Every substantial project that I won required a proposal. There were many times when my prospective clients would ask for a proposal before I even knew how to pronounce the name of their company.
So I’ve written a lot of proposals.
Before founding this site, I pitched over 950 website deals.
Each one of them included a proposal that took me at least a few hours to draft. Sometimes I would spend a whole day carefully creating a document. I remember always thinking to myself that I needed to redo my proposal document. Thinking, “this next version, will help me sell better—this will be the one.”
The more website design jobs I pitched, the more proposals I crafted. Eventually I started noticing patterns. Patterns about what really mattered with each deal I proposed.
Yes, it is important to know how to draft a good proposal, but your proposal does not sell. It is merely a document—a tool if you will—that is typically required when selling.
Rarely will your proposal ever be the primary reason you win a deal.
But, incorrectly created and delivered, your proposal could be the primary reason you don’t get hired.
The Typical Scenario
For the first 75% of my career I did what I think most web designers do. There comes a point in time where the proposal seems like the next logical step.
Here are some example sentences that were said when I was selling:
“Thanks Brent, this all sounds great. Can you send us a proposal and then we’ll let you know if we want to move forward or not?”
“I think I have all of the information I need, I’ll draft up a proposal, send it to you by Thursday, and then follow up sometime next week to see if you have any questions.”
For a while, I actually scored my own personal performance on how many proposals I sent out. This is how a lot of sales-oriented companies grade the performance of their sales staff (besides revenue).
It felt like a tragedy when I found out what usually happened to my laboriously crafted proposals. When a client received one of my proposals, they would print it and then place it nicely on the stack of other website design proposals they had collected, like trading cards, from my competition.
Imagining my proposal sitting there in the midst of all of those other documents is exactly why I spent so much time on my proposals. I wanted them to think, “this proposal from Brent is the best proposal—it really outshines the rest of them.”
But it doesn’t matter how nice your proposal is. Put it in a stack with all the others—and paper looks like…paper.
Worse (than the fact that your proposal will look just like the next one) is the realization that clients rarely even read proposals. When you hear a company say, “yes, I’ve had a chance to look over your proposal—and it seems it is a little more money than we wanted to spend,” you can rest assured that they only flipped the document to the pricing page and closed it.
Sometimes I would have a bid filled with $10,000 of value, and a prospect would say:
“We have another bid for around $2,500—we think you are overpriced.”
How on earth could someone be offering the same exact thing for one quarter of the cost? Was it possible that in my prospective customer’s mind these two things were identical?
When in reality, I was charging $10,000 because I was going to offer this business a real solution and not some winky-dinky website template from a hobbyist web designer. But did they know that?
To them, my document was printed out on the same paper, in relatively the same typeface and size, it was about the same length, and had some of the same elements: Scope of Work, Terms, Process, and so on. In their eyes, my masterpiece solution was identical to every other. They believed they were comparing apples to apples.
So it always came down to price.
“You are too expensive.”
“Can you come down on price?”
“The other proposals we received are a better fit for us budget-wise.”
I was still winning projects, just not as many as I would have liked. I started analyzing the deals I did win to see if I could crack the code. Was there a secret key to creating the best proposal to win over my clients? There had to be.
One day I took out every proposal I had delivered over the last twelve months. I created an excel sheet with all of the client names and began to input little notes. Some soft data points from what I remembered about each deal:
How much time did I spend with the customer?
Did they bring up price as a factor?
What was the cost of the project?
How many pages was the document?
Did I email or present the proposal?
How many interactions did I have prior to submitting the proposal?
and so on…
I then analyzed the data to see if there were patterns. It turned out that a few things mattered and others didn’t.
How much time I had spent with the prospect.
Whether I emailed a proposal or presented it to the prospect.
How many interactions I had prior to submitting a proposal.
What Didn’t Matter:
I found that the prospects that I spent a lot of time with—building value and reviewing my proposed solution—were more likely to sign on the dotted line and they were more likely to pay more.
Then I realized, proposals don’t sell, I do.
The proposal document is merely a review of everything I should have spoken to the prospect about. There is nothing that should be in the document that attempts to sell the prospect. That is my job—not some ten or twenty-page document. I am the value-builder. I am the question-answerer. I am the closer.
Don’t expect a proposal to sell a deal on your behalf. You must learn to sell. It is your job to earn business at the highest value possible for your company. And the proposal isn’t going to do it for you.
"Quick and easy to use proposal template for closing a $22,850 project"