Most businesses rely—at least to some extent—on generating business by submitting proposals. Whether you own a liquor store and price out wine for weddings, or you design and install security systems, the point of a written proposal is to allow a client to make a reasoned decision based on accumulated information. You may crank out a dozen proposals a day, or you may rely on them only occasionally, but when your sales depend on the strength of your proposal, you’ll benefit from making that proposal compelling. Given that the decision maker may not be the person with whom you’ve had previous contact, it’s essential that you put your best foot forward.
1. Put your pricing options in the descending order. Your best bet is always to start with the highest priced option and scale down from there. Though this tactic may seem counterintuitive, here’s why it works: Your prospective client most likely has a price in mind—either what they expect to pay, or what they’re able to afford. When you start with the highest price, your client will compare your first option to their price and conclude either that it’s high or that’s it’s about what they expected to pay. Once you’ve set the bar, then every other option will seem like a better value, and your client will find it easier to select an option that feels comfortable. If you start low and build your prices up, then everything feels comparatively more expensive—less of a value.
2. Offer three options. Three is exactly the right number. Your client wants to feel like they’re in control—that they actually get to make the decision. Fewer than three options makes the client feel forced into one of your choices, and more than three options can result in analysis paralysis—the inability to sort out the differences among an unnecessarily long list of possibilities.
3. Provide a contract that’s partially completed. Do as much of the work as you can for your client: Fill out the name, address, contact information, anything that makes it easier for your client to say yes! The psychology behind this tactic was discovered in restaurants instituting loyalty programs, the sort of program where you buy 10 cups of coffee and your 11th is free. What they discovered is that a consumer is more likely to actually use the card and return to the establishment if the card is already punched—showing progress toward a goal. A punch card that requires 12 cups of coffee but has two of the cups already punched out is significantly more likely to be used than a loyalty card that is just a piece of paper (or plastic) with no way to show progress.
People want to feel that they’re on their way. In the case of a proposal, filling out information shows progress, making them feel it’s easier and more advantageous to accept your proposal compared to all the others they receive.
4. Use the power of font size. Let’s be clear, I’m not advising you to mislead your clients by putting essential details in unreadable tiny type. Business is competitive, though, and a slight modification of font size can make your proposal more compelling. It’s our nature to assign more importance to items in larger font than smaller font. Shifting the discussion of price to a font size just one point smaller downplays the elements that your clients are least likely to be thrilled about, and shifting any mention of your client’s name or the remarkable benefits of selecting your product to just one point larger can help you direct your client’s attention where you want it to be.
5. Personalize your proposal. Names are powerful! Use your customer’s name and the name of her business. The last thing your client wants to see is a stack of boilerplate proposals that feel generic. What your clients want more than anything is to believe that you care about their business and that you’re going to take the time to ensure that they receive excellent service. You start to demonstrate that personal touch before the deal is even signed when you mention your client by name.
6. Use good quality paper. More proposals every day are delivered electronically, and taking the time to print and deliver a proposal on heavy, elegant paper differentiates you from your competitors as a service provider who’s willing to take an extra step to ensure that your clients are impressed and pleased. You’re providing tangible evidence of the quality of your proposal, your business and yourself. Establish yourself as the highest quality bidder.
Revenue is the lifeblood of your company, and ensuring a steady stream of it is based, at least in part, on your ability to consistently turn out polished, effective proposals. Taking the time to get it right, to do it better than your competitors, differentiates great companies from all the rest.
Read more articles on sales.