sales.

When you are armed with the necessary opportunity qualification information and you have made a conscious decision that the opportunity warrants the investment of time and resources required to generate a quality proposal, you are ready to write an effective selling proposal. To aid you in this undertaking, here are brief descriptions of nine suggested proposal sections:

1. Opening

This is usually a single paragraph where you thank the people that provided the opportunity qualification information and set the stage for the proposal. The last sentence of the paragraph should list the primary value the prospect will receive by making the proposed investment.

2. Background

Your prospects know a lot about their own companies. They don't need you to provide them with a chronological history or a bunch of unnecessary facts. The bulk of this section should focus on selected facts concerning the specific business functions or departments that your solution will impact.

3. Current Situation

This is where you really start selling. In this section you lay out the prospect's business problems and the impact of the painful detail. Your goal should be to invoke your prospect's negative emotions (fear, frustration, pain, etc.).

4. Desired Results

Your goal for this section should be to invoke your prospect's positive emotions (relief, joy, satisfaction, etc.) by helping your prospect visualize the "desired state" for their business.

5. Business Impact

This is where you justify the acquisition. What impact will your solution have on your prospect's business? How will their operations and financial results change for the better?

6. Decision Criteria

If you don't have a comprehensive list of the criteria that your prospect will use to make their decision, you probably shouldn't be writing a proposal. List all of their decision criteria here.

7. Decision Process, Time Frame, and Budget

The purpose of including this information in the proposal is to make sure you and your prospect share the same expectations.

8. Next Steps

There should be specific next steps (and related time frames) that are expected to take place after you submit your proposal. List them here to make sure you and your prospect are "on the same page".

9. Closing

Close with a final paragraph that summarizes why your product or service is the best solution for your prospect, plus a positive statement of expectation.

Do you see the power of this type of proposal? Do you see the benefit of eliminating volumes of boilerplate that do not address your prospect's specific and immediate needs and concerns? Do you see how an effective selling proposal can influence the thinking of decision makers and influencers, even if you have had limited (or no) personal contact with them?

If you construct your proposals in this manner, you will maximize your return on proposal writing time and resource investments.

Copyright 2004, 2005 -- Alan Rigg

Sales performance expert Alan Rigg is the author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Selling: Why Most Salespeople Don't Perform and What to Do About It. To learn more about his book and sign up for more FREE sales and sales management tips, visit

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