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How to write a winning business proposal

Mathias Thulin
April 08, 2019

Do you want to create a strong sales proposal and close the deal? This guide will outline how you can craft a winning business proposal, step by step.

[Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2019 but has been updated for 2022]

While it depends a lot on your industry, writing a sales (or business) proposal is pretty straightforward. It requires that you convincingly articulate your understanding of your client’s problem, as well as the reasons you’re the best choice. Always keep in mind that even the most well-crafted solutions might get rejected due to an inadequate proposal.

What is a business proposal?

So, let’s start with a definition. A business proposal is a document you’d send to a prospective client, outlining the product/service you’re offering, and explaining why you’re the best candidate for the job. In other words, it’s a kind of sales pitch to complete a specific job or project, to supply a service, or, in some instances, to be the vendor of a certain product.

A business proposal can be either solicited or unsolicited. When your prospective client puts out an RFP (request for proposal), your proposal is called a solicited proposal. Whereas, with an unsolicited proposal, you are approaching a client in hopes of attracting their business, even though they did not explicitly request a proposal.

How is it different than a business plan?

A business plan and a business proposal are very different documents, with different purposes and goals. A business plan is a factual description of your company on the executive and operational level. It’s typically sent to your investors, attorneys, suppliers, potential employees, etc.

On the other hand, a business proposal is a sales document intended to describe how you will approach a project, and solicit the client's business. You’re trying to sell your prospect on your product or service, not on your business itself. You’re not after funding, as you are with a business plan, but rather after their business.

While writing your proposal, you can certainly pull some information from your business plan. But that’s all. Don’t confuse the two; they are distinct and separate.

What are the elements of a business proposal?

proposal-template-business-TRASH

1. Title page

You would typically start your proposal with a title page, which includes basic information, like your company’s name and contact information, your company logo, your client’s name, and contact information, the date, and a title. This is to make things look more organized and professional.

2. Table of contents

After your title page, you should include a table of contents, which helps the reader know what they can expect to find in your proposal, and with clickable links, your potential client can easily revisit sections without having to navigate through multiple pages.

3. Executive summary

Essentially, it sets the scene for the proposal. This is where you should present the case for why you are the right company for the job, and give the reader the takeaway message of the proposal. You should not try to summarize every aspect of the proposal, but rather focus on the conclusions you want the reader to reach after reading it.

4. Problem statement

This is the place where you can show your new client that you understand their needs, and fully grasp the issue they are trying to solve. Take this opportunity to restate the issue they are facing in your own words so that they know you understand what they are looking for.

5. Solution statement

This section shows how you plan to solve your potential client’s problem, and the exact steps you’ll take to carry out your plan. While earlier sections might have been a bit surface-level, this section of the business proposal is where you’ll go into detail about what steps you’ll take to solve their problem.

6. Qualifications

This is the section of your business proposal where you get to convince your potential client why you are the most qualified person to take on the job. You can mention any relevant education, industry-specific training, or certifications you have, your past successful projects of a similar nature, years of experience, client testimonials, short case studies and so on.

7. Schedule

In this section, you should specify how long you proposed project will take. Never be tempted to underestimate how long it will take you to complete the project. Promise what you can deliver! Don’t set your client up with unrealistic expectations. And if you’re offering a product, this section might not be applicable to you, so feel free to omit it.

8. Cost, payments and legal

Here is where you state the cost, and payment schedule if necessary. How you structure this section will largely depend on the particular project or service you are offering. If there are any legal issues to attend to, such as permits or licensing, include this information here. Keep in mind that you can always add a section entirely devoted to handling the legal side of the project.

9. Benefits

This is your final sell—don’t be afraid to detail for your prospective client all they have to gain by choosing you to complete the project. Impress upon your clients why you are the best choice, and all the ways in which their business will benefit from choosing you and your business as their solution.

What is the ideal length?

The length of your sales proposal depends on your industry, the scope of the project, and the client’s specifications. But as a rule of thumb, you want your proposal to be as short as possible without missing any key information. That’s for two reasons:

Firstly, you don’t want your client to pass it on to your competitor! And secondly, you don’t want to prolong the sales process. If your recipient can’t read and digest your proposal in a single sitting (that’s about 5-10 minutes), chances are it will go back on their to-do pile or get forwarded to someone else.

So how can you make your proposal shorter? You can move all extra information to the appendix, like testimonials, graphs, and charts. As to reduce the text itself, you can keep an eye out for repetition.

How to make your sales proposal stand out?

We went over the key elements that a sales proposal should have: title page, table of contents, executive summary, problem statement, solution statement, qualifications, schedule, cost, payments and legal, and benefits.

But just as a recruiter goes through an extensive pile of CV’s, decision makers go through a large amount of offers on a weekly basis. The best sales proposals offer the right content in an eye-pleasing and scannable way.

And what better to be understood and remembered than a video? According to Forrester, a one minute video is worth 1.8 million words. Adding a video (or several) to your proposals will allow you to decomplexify your offer and personalize your approach, two key elements to winning the deal.

Video introduction in a proposal

How to create professional business proposals?

The answer is pretty simple: templates.

The worst thing for your brand experience, especially when managing a large sales team, is for individual sales reps to constantly create their own proposals from scratch. It is time consuming and makes the process prone to errors. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of tools available today. The most common experience is to create a sales template with google docs or microsoft words, which can then be shared throughout the team via google drive, internal servers or even email.

Proposal management tools are another solution, and growing in popularity. Web-based, they allow users to create templates, share them across teams and ensure a smooth and a great brand experience.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that writing a winning business proposal is only one part of the equation. How to send a business proposal and how you follow up on one with prospects is equally important. Make sure you have control throughout and clearly outline next steps in every communication with prospects to ensure a smooth process.

Ready to write your proposal?

A strong business proposal is an opportunity to win new business. Check out our proposal templates to get started sending beautiful proposals today.

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