Selling is all about design.
The idea of “design” is a popular point of conversation as of late. But selling has really always been about design. If you visit a supermarket and you pay attention to the aisle displays, you’ll notice that the best, most effective ones are those that showcase some design creativity. There may be something woefully boring about yellow-labelled cans of creamed corn, but there’s something eye-catching about them stacked in the form of an oversized pyramid. That’s design, in a nutshell. It’s also selling.
On the Web, everything is a design. From webpages to business proposals, closing a sale online is an exercise in balancing color, form, and function, just as it is in the supermarket. But selling on the Web adds an additional dimension to the design prospect: information. So, in order for a design to be able to sell on the Web, it has to not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also informative.
Now that Quote Roller has brought business proposals to the Web, we can start to think of business proposals as designs, too. To do this, we can look at some sales-ready design considerations borrowed from the world of web design. Web designers have been refining the way landing pages work for years, so they’re a great place to look for inspiration when it comes to designing winning business proposals. With that in mind, let’s take a look eight ways you can rock your business proposal designs to grow sales.
1. Think of more than simply “black and white” The first thing you may be thinking when we mention “design” in the same sentence as “proposal” is, “Wait, aren’t business proposals mostly just black text?” Sure, that’s what used to constitute as a business proposal, but that is certainly not the case anymore. The Web makes anything possible in a proposal. To stand out from the competing businesses out there, you want to create proposals that meet with the expectations of the modern Web user – engaging experiences that hold their interest. So, while business proposals in the past were little more than blocks of text printed on paper, they now look quite a bit more like collections of landing pages, following a logical sales path, leading to an actionable outcome. Let’s face it, if you’ve run a website for any duration of time at all, you have a good idea of what people like to see in online content. They like images, they like infographics, they like testimonials, they like multimedia, and they like interactive HTML bits. All of these things are eminently possible inside an app like ours. So while you might not necessarily use all of them at once, you can definitely break away from the old “black and white” of the text-based business proposals by judiciously spicing things up with color, information, and interactivity.
2. Minimalist design is better than sensory overload
Having said all that about thinking bigger than “black and white,” it doesn’t mean that your business proposal designs should be too busy. Another idea we can borrow from the world of web design, when creating proposals, is the notion of minimalism. Minimalist designs are everywhere. The key concepts in minimalist designs are:
- Less is more
- Leave out what you don’t need
- If it’s there, it has to be good
- Stick to a limited palette of colors
- Above all else, keep it simple stupid (KISS)
These are some important guidelines to keep in mind if you’d like to implement minimal design ethos in your business proposals. The Smashing Magazine article mention above raises an interesting caveat here: when you are striving for minimalism, details matter greatly. If you have proposal page with only a few sparse words and an infographic, that’s all great, but it’s got to be good enough to lead to a sale. The design gurus at Smashing are chiefly concerned with designing for the Web, but their minimalist ideas are equally applicable to business proposals. Interestingly, in the same article, Smashing recommends whittling your designs down until you reach their breaking points. So, you might try peeling back the content in your business proposal until it ceases to be a business proposal, odd as it may sound. Once you’ve uncovered the one design element you need to have a proposal at all (probably a call to action), you’ve found the heart of your proposal, and everything else can be shaped to facilitate that. Now that’s design minimalism.
3. Narrow the field
The organization of information presented in your business proposals can affect your sales, too. As can the number of offers you present within a single proposal. In perhaps a bad example of “designing to sell,” the other day I was in a department store, staring at the men’s deodorant section. As I stood there, scratching my head, trying to decide between literally hundreds of the choices, I noticed that the man standing a few feet away from me was also scratching his head, aimlessly scanning over the endless rows of various deodorants. We looked at each other, shrugged, and simultaneously said, “Too many choices,” as we both just grabbed the nearest stick of deodorant and strode off. There were just too many options. This is also a chronic problem for business proposals. Before you put your proposal together, you need to narrow the field of options for your prospective customers. The big difference between presenting too many choices in a store and too many online is that, while I ultimately bought some random deodorant in the store, too many choices online leads to something called “choice paralysis.” Now, the optional pricing guide is there for you, but, if you submit a proposal that lists too many prices alongside one another, you run the risk of having the customer “shut down.” It’s kind of like “brain freeze” for buyers. Narrow your pricing to no more than three or four, tiered, well-defined packages (like bronze/silver/gold, for example). Even better, specify a price that is wholly tailored to the customer in question. That’s personalization, which is always the best way to connect with a customer. If you have no choice but to present several price packages in your business proposals, make sure you lay out the prices in a table that is very clear and easy-to-read. And definitely try to avoid creating total confusion with hard-to-understand pricing. The notion of narrowing the field also extends to your overall offer, too. You may be a software development firm that offers a wide range of services, but if you’re pitching to a company that needs an iPhone app specifically, it’s best to simply focus on that, rather than cluttering your proposal with details of the full panoply of what you can do. Narrowing your message means narrowing their focus.
4. Show some results
No one likes to buy anything sight unseen. That means your business proposals will benefit from including a picture of your goods/services in action, or the results of using them. If you create apps, some screenshots of your apps in action are in order and perhaps a video demo walk-through. If you provide lead generation services, as another example, you might show some incoming lead analysis screen captures. You can always support such images with testimonials and customer success stories. People love those, just as long as they are real and honest; people always know when someone’s blowing smoke with bogus testimonials. By imbedding some real-world evidence of the work you do in your business proposals, you gain credibility and further distance your offer from the “black and white” banality we’ve been urging you to avoid.
5. A remedial lesson in how attention leads to action
Anyone who’s ever worked in sales in a small-box retail establishment, like RadioShack, can tell you about a basic, newbie-level sales concept that some seasoned salespersons tend to forget. It’s called “AIDA,” which stands for:
When designing your business proposals, AIDA can assist you in choosing the order in which you present the content of your proposals. You’ll find plenty of info on the sales funnel, the sales process, and sales strategy, but they’re all just different names for the same old thing, and AIDA underpins it all. The introductory page of your proposal is meant to earn the prospect’s Attention. The next section should hold their attention and begin to cultivate it into Interest. The next section transforms interest into Desire, which is used to call the customer to Action – the part where they bite on the sale, or in this case, accept your proposal. You can find AIDA in action in our free business proposal templates, many of which are built entirely on the structure of AIDA – something that can surely help you get going.
6. Video is your friend
One of the simplest things you can include in your business proposal designs may, at first, sound like a complex thing to do: video. A product demonstration or service explanation video will go a long way toward helping your seal the deal. Keep in mind, since you are constructing your business proposals in the digital realm, you can cut down whole pages within your proposal to a single video. (But, in case your client chooses to revert to boring PDF, include the written info given in the video for only the PDF version or at least a link to your YouTube page.) Of course, you might not be capable of creating professional quality sales videos on your own, but there are many freelancers out there whom you can outsource the work to. Just take a look at Fiverr and you’ll get a sense of how easy it really is to get professional-quality videos produced for your business. One tip with regard to Fiverr is that you’ll find video talent who are willing to record your sales message (if you are unwilling to do it yourself), other freelancers who will edit your video, and more still who will add post-production effects like intro graphics and sounds. So, for a budget of roughly $15, you can hire multiple freelancers to put together a professional video about your products or services, which you can then embed in your proposals. Video is a great way to condense your message for your prospective customers.
7. White space is actually a good thing
For all our talk of avoiding “black and white,” the blank, white space of your webpages is still an asset – and something considered to be essential to true “minimalist” designs. Empty space translates to the Web better than colorful backgrounds because, unlike a background image, it doesn’t take up much bandwidth to load. Another thing to keep in mind is that customers often avoid cluttered, busy designs. What’s more, some colors just put a person off, for no apparent reason. By sticking to the ultimate neutrality of white, you avoid engendering polarizing opinions about your proposal based solely on personal color preferences. The main focus of your proposal is the content you put into it, so if it’s text, images, infographics, or video, you want to let it take center stage amid a sea of white. A closely related tip (and one that helps us dodge the dreaded doldrums of black text on a white background) is to use a dark grey or charcoal font color. Those colors are just as legible as black and white, but they are ever so slightly easier on the eyes, which helps you hold your readers’ attention. Just take a look at your favorite blog; chances are that it uses a dark gray font. The same idea applies to any piece of writing destined for publication on the Web, including business proposals.
8. It’s all about (a single) action
We’ve talked about the oh-so-vital call to action (CTA) plenty of times before, but your business proposal’s design has a huge effect on the action-item within it. The basic idea is to consistently establish a clear, singular action to be taken at the end of the proposal, and to never veer from it. If the action you’re after is having your prospective customer digitally sign a work agreement on the last page of the proposal, you want to make sure that all of the content on the preceding pages is mindful of that. For example, don’t interject “call us” on the pricing page if you really want them to “buy” right then and there, upon reading the whole proposal. You can tack on the optional action of calling (or any other contact method, for that matter), of course, after the main CTA has been presented. Your proposal’s success depends on nailing down a logical presentation of information and a well-placed CTA. Begin designing your business proposals with your CTA already in mind, from the start.
Are you giving your business proposals the right design considerations? Who doesn’t love a great design?
This is the whole reason for the existence of Apple and Lamborghini, products esteemed as much for their design as for anything else. In fact, it’s probably not a stretch to guess that whatever your products and services are, you’ve put a ton of thought into their design. So it stands to reason that you would give equal consideration to how you present those products or services in the context of business proposals. Placing an increased focus on the actual design of your proposals may just be the added push you need to grow your business. Selling, as we established at the outset of this article, is all about design. You’re creative, you’re innovative. Whatever it is that you make, you’re its designer. You know your offer better than anyone. It’s up to your to convey that message as clearly as you can. So it’s only natural that you put that same creative stamp on your business proposals, allowing your creative mojo to permeate all aspects of your business. Believe us, your customers will notice.
How do you approach designing business proposals in the digital realm? What other possibilities have you identified that we’ve overlooked?