A look at business proposals that earn you sales

7 steps to get the ‘yes’ you deserve

By Dawn Josephson

Your ability to write an effective and persuasive business proposal directly relates to your level ofproposals success. Write a great proposal and you’ll get the contract or make the sale. Write a ho-hum proposal and your prospect will go elsewhere.

Regardless of the product or service you are pitching, your prospects make their ultimate decision based on how you write the proposal—not the product or service itself. That means even if you have the best product in the world, if you write the proposal poorly, you probably won’t get the deal. A lesser quality product or service may very well beat you out just because the other person knew how to write persuasively.

For any proposal you submit, realize that your prospect is likely reviewing at least 20 others. Therefore, your job is to make your proposal not only stand out, but also get selected as the bidder of choice. To increase the odds of your proposal winning, follow the proposal writing guidelines below. Doing so will enable you to get the “yes” you deserve.

1. Use the correct name, title, and company name. While this may sound obvious, many salespeople and business owners send proposals to the wrong person, or they misspell the prospect’s name or company name, or they write an incorrect corporate title.

Such oversights make a negative impression and alert the prospect that you are careless. If you don’t know how to spell someone’s name or his or her exact title, call the person’s office and ask. While you are at it, verify the street address and company name. Is the prospect’s title “Sales Director” or “Sales Manager”? Is the company “Inc.” or “LLC”? Is it located at “41 Buckingham St.” or “Ave.”? Prospects look at these details to get a feel for your professionalism and attention to detail. Pay attention to the details every time.

2. Include a cover letter that states the reason for your proposal. Since your prospect is likely reviewing more proposals than just yours, include a brief cover letter that recaps any conversations you’ve had and that clearly states why you are presenting your proposal.

For example, you could write, “I am enclosing the proposal we discussed on June 1, which will introduce you to the ABC widget. Based on your stated needs of [state the needs], you will see in the proposal that this widget will [state the benefit].” Too many salespeople fail to state a reason for the proposal. But if you don’t give people an immediate reason to keep reading, you’ll miss your chance to capture their attention. A lonely proposal in an envelope or attached to an e-mail gets absolutely nowhere.

3. Include a brief overview of your product or service. In one opening paragraph, state what your product or service is, what pain or challenge it solves, and how your prospect will benefit from what you offer. Stick to the facts. Resist the temptation to make your product or service sound grander than life. Phrases such as “first,” “only,” “greatest,” revolutionary,” and “groundbreaking” typically raise red flags and indicate that you are exaggerating.

4. Write in chunks. A business proposal is not a book. Structure your proposal so your prospect can skim read it and pull paragraphs out as needed. Think in sound bites and text block chunks. Why? Because studies show that people have greater comprehension and longer retention when printed information is presented to them in bullet points, numbered lists, or some other format that sections out pertinent details. 

5. Include all the important technical details. Make sure your proposal lists the small but important technical details your prospect will need to know, such as: How many items come in a case? How many user licenses does it include? How long is the warranty? Does the price include service calls, consultation, or training? If so, how much?

Don’t let your prospects guess about anything. Make it easy for them to get the facts so they can make a quick and informed decision.

6. State the obvious. Remember, the prospect reading your proposal does not know much, if anything, about your product or service yet. So, just because you know that an accounting computer program can calculate and create employee paychecks, don’t expect your prospects to make that assumption. They need to read everything, even the obvious, or they may not realize all the features and benefits your solution provides.

7. Make a compelling call to action. What do you want the person reading your proposal to do? Buy your product? Contract for your services? Stock your merchandise in his or her store? Whatever action you want your prospect to take, state it clearly, such as: “I recommend you begin by placing an introductory order for 500 pieces.” “I suggest we start with a three-month consulting contract.” “I recommend you devote three shelves to this product.” State precisely what you want.

As any business owner or salesperson knows, “You are only as good as your last proposal.” Commit to enhancing your business proposals, and focus on writing effectively and persuasively. By following these pointers, you’ll be seven steps closer to landing that next deal.

Dawn Josephson, the Master Writing Coach, is the author of Write It Right: The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros and Putting It On Paper: The Ground Rules for Creating Promotional Pieces that Sell Books. Contact her at

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