The number 1 mistake business people make with proposals

As business owners and sales people of agency and consultancy based businesses, the proposal is a key component of getting business over the line.

Most of us can send a pretty damn good proposal. We can make sure it is clear, concise and reads well, shows where we can add value and delineates clear expectations for the customer.

Job done right? Wrong.

There is a key mistake about sales proposals that is getting made over and over again. What is it? It’s the inherent belief that the proposal is a sales tool.

The proposal is not a sales tool. The proposal is an official confirmation of the agreement between yourself and your client to do business. It is not there to convince your client.

Here are 3 things that should be done before a proposal is ever sent to a client:

1) Qualify the client

Why send a proposal if it’s going to be pointless? Proposals take time. They should only be sent to clients with whom you have a good opportunity to do business. Qualifying is the process of determining if a potential customer has the right characteristics to fit your offering. These include the ability, authority and inclination to purchase as well as the budget to afford your service.

2) Define objections and concerns of the client and answer them

When a client wants to make an investment, there are barriers in the way to them doing so. This could be price, fear of change, complacency (things are fine as they are), trust, internal input from staff, external input from friends, business politics (family friends of the business that offer the same as service as you) and timing (it’s all ‘all too hard right now’).

These objections should be discovered and met on the phone or in personal meetings. You should be defining and answering all of these objections with the client, otherwise you are sending a proposal that isn’t addressing what the client needs. Doing the hard yards on the phone or in person may require a few separate conversations. This is fine. Dealing with objections and creating a little bit of friction is important to forming trust in a business relationship.

3) Secure a verbal commitment

Before you send your proposal. Get a commitment from your client. Asking for a commitment may actually bring to light barriers that you hadn’t uncovered as yet. Simply saying to your client ‘I’m ready to send over your proposal. If it covers off our discussion, what happens next?’ prompts this commitment. You want them to tell you what they are going to do. If they say ‘I’ll just need to get a PO cleared through accounts’,  that’s a positive sign. If they say ‘I just have to run this by my business partner’, that’s a barrier you never addressed. You won’t know what you are missing if you don’t ask for a commitment from your client. Often people wan’t to send the proposal to avoid this uncomfortable question. If you don’t have the courage to ask for a commitment over the phone or in person, the proposal is not going to help you one iota.


Proposals that are presented in person have a far better chance of getting over the line than an emailed proposal. Meeting with your client to talk through the proposal will show your commitment to the work, to the client, and to a successful outcome while allowing you, once again, to meet any further objections head on.


Yes, our proposals should be clear, concise, show value and define expectations. It is critical to make sure our proposals are well put together. It is also critical to understand the role of the proposal. The proposal is not there to convince your client. That’s your job.


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