How To Create Great Sales Proposals – Webinar

Freshsales CRM partnered with Adam Hempenstall (CEO, Better Proposals) for a webinar on “How to create great sales proposals” on May 02, 2018.

This webinar has Adam Hempenstall, the Founder of Better Proposals walk you through exactly what makes the highest converting proposal. This data comes from a report they have published which contains real data analysing $120,000,000 of won deals across 6,000 customers in 2017.

You’ll learn the statistical effect of great design, what you should call the price section of your proposal, whether you should include video and other crucial points. You’ll leave with a checklist of points from which to base every future proposal you write.

How to create great sales proposals – Webinar Transcript

Nivas: Hello everyone, thank you for joining us from across the globe for this webinar today.

My name is Nivas Ravichandran and I take care of growth for Freshsales CRM at Freshworks. Freshworks is a fast-growing SAAS company in the world and is the parent organization for products such as Freshdesk, Freshsales, Freshservice, Freshcaller, Freshteam, Freshchat, and Freshmarketer.

So this webinar, in particular, is brought to you by Freshsales. Freshsales is an intuitive easy to use sales CRM product and we have about 11,000 plus customers from across 50 plus countries. So today’s webinar is about how to create great sales proposals and joining us today is Adam Hempenstall who’s the author of the book, “Automate Book Business” and the founder and CEO of Better Proposals. The Better Proposals is a simple software that creates easy to use and virtually– visually appealing proposals for people in the creative and service industries.

So in today’s webinar Adam is gonna walk you through what it takes to create a great sales proposal. And this webinar is actually based on the data that came from a report which contains real data analyzing $120,000,000 of won deals across 6,000 customers in 2017. So thank you so much, Adam, for joining us today and we really look forward to learning from you over the next hour or so.

I just want to let you know that this webinar is being recorded so if any of you are interested in listening to the webinar again we will be providing you with a link to the recording by Friday. And we also want to let you know that you could key in your questions in the questions panel so that whenever you have questions we will probably try taking them in the middle of the presentation or at the end for Adam to answer. So Adam, over to you.

Adam: Thank you so much. I’m really glad to be here doing this. Let me figure out all of this admin stuff. Cool share my window, great. Okay so yeah as you brilliantly said, I couldn’t have done the introduction any better myself.

I’m the CEO of Better Proposals and we set out to create a proposal platform that tried to at the very least reduce the pain of having to do these awful things. So sparing you the story of why we built this thing, we’ve got an awful lot to cover. What I want to try to just explain in the simplest way possible and the best way I can think to do this is with real data. Is explain to you how to create an amazing sales proposal that is, stands the best chance of winning regardless of the situation you’re in.

Now you’re never going to win them all but you certainly shouldn’t be losing most of them. So done right, you at the very least stand a fair chance of getting the job. Now I want to preface this by saying that if the proposals that you’re sending to your customers or your clients aren’t winning, there’s a pretty good reason for that. And most of the time it’s because you’ve never been taught properly on how to do them.

Now if you think about it in business, when you start out you might not be a finance person for instance. But over a couple of years you pick up some financial literacy, you understand a bit about taxes, you understand a bit about the – and all that kind of stuff; you get the gist of it. But that doesn’t really happen with proposals. There isn’t that natural learning curve. You just you know from minute number one you have to figure it out by yourself and everything after that is just surviving with it.

So what I want to try and do today is leave you with some super actionable ideas and tips on how you can do a much much better job of sending sales proposals. Now I want to be absolutely clear, this is not a sales pitch for our product at all. In fact, you could almost do all of this stuff without ever touching any sort of sales automation or proposal automation software. So what it is I’m going to wish you through our 2017 proposal report and just simply add some sort of commentary to that. So we’ll post the link somewhere around in the show notes but it’s

Should you put a cover on your proposals?

So, first of all, let’s just go down to the good stuff. So the first thing is looking at covers. And what we really look at here is this is the first meaningful thing that your client is going to see. So if you’re sending a proposal to somebody and you are using you know an A4 sheet of paper or you know something that looks very bland. So you know very very white.

If it’s not designed to look like that then it’s just not gonna create any sort of wow factor and that’s what you really want to do here. This is the first opportunity that you’ve got to really stake your claim as to you know we are the company that you really really should be dealing with here. So I am going to be referencing Better Proposals because obviously, this data is all from our platform.

You stand a 44% better chance of converting the proposal to a signed proposal if it contains a cover.

Now there are many different reasons why this might be the case but we suspect it’s because the first thing that they see is something that looks really really smart.

So that’s definitely something to bear in mind here. Now obviously if you’re using our product this makes sense if you’re not then try and give a little bit of thought to what the first thing that people actually see is. Is it something that looks really really smart and is designed very nicely or is it something that’s using you know boring fonts, you know low-resolution logo, something not very colorful, not very inviting or not very exciting. So give that some thought.

What about Embedding Video?

So the next thing probably isn’t super relevant if you’re using sheets of paper because at least at the moment you can’t put a video on physical paper and you certainly can’t put them in videos either. But what we found is that there’s a very very very slight increase in conversion if a proposal contains a video. Now I think this is slightly too soon to be a particularly useful stat so I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on this. But it does go to show that it’s something that’s very very slowly at least at this current time moving towards being something that you could use.

So if you do have the ability to use video well, then you’ll probably be able to move the needle an awful a lot more than this 4.2% here. If video isn’t something that you do particularly well or can’t do to a decent standard, it’s probably going to do more harm than good at this stage. So bear that in mind but that’s probably one to watch next year. It will be interesting to see if that goes up next year.

Be there when they have questions using Live Chat

The next one is live chat now one of the integrations that we have in Better Proposals is the ability to put regular live chat that you would put on your website or on your proposals instead because the proposals in– Better Proposals are web-based so you can this kind of thing. But I don’t necessarily want to talk about live chat necessarily here.

Because what this really represents is being available when your potential client has questions. So if you don’t use something like live chat on your proposals and I realize that’s not particularly common and it might be you know a brand new concept to most of you. But the important point here is to think how available are you.

So if somebody’s reading your proposal that is when they have the questions; that’s when they’re in that buying state or that inquisitive state or they’re really challenging themselves and thinking is this the right move for me. Now if you’re not there and you can’t answer their questions, what happens is they make notes on them and then at some point in the future they write them down in an email. And then they send you that email perhaps a day or two days or three days or four days late or maybe once you chased them and they’re now not in that buying state anymore.

They’re in some stress stay or they’re overwhelmed with other stuff; they’re certainly not just about to make a buying decision. So where the live-chat thing comes in is being able to address their questions and address their concerns at the time that they actually have them and you can nip them in the bud early before they become major concerns and major issues and they get spoke about around other stakeholders. So again while this doesn’t move the needle a crazy amount, this was something that we only launched a little bit into– about halfway through 2017. So this hasn’t had a full year but I suspect again that this is gonna absolutely shoot up.

A 10.4% increase in conversion rates by using live chat on your proposals.

Death of the PDF?

The contentious one, death of the PDF. So this is super interesting. Now if you’re sending PDF proposals to your clients, there’s a very good chance that you are winning less of them that you should be if you took the same content and applied it elsewhere. So what this data looks at is the amount of people that print a proposal because this information gets tracked and then looks at whether they close or not.

It’s 45% more likely to close if you don’t send it as a PDF or don’t allow them to print the thing out.

Now why is this likely? It’s one of those things where if you try and think about somebody’s actual day where they arrive at work, they’ve got stuff to do, the phone’s ringing left right and center and then your PDF proposal arrives and because it’s a piece of paper shaped thing; what’s the natural tendency? To print it out.

Now if you look at later on in the sales cycle, what you’re actually asking them to do with it. Now if you’re asking them to digitally sign it using some PDF signing thing, then they’re gonna struggle doing that if it’s sitting on their desk. So it means that they’ve got to go back into their email, they’ve got to dig it all out again and what-have-you. So that’s a bit of a mess, that’s not really what they want to be doing.

You want to try and avoid that and keep it away. Now obviously if you’re sitting in front of them this is absolutely fine and you can kind of ignore this. But if you’re sending the proposal to them in some sort of digital format, try and avoid sending it as a PDF or as anything that looks like paper. The data’s there. It’s pure hypothesis as to why this is the case but that’s my best guess.

So if you can use something that’s web-based, then I think that’s not only gonna stand out more and look different and really make you stand out as somebody that’s different; as somebody that sort of looks at the whole business side of things and is coming at it with a different approach. And in the creative and service businesses that’s generally what people are actually after. So it’s a really really great way of leading by example.

How many pages should your proposal have?

Okay, how many pages should your proposal have? Now in just for context here, in Better Proposals you have pages down the left as almost like a website navigation; that’s what we’re referring to here by pages. So in more traditional terms you would probably consider this sections of a proposal. But you’d also kind of consider it the length as well. So interestingly, all of our templates ie where people start when they sign up to better proposals; almost all of them have eight pages on them.

It was incredibly interesting when we dug the data out and found that six pages were the most common number of signed proposals.

So that’s looking at every single proposal that was ever signed in 2017 across our database and looking the number of pages that cropped up in the sign category if you like and the number was six.

So what does that say? It says that you don’t want to send too little because that looks like you haven’t put enough effort in and there’s not enough of value there. And you also conversely don’t want to go too long because if you go too long then that’s boring, it’s uninteresting, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to write a super engaging ttwenty-pageproposal.

So what you want to try and do is you want to try and find what that middle ground is. Now that’s going to differ depending on what you’re selling. If you’re sending or selling, sorry complicated software and it’s all custom stuff or a custom website or something to that effect; then maybe a longer proposal is probably necessary.

But if you’re sending something, selling something that’s you know relatively simple to get their head around it’s something that’s bought very very commonly, it’s not a new conceptual thing and it doesn’t need too much explaining then may be less is more in that case. But you always want to find that balance, for yourself, for your business and for your industry where you’re not sending too little and you’re not sending too much. On average that appears to be about six pages or six sections.

Naming your pricing page

Okay so naming your pricing page. Now most people would look at this as using the word cost, price, fees, rates or anything like that and this is very very very common. Now I want you to try and think about this in a different way. Now it does depend what you’re selling. If you’re selling food then it’s unlikely the investment is the right word to use, it wouldn’t make sense. But if you’re selling some sort of marketing services or web services or copywriting or consulting or anything along those lines; then the word investment is the right word to use.

The word investment implies some kind of return, maybe not a positive return but at least implies that they’re going to get something back. And this is the right way to go here. It’s in almost all cases, the word investment is what you should use as a default unless there’s something else that stands out as a reason why you shouldn’t do it. But yeah, try to avoid words like cost, price, fees, rates; I can’t think of any other thing off the top of my head. But anything along those lines, try to avoid those words.

Average price in your industry

So we also conducted a study here of the average price in an industry. So for context, when you sign up to Better Proposals you’re asked to choose your industry. So the choices that they had; for web and digital, photo and video, professional services or other. We’ve executed other because it’s purely unhelpful.

But what we found here is actually rather shocking in that these are the average transaction values if you like. So this doesn’t mean that every single service that was sold in the web and digital thing had a monthly fee to it. It just means that on average across the all signed proposals, these were the averages.

So I would say that this is incredibly low, this is really really really low. I’m kind of discounting professional services here because that could be almost anything. But certainly web and digital, that is far far far lower than things that should be sold at.

So what I would say is if you’re looking at this and thinking well that’s roughly what I’m charging and you’re in any of these industries or they resonate with you then; you should almost definitely be charging more for those services because that’s incredibly low.

How fast you should write and send your proposal

So it was quite shocking to us to see that that’s actually an average. I suspect if we split it out into different bands we would perhaps unveil some more information. But if your fees are around this, increase them or find some way to increase them because this is far too low.

So how fast should you be writing your proposals and getting them sent out? Now we only know that somebody is writing a proposal when it is first created; that’s our first bit of notification in our system that somebody’s actually started writing a proposal.

So we don’t know if they’ve left it for several days before that. So this is where our data starts. But here’s what we found.

If you send a proposal within 24 hours, your conversion rate is 25% higher than if you sent it after three days.

Now I don’t know about you but if every four proposals you sent you were either gonna get none or one; wouldn’t you put the effort in and send it within 24 hours? I mean I know I certainly would. So what this really goes to show and you know there’s cover time to sign as well because you know you basically look at this.

This is excitement. This is pure excitement. This is capitalizing on somebody’s excitement levels here. So there’s two massive things that you gain by sending the proposal within 24 hours. So obviously one is conversion rate which is then going ahead or not. The other is the amount of time it took them to sign the proposal.

Now six days isn’t too bad, that’s pretty good; some people are obviously gonna do this quicker. But it’s quite shocking that how quickly it drops off. The conversion rate almost disappears completely after even just one day and the time to sign when they do eventually sign is up around 10 days which is you know probably why they’re not coming ahead a lot of them. So why is this?

Now when you’re sitting in the meeting with the client or you’re on the phone you’ve had your discovery process and you’ve gone through and you’ve asked them the questions and everyone’s excited. You’re excited because there’s a new project, they’re excited because they’re gonna get the thing fixed, everybody’s excited. This excitement level, this adrenaline, you know your heart’s beating faster, everything’s great.

That’s exactly where you want them and it’s exactly where they want you and everything’s all good and then you just leave it. And I can’t understand why anybody would do that. And we noticed that in our old agency and in our old software company that when we got the proposal to people very very quickly, there was a massive massive uptake in the number of people that eventually signed and ultimately the time to sign and the conversion rate as well.

So there’s a couple of different ways that you can go about doing this and I’m going to stick on this point a little bit because there’s a lot that you can learn here. The reason that a lot of people in my time running Better Proposals struggle to get these things done quickly is because they believe that they need to be so custom.

And I think that as an industry or a collective of people that are sending proposals we all need to adjust this mindset. Your proposal does not need to be completely custom written for every project. And I don’t care how important you think that client is or how much you want that job; it doesn’t justify you spending 20 hours in front of a computer writing a proposal, it just doesn’t.

So if you’re working in and around the sub $20,000 per sale range, you absolutely can use a template to get your proposal sent out, customizing the important sections. Now I’ll tell you the sections you need to customize. The first one is the introduction. This absolutely needs to be custom every single time, there is no exception.

This should be based on the conversation you’ve actually had your client. You need to ask some good questions. You need to get to the truth of what they’re actually trying to achieve and their goals and dig deeper than that and really find out why. And then that needs to make up your introduction; that is it.

Nothing about you, nothing about awards you’ve won, none of that. Just restate to them exactly what they’re trying to achieve, that’s it. The second thing is any time scales and the what you’re going to do part. So this is obviously in a very depending on industry. But looking at what you’re actually going to do this should be somewhat templated but you will need to adjust it.

So if you’re designing a website for somebody for instance you might map out the pages that you’re going to create for them or make a note of the features that you’re going to create for them in that particular website. But beyond that the majority of it you should have done before already. This should be something that you’ve already done, you’ve already got saved as a starting point. The third thing is the price and that’s pretty much it. There shouldn’t be much else that you change there.

There’s not really an awful lot of reason to go through anything else. I mean potentially if you’re working within a specific industry and you’ve got a lot of clients and case studies, then I would choose a relevant case they need to include that would be a really really good move. But beyond that there’s really not an awful lot of point in customizing every single part of the proposal.

So one way that you can get this sorted out here is make sure that all of the other pages or sections that you have in your proposal aside from the introduction, the what you’re going to do part, the price and the case study you don’t touch it. The terms and conditions stay the same, your guarantee if you have one stays the same.

Your about us or whatever it is all that stuff stays the same everything stays except those things and all you’re really doing is just amending what’s already there. The only thing you write from scratch is the introduction, that’s it. So if you’ve got that to do and you know that that is a you know 15-20, at the absolute tops 30 minute task it is very very easy to get the proposal done within 24 hours.

A little trick I used to do, I would go to a meeting, I would rarely do this stuff over the phone, I would actually go and see them. I would go to the meeting and then immediately after the meeting I would not go home, I wouldn’t have lunch, I wouldn’t go do anything. I would go straight to a hotel reception area or lobby and I would sit there, have a coffee and do it there.

Don’t even go home or back to the office or anything. Don’t allow those other distractions to come in. Just assume you’re still in the meeting, you’re still in quiet mode, your phone still silent, you still haven’t checked it. Just go straight somewhere quiet, coffee shop, wherever you want to go, wherever you feel happy and just get the damn thing done.

You don’t have to send it then because obviously, that does look a little bit you know weird. Leave it a few hours but get it straight to them. I can’t stress this enough, it’s the simplest thing to change and improve results.

The definitive list of what your proposals should do

So that kind of brings us to the end of the report but we are far from done so don’t go anywhere. But this is just as a little bit of a recap as to what your proposals should do. So use a proposal cover or at the very least something that is visually appealing as the first thing that they see. Use a video in your proposal if it adds quality and adds value. If it doesn’t and it is too much effort then don’t do it.

A little thing here, you could record a video as your introduction; that would be super cool. So that might even be easier than writing it for some people. So if you find that you can talk to a camera quite quickly and quite easily, then instead of writing an introduction out just record a video; that could be much much easier. That would kill two birds with one stone.

Integrating live chat or the very least making sure that it’s incredibly obvious that you are available and to ask questions, live chat is obviously the easiest way to do that but however you feel make sense.

Send a web version and do not send PDFs, that does mean potentially looking into using something like Better Proposals or one of our competitors or some way of presenting this thing as an online document as such rather than as a PDF. Purely just because they look boring.

If Apple created, I’m using Apple as an example because everybody knows that their design is amazing. But if Apple created a PDF, it’s still just a PDF we’ve all seen them, they all look the same. So different effects is what you’re really shooting for here. Split your proposal up into six pages, name your pricing page investment. Implies some sort of return rather than cost or fees or rates which don’t imply any kind of return.

Increase your prices two to three grands way below industry averages for those particular industries should absolutely increase your pricing. And I think I’ve pretty much time at this point – that home by now. But send it your proposal within a 24 hours. So that is the 2017 proposal report.


This webinar was brought to you by Freshsales CRM. Freshsales is a sales CRM built to help you stop juggling multiple tools. It’s ideal for small businesses and refreshing for enterprises.