Top 15 Business Proposal Ideas to Accelerate Your Deals

Read our curated list of business proposal ideas, many of which come straight from sales experts, CEOs, and other trustworthy pros.

Business proposals are written documents that express the value, pricing, and terms of your product or service to a prospect after a sales presentation. It’s likely that your prospects are receiving proposals from your competitors, as well, so it’s crucial that you make yours stand out. We asked some expert salespeople and business aficionados how to do just that. Without further ado, here are 16 ideas for creating effective business proposals.

1. Add Testimonials to Inspire Trust

A testimonial is a quote from a past or current client in which they praise your business. Including one in your proposal is like giving your prospect an injection of trust. Your prospect reads it, and your business instantly seems more credible and capable of satisfying their needs. This is especially true if the testimonial comes from a client similar to the prospect. CEO Michael Hammelburger echoes this advice:

One of the best tricks that has worked for our sales team when writing a marketing business proposal is adding social proof on the proposal. Come up with a list of past and present customers who resemble the qualities of your potential customer. Anticipate the fact that your lead will ask you who else have you worked with and what were the results. Back up your customers' testimonials with stats and numbers to prove your claims and work on a great storytelling approach to get your lead excited hearing more from you. Then compress this into a succinct elevator speech to get your potential client hooked with your products or services!

Michael Hammelburger
Michael Hammelburger
CEO at Sales Therapy

The location of these testimonials depends on how you structure your business proposal. If you have an introduction page where you talk about your business and team, this is a great place to put a quote from a happy client. Or you could place one right before your call to action to give them that final shot of confidence they need to sign the agreement. If you have a case study page, use a quote from that specific client to enhance the story.

Collecting testimonials is a piece of cake. Find a few past or current clients for whom you’ve delivered amazing results. You don’t need to have an incredible relationship with them. As long as they’ve been satisfied, they’ll be glad to spend five minutes writing a quote for you. Email the clients asking for a testimonial and their permission to include it on a business proposal.

2. Mention Add-on Products or Services

Consider referencing some other relevant items available for purchase in your business proposal. That way, your prospect will be more aware of the options they have to enhance their current purchase. It also gives you an easy way to increase the size of your deal.

Here are some examples of add-on products or services: 

  • Related Package: A marketing agency selling content creation services could include a brief description and pricing of a social media promotion package in the proposal.
  • Additional Feature or Tool: A proptech company selling a compliance-monitoring desktop platform might mention the opportunity to purchase its mobile app, too. 
  • Related Service: If you’re selling an exterior paint job, you might include an interior paint service, as well.

If possible, plug these extra items on the pricing page, preferably below the price of the main product or service you’re outlining in the proposal. When mentioning it, try using language that is natural and helpful. Say, “If you’d like to include the {package name}, which helps you {value proposition}, your total would come to {cost}.”

Pro Tip:

If your proposal is acting as a contract, give the prospect two checkboxes above the signature space where they can check either the main item or the main item plus the add-on. Keep in mind that this could slow down the deal. If you’ve never mentioned the add-on in your conversations, or the add-on item is confusing, they might want more meetings to go over this new, intriguing offer.

3. Use Honest, Simple, & Concise Language

From a mile away, a buyer can sniff a hyperbole that’s being used to arouse an urge to purchase. They’re wary of these sales tactics. They’re also busy and don’t want to read a business proposal that requires the use of a dictionary or expert interpreter. So, keep your language succinct and realistic. CEO Martin Boonzaayer backs up this rule:

Keep an eye on the tone and language used in business proposals. Avoid industry jargon and technical terms by using clear, concise, and simple language. Simultaneously, avoid exaggerating your company or service (‘Our groundbreaking product quadruples sales’), as this may undermine the trust you're trying to build with your potential client. Additionally, use the same casual-meets-formal tone you would in a meeting in their office.

Martin Boonzaayer
Martin Boonzaayer
CEO of The Trusted Home Buyer

To get a solid understanding of the language and technical terms a prospect will and will not understand, take a look at their social media profiles or their “about me” page on their company’s website. Take note of the words and tone they use, and match that while crafting your proposal.

4. Use a Template to Make a Proposal Quickly

Business proposal templates are pre-designed and customizable. You can change the font, background, images, color scheme, and, most importantly, the words on the page. They also usually have recommended proposal outlines that you can follow. For instance, check out our business proposal template article, which includes a free template that works for any type of business. CEO Krista Neher recommends purchasing and customizing a high-quality template:

Invest time upfront in an amazing template. We spent one week creating an outstanding template (and hired a designer) and we customize about 3-4 slides in the template for each client. Our win rate increased from about 50% to over 75% with a professional, well-designed template. It also saved us time because we are only customizing a few slides for each proposal.

Krista Neher
Krista Neher
CEO of Boot Camp Digital

There are also templates on the web designed for specific types of businesses. Whether you need a proposal to sell SaaS, advertising services, or consulting, there’s a template out there for you. Here’s a list from Proposify of free business proposal templates for a variety of industries. If you have the funds, it’s often worth it to pay for a top-notch template.

5. Introduce a Sense of Urgency

People act quickly when they realize time is running out to seize an opportunity. A forecasted rainstorm in the afternoon will have you running to the beach early in the day. Inspire this fear of missing out by including an expiration date on your proposal. Essentially, in your business proposal letter or introductory email, state a date and time when the terms will expire.

We recommend using this approach when you actually have a truthful reason for creating a deadline other than just instilling urgency. That way, you can write to the prospect why this deadline exists without stretching the truth, and they’ll know you’re not just playing mind games with them. For example, if you’re selling a product and you’re seriously afraid it will run out by September 5th, clearly state this as the reason for the deadline.

If you have no reason besides that you want the buyer to purchase quickly so you can focus on other deals, it’s better to give them a slight discount or free add-on if they sign by a specific date. Leading up to the due date, email them reminders. 

6. Paint Yourself as an Advisor

Besides the tangible deliverables, your prospect might also want your ongoing support and advice. This is especially true if you’re selling a service like financial services, consulting, or marketing. For example, if you sold someone accounting services, they should feel comfortable coming to you with questions about tax changes. To convince them in your proposal that this will be your future relationship, start advising them ASAP.

Director of sales and strategy Paula Glynn supports the effectiveness of this technique:

Always provide an insight into the customer's business as part of the proposal. This shows that you have taken the time to personalise, and think about them as a business. It shows you are an expert in your field and you are sharing a small piece of the advice/experience they would get if they were to become a customer. It transitions the proposal from ‘generic’ to ‘customized’ and VALUABLE. Different from your competitors. You would be surprised what this can do to the close rates!

Paula Glynn
Paula Glynn
Director of Strategy and Sales at Pixelstorm

The insight doesn’t have to be directly related to your solution. It could be any of the following: 

  • An industry shift that the prospect can take advantage of
  • Recommendations for another non-competitive service or product to fix an issue they mentioned during discovery
  • The actual root cause of their main pain point, which they might’ve missed

Prospects want to buy from experts who can help them take their business to the next level. Show them you’re one of them.

7. Host a Discovery Call Beforehand

A discovery call usually takes place before you deliver your sales presentation. During the call, you ask a series of questions to tease out the prospect’s needs, pain points, timeline, budget, and anything else that helps you to assess their fit for your product or service and personalize the rest of the sales process. The information you capture during a discovery call also enables you to create a business proposal that addresses their specific needs.

During a discovery call, let your assumptions fall to the wayside and truly listen to the prospect. In real estate, a rep might assume pricing is all that matters since it’s the most common top priority, so they’ll focus too much on pricing explanations when the prospect mostly cared about the neighborhood school system. A false assumption can lead a proposal that falls flat.

Real estate broker Khari Washington talks about why it’s so critical to do discovery:

When we make a proposal to list someone's house on the market, one of the best tips is to listen to what is important to the seller. Sometimes the price isn't the only factor. You have to address their needs in the order of importance to them, not you.

Khari Washington
Khari Washington
Broker at 1st United Realty & Mortgage, Inc

Try these techniques to improve your listening and comprehension during your discovery call: 

  • Wait Two Seconds to Speak: After your prospect finishes speaking, wait two seconds before taking your turn. This gives you time to digest what they said and also to ensure they’re actually finished with their thought and not just pausing. 
  • Label Their Needs: If they give you a long, winding explanation of their need, rephrase it to them in a condensed one-sentence version: “So, it sounds like you’re struggling to X.” If you’re wrong, they’ll correct you. This ensures you have a grasp on their situation. 
  • Ask for Clarification: Ask a prospect to repeat something if you failed to comprehend what they meant. They’ll appreciate your attempt to understand them.

To a prospect, a properly run discovery call is a hallmark of a quality sales professional. That said, check out our article about how to host a discovery call. We give you the step-by-step process, along with powerful questions to ask your leads.

8. Never Criticize the Prospect’s Current Vendor

Sometimes, your business proposal must emphasize why your business is better than your prospect’s current provider. For example, you might dedicate a page to describing the competitor’s shortcomings (bad customer service, missing a key feature you offer, etc.) and how they’re holding the prospect back. Whatever their faults, use good sportsmanship, or you might come across as a competitor who cares more about winning than helping the prospect.

Enterprise sales trainer Christina Strack explains why this is such an important rule:

Don't disparage the incumbent. If you are Forrester Consulting, and the incumbent is Gartner Consulting, be sure your current state analysis of Gartner's work is objective and not judgmental. When you criticize your prospect's vendor, remember that some people in the prospect's environment took political risk onboarding that vendor.

Christina Strack
Christina Strack
Enterprise Sales Speaker and Trainer at Titan Enterprise Sales

Instead of focusing on the competitor’s negatives, focus on your positives: how you can save them more time, increase their bottom line, etc. A tactful way to express the competition’s drawbacks without direct criticism is to tell a story about another client. Explain why that client decided to switch from the competitor to your solution, and how this improved their business.

9. Anticipate & Handle Objections

You probably have a list of objections that your prospects often bring up. Instead of waiting until the prospect has read the proposal to deal with these objections, zap them during the reading process. To help you coordinate this preemptive strike, we have a list of the most common objections and rebuttals, many of which you might want to refute in the prose of your proposal.

Business owner Dan Henderson recommends also highlighting drawbacks of the product or service and dealing with them in the proposal:

As a business owner, you must understand how to write profitable and effective business proposals because they influence a prospect's decision. As a business owner myself, I believe the best way to write them is to highlight not just the benefits but also the drawbacks, and you must have a strategy for dealing with them. This will assist you in persuading prospects that the disadvantages are unimportant because you can handle them. This builds the trust that your prospects require for your business to succeed

Dan Henderson
Founder at Central Metro Denver

If your prospects usually bring up specific potential risks, name them in your proposal and discuss how you plan to mitigate them. If prospects often push back on the implementation timeline, explain in-depth why it takes so long and why the timeline is beneficial. Help them understand your decisions and see how, although they seem confusing at first, they will add value to the prospect’s life and business. 

10. Leverage Proposal Management Software

Proposal management software refers to web-based tools and platforms that help you create, manage, analyze, and send business proposals. If you’re sending out many proposals, these tools can save you a ton of time. They can also provide other benefits, including the ability to embed video, use esignatures, and even track opens and clicks within a proposal so you can know when to follow up with a prospect.

Three of the best proposal management platforms that we evaluated in our article on proposal management software are the following: 

  • PandaDoc: Best for quick proposal creation
  • Proposify: Best for advanced proposal management features
  • Better Proposals: Best for designing interactive web-based proposals

Each comes with a large set of proposal templates that you can customize to fit your own needs. Plus, they all allow you to test the effectiveness of different proposals. For instance, you could send out 20 proposals with a team introduction page, and 20 without. All things equal, whichever one had the highest close rate would be the proposal you use going forward.

11. Appeal to Your Prospect’s Emotions

People buy on emotion. A person looks at potential flights to Portugal because they heard about the fish stew, cheap accommodations, and sunny beaches. What makes them follow through with the decision is their emotions. They hit purchase today because they had a rough day at work and desire peace, or because they fear the tickets might sell out. Don’t just sell to the analytical mind. Sell to the emotions as well to increase the chances of winning the sale.

Marketing Director Harriet Chan explains why this approach works:

Always keep in mind that cold-hard data and emotional appeal are vital to master how to write business proposals. Most clients’ decisions are bound by logic, such as budgetary restrictions, but their choices are shaped by emotions, including excitement over the business proposal. It is essential to express the tangible benefits you offer to potential clients to visualize your working relationship and make them feel confident that your offering fits the outcomes sought.

Harriet Chan
Harriet Chan
Co-Founder and Marketing Director at CocoFinder

Here are some emotions your proposal should evoke in your prospects: 

  • Excitement for the Future: Tell them about all the benefits they’ll receive from working with you. Help them imagine a more profitable and pleasant life. 
  • Fear of Missing Out: Write about the costs of remaining in their current situation. What business opportunities will they fail to seize if they don’t act now? 
  • Envy Toward Peers: Use case studies or success stories to show them how their peers and competitors are using your solution to improve their businesses.

12. Consider Using a One-Page Proposal

A one-page proposal is the condensed version of a full-blown proposal. It expresses crucial elements of a proposal in just one written page, including a project overview, pricing, timeline, deliverables, and terms of the agreement. It can even include a space for signatures at the bottom, doubling as a contract. A one-page proposal can increase the chances that your prospect stays engaged throughout, and it can also save you time.

A one-pager will also force you to exclude fluff from your proposal and focus on providing only the most useful information. Plus, it acts as a test of your knowledge about your prospect. If you fail, it’s time to do some more digging, as former Sales Manager Max Whiteside recommends:

If you can't fit it on one page printed, you don't have a full enough understanding of your prospect and their business to present a proposal. Go back to your discovery and ask more questions. If you want to win more business, provide value, not fluff.

Max Whiteside
Sponsored Content Lead at Barbend

You might consider using a one-page proposal in a few scenarios: 

  • The Prospect Has a Good Relationship with Your Business: If you’re selling to a current or past client, they might not need a 5-10 page business proposal to understand your offer. This also works if you and a prospect have built solid trust. 
  • Your Project Is Low-Cost: If the price is low relative to the revenue of the buyer, perhaps one page is enough to get their sign-off. It also shows you respect their time. 
  • Your Project Is Straightforward: A freelance writer offering a batch of blog posts might use a one-pager because of the simplicity of the offer. 
  • The Prospect Asks for a Short Proposal: Some prospects just want one-pagers to save them time.

Regardless of your relationship with the prospect or the simplicity and cost of the project, you’ll still find yourself with a lot of information about the deal that you must stuff into one page. To learn how to do this effectively, read our article on how to create a one-page business proposal.

13. Send Your Proposal Quickly

If your prospect has requested a proposal, it’s crucial to send it within two days, before they forget how valuable your solution seemed during the presentation or are won over by your competitor. CEO Olga Gonzalez backs this claim:

The most important thing to do when writing a business proposal is to be timely. Respond in a timely manner to a prospect's inquiry, to follow-up with a discussion, and with sending the proposal. Any delays along the pipeline will create doubt, and another company will step right in to take your place.

Olga Gonzalez
Olga Gonzalez
CEO at Pietra Communications

To increase your speed, consider using a proposal template or proposal management software, as we’ve mentioned in tip numbers 4 and 11 above.

14. Highlight an Industry Shift

Kicking off your proposal by highlighting a market trend or opportunity that your product or service can help the prospect capture is a great way to build intrigue and excitement. CEO Joseph Fung talks about how he uses this narrative strategy when writing business proposals.

A great tactic to use is to show a statistic or industry trend that points towards a success right off the bat. This elevates the prospect's emotion of hope. Then introduce the message that this success, unfortunately, is not the norm in that industry and link it with the pain expressed by your prospect. This creates a situation for your prospect where you've generated excitement and then tamped it down by pointing out the reality of the situation. This tactic is a set up for driving your real point home: That your product is the answer to your prospect's pain.

Joseph Fung
Joseph Fung
CEO of Uvaro

The pain point of your prospect should be the one thing blocking your prospect from seizing the opportunity presented by the industry shift. For example, imagine a RE developer selling to a property management company using this tactic. The developer might get the prospect excited about a chance to attract the hundreds of new millennials moving to their city. But, then they reveal that these millennials want indoor gyms, which the RE company lacks — for now.

15. Personalize Your Proposal

By the time you sit down to craft your proposal, you should’ve already learned about your prospect’s needs, pains, and goals throughout the sales process. Take that information and inject it into your sales proposal. Make it feel as though the proposal was written for their eyes only. This will make your proposal speak more to the hearts of the buyer, and therefore increase your chances of closing the deal. Plus, they’ll appreciate your understanding of their needs.

Bottom Line: Business Proposal Ideas

Business proposals provide your prospects with the information they need to feel comfortable during the lead nurturing stage. By far, the most common tip we received when asking experts was that the proposals should be personalized to each prospect’s specific needs and stated desires. This makes them feel understood, cared for, and confident in your ability to help them achieve their objectives.

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