Tom Sants’ 7 Deadly Sins of Sales Proposal Writing

After the popularity of “10 Things I Hate About Your Proposal,” we learned you are not only interested in how to write successful sales proposals, but also you want to learn about what not to do. So, today, I couldn’t help highlighting one of the best pieces of advice I’ve read on what not to do when writing sales proposals.

Tom Sants is the co-founder of the Hyde Park Partners and owner of the Sants Corproation, dedicated to helping you write better sales proposals and to sell better in general. Tom’s this cool guy who hosts sales seminars and has written the rather successful The Giants of Sales, which is part history and part tried-and-true sales tricks.

Today I couldn’t wait to tell you about the sales proposal traps Tom says you must try to avoid, so lets dive right in and try not to sin! Today we are re-blogging Tom Sants’ mortal sins against sales proposals to make sure you don’t get caught with chocolate on your face or your foot in your mouth!

woman handful of cake caughtSin #1: Failing to Qualify the Deal

Also-known-as, make sure you qualify your bids! At Quote Roller, we are big proponents of quality trumping quantity leading to a higher success rate, and that includes not wasting your time sending out a bunch of blind sales proposals to unqualified potential clients.

Here is where Tom talks about the obvious thing most folks overlook: don’t bid on what you know you can’t win! Seriously, duh. But, according to Tom, people spend thousands of hours a year writing proposals that simply have no hope. You hear about a Request for Proposal (RFP) and you just rush to reply. OK, it IS a great idea to get you out there, but instead of jumping the gun and sending your sales proposal out, do your research! Google and LinkedIn the company and then try to contact the client directly to see if you can ask them a few questions. Not only will it make your proposal more qualified, it’ll give your client a personal connection to remember you by!

Tom suggests, before mailing out that proposal, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you know enough to write an adequate sales proposal?
  • How ready is your client?
  • Are you competitive, both in what you offer and how much you want for it?
  • And, always, can you win?

Sin #2: Not Focusing on What the Customer Cares About

In other words, you must always focus on what the client cares about. As we talked about last week, a successful sales proposal is a customer-focused one, so stop saying “me” and love saying “you”, OK?!

On LinkedIn, Quote Roller has been polling about what you think is the most important part of the proposal. (go and add your thoughts!) Tom is convinced it’s the Executive Summary that introduces you and your case. If your exec sum is focused on the client, you’ve got yourself a winner. If not… well… The question your buyers are most likely asking themselves while reading your proposal is. Are we getting what we need? Make sure your proposal answers YES!

Sin #3: Not Structuring the Document Persuasively

Or, you need to organize the message for maximum impact. This means make everything well-organized, simply written and easy to find — using templates and especially sales proposal software helps you do this easily.

This means, first and foremost, channeling your potential client, thinking about what they want to know, and then organizing your sales proposal, focusing on answering those questions and stating those facts first. Make sure, in everything, you are proving you understand your clients’ needs and are working to solve them.

Sin #4: Not Differentiating Your Offer and Your Company

Your sales proposal is the perfect place to make your company and yourself stand out from the competition. If you don’t do that, contracts will simply fall to the lowest bidder. And you want to avoid the prize game whenever possible.

“The strongest differentiators and those that are most likely to have impact over the long term are those that are related to the way you work—your methodology, your best practices, your systems and processes. Also important is the way you manage projects—dealing with the unexpected, keeping projects on track and avoiding unpleasant surprises,” say Tom, in his white paper on the Seven Deadly Sins of Sales Proposals.

Sin #5: Not Offering a Compelling Value Proposition

Really stay focused on articulating your value proposition clearly. Tom says this message is simply missing from many, many sales proposals. You should always make sure to make clear the positive impact you and your business are assuring to the client.

Sin #6: Not Making It Easy to Understand and Easy to Use

It’s all about choosing the right words that lead to them saying that coveted three-letter one: Yes! Don’t be wishy-washy on pricing or services or anything else. We as human beings like certainty, so your clients are much more likely to pick the clearer contract. Since you may not always know who is going to be the decision maker — remember sometimes accountants are deciding who to choose to run a web site, etc — Tom tells us to steer clear of jargon, acronyms and other things the layperson might not understand.

And remember, the first rule of writing is KISS: Keep it simple, stupid, before you lose your reader!

#7: Not Editing Carefully to Remove Mistakes & Credibility Killers

Don’t you find grammar errors distracting? Dangling participles? Weird formatting? It just makes you seem disorganized or careless. Look at how quickly our snuck-in grammar mistakes (to see who’d notice) led to many people thinking we had sloppy copy! A great way to check that your sales proposal is super pretty in Quote Roller is to use our new Preview Mode to see exactly what your client sees and then make sure you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s

Now, check out Tom talking more about his Seven Deadly Secrets of Sales Proposals in an interview he did!

Any other sins we should be praying to rid our proposals of?

Another photo from fabulous Fotolia!/ Video from the Landslide Sales Production System.


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