Your sales proposal can make or break your next deal.

And these days putting together a persuasive sales proposal has never been more important.

Closing deals is a top priority for most salespeople, according to this HubSpot survey. Yet, this study found 61% of salespeople said selling today is tougher than it was five years ago.

But, if you invest in writing a strong sales proposal,  you’ll be able to win new clients, consistently hit quotas, and increase profits.

Here are some tested strategies high-performing reps use to write sales proposals that turn promising leads into paying clients

Know your Customer

Writing an effective sales proposal requires you to know your customer.

Identifying buyer personas is one of the habits of the most successful salespeople, according to HubSpot.

Think about it.

People do business with companies they know, like, and trust. To establish this kind of rapport, you’ve got to understand your customers desires, dreams, and deepest fears.

One way to do this is through customer research.

And here’s where a tactic called Voice of the Customer research makes all the difference.

Voice of the Customer research is based on a Japanese product development method. The aim  is to connect the product to proven customer needs.

In this MIT Sloan Management research paper, John R. Hauser cuts to the heart of VOC research: use your customers own words when describing their needs.

Here’s more from Hauser’s paper:

“For example, when describing lines on a computer monitor a customer might want them "to look like straight lines with no stair-step effect." Note that the customer need is not a solution, say a particular type of monitor (XGA, Megapixel, flat screen, flat panel, etc.), nor a physical measurement (number of noticeable breaks in the line), but rather a detailed description of how the customer wants images to appear on the monitor.”

Your marketing team may already have all the data, but you can perform VOC research using customer interviews or mining review sites like Amazon.

Organize your Proposal

Once you have the data you need, start structuring your sales proposal.

Experts advise keeping your proposal short.  Shorter proposals are easier to read, and they work better, too.

This survey by Bidsketch found five-page proposals were 31 percent more likely to win business.

And here’s a sales proposal structure recommended by Bidsketch:

  • Problem statement - listing customers key problems; you will have this from your research
  • Solution - that directly addresses those customers needs
  • Benefits - how will your product benefit the customer?
  • Project fees and pricing
  • Call to action  - clear next steps

It’s not the only template available.

Freshworks suggests the following key headings:

  • Introduction: more on yourself, the team, and the product.
  • Discussion: detail on the customers business challenges and external problems, like the economy or new regulations.
  • Approach: describe your firm’s approach to solving the business challenge.
  • Benefits: connect your product to the real benefits for your customer.
  • Charge: provide costs.
  • End of the sales proposal: a brief pitch to remind your customer why you’re the right choice.

Consider using a tool like Workflowy to outline your key points before writing your proposal. This will save you time and help structure your thoughts before you start writing.

Now, we’ll do a deeper discussion on some of these key sections.

Sell Benefits not Features

If your sales proposal has only one goal, it’s to convince your customer that your product will make their life better.

Remember, the only thing your customer is thinking is, “What’s it in for me?”

So, whenever you discuss a product or service feature, explain the positive change that it will deliver.

How will it make your clients business - and life - better?

You achieve this when you know your product and understand your customer, writes Jonah Berger in Contagious.

“Write down why you think people are doing something. Then ask “Why is this important?” three times.”

Here is how that would look for Google, writes Berger:

“Why is search important?

Because people want to find information quickly.

Why do they want to do that?

So they can get answers to what they are looking for.

Why do they want those answers?

So, they can connect to people, achieve their goals, and fulfill their dreams.”

On CopyBlogger, Brian Clark offers another example.

A news aggregator app might contain an artificial intelligence algorithm. But how do you make your customer care?

You connect the feature to what your customer is trying to achieve:

“Stay up-to-date on the things that add value to your life and career, without getting stressed out from information overload.”

Clark adds B2B buyers are interested in benefits that are good for their companies - and their careers:

“If you can demonstrate that the prospect will be a hero because your CRM product will save her company $120,000 a year compared to the current choice, you’ve got an excellent shot.”

Use Storytelling and Emotion

An effective sales proposal contains a mix of storytelling and emotion.

Studies find positive emotion influences consumer loyalty. And research shows people email emotional articles more.

Now consider that our brains are hardwired to respond differently to stories.

From a report in the Harvard Business Review.

“Storytelling evokes a strong neurological response. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak‘s research indicates that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus, while the cute factor of the animals releases oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that promotes connection and empathy. Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.”

This is how emotional stories become a powerful asset to your sales strategy.

The Sales Benchmark Index sums up how you can apply the science of storytelling to your sales proposals:

“Sales stories can convey the true power of your product or service. In a story, you provide context to customers and can drive points home harder. Use Cases (stories from the field) are particularly effective.”

When including these use cases, you’re helping your customer imagine the future. It’s a future where their business problem is solved and their wishes are fulfilled. And it’s all thanks to your product or service.

Skyword offers the following tips for crafting an engaging case study:

1. Present your customer as the hero and your brand as a supporting actor

2. Your prospect should be able to relate to your hero

3. Paint a convincing before and after the picture

Provide Options  

To increase the odds of closing the deal, present a few options.

The upside of more than one pricing/product option is there’s less chance your customer will send their business to one of your competitors. They’ll probably find a package that meets their needs if you’re offering more than one, right?

But here is the caveat: too many options might just put your potential client off altogether.

In a consumer experiment - known as the Jam study - more shoppers tried samples when more jams were available. But when the number of samples decreased, sales climbed dramatically - jumping from just three percent to 30%.

Too many options confuse and overwhelm customers.

The key takeaway?

Give your clients a choice, but keep the path to purchase as simple as possible.

Keep it Simple

This commitment to simplicity will serve you well.

Your sales proposal should be easy to read and free from jargon, suggests Cirrus Insight.

“Your proposal should be professionally written, but easy to absorb. Too much jargon and too many technicalities will turn the reader away. Your ability to break down the complexities and make the problem and solution easy to understand will win you brownie points. If your proposal seems hard to read, then your prospects will assume you may be hard to work with.”

Plus, research has proven that people don’t like long, complicated words - readers will usually assume you’re trying too hard to sound smart. This study ends with a clear argument for keeping your text simple.

“...write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent.”

Run your proposal through the Flesh-Kincaid Readability Index and the Hemingway Editor to root out hard to read words and sentences.

Improve credibility by checking for sloppy spelling or grammar errors. Get a colleague to do a proofread and try an app like Grammarly.

Get a Signature

If you’ve followed all these steps, your potential buyer is ready to commit. Make it easy for them to take the leap.

Use an electronic signing platform like eversign to make it easy for your client to sign and return to you. The days of printing out proposals, scanning them into a computer and sending them via email (or worse, fax) are long gone.

The easier it is for your prospects to sign you proposal, the quicker you’ll be able to get the deal done.

Create a Sales Proposal that Converts

By putting these strategies into action, your sales proposal will become one of your most important business tools. You’ll win new clients, generate repeat business, and turn referral leads into happy customers.

Which one of these sales proposal tips will you try today?