3 Keys for Large Sales Proposals that Win

Sales proposals for large contracts are a ton of work – why climb that mountain except to increase your chances of winning?

And is it too obvious to mention if customers don’t read your proposals, they’re not going to buy your offer?

Get these three keys right and you’re on your way to getting what you want: a big sale, and your customers get a successful solution to their challenges.

The three keys for large sales proposals that win are:

  • Readability
  • Persuasiveness
  • Starting Early

Readability and persuasiveness focus on the customers’ buying behavior, while starting early is about your proposal development.


The first challenge for customers is time: they don’t have enough of it to read through 120,000 words of bidders’ proposals. So they don’t.

Face it: they have their normal work pulling on them while they participate in bid evaluations.

So, what do they do?

They skim sales proposals: skimming at about 700 words per minute, compared to normal reading at 200 to 230 words per minute.

Skimming’s downside is that comprehension drops to half of normal – which means sales proposal must be compelling reads.

The Fix for Readability in Sales Proposals

The goal is to make sales proposals look more like the print version of USA Today than a corporate tax law textbook (but don’t go too far either and make them look like comic books).

Consider these:

1) Format for Skimming

* Break up paragraphs of dense text with headings at the appropriate levels

* Use bullets & tables to present information concisely

* Use white space around content, text & graphics

* Write in shorter paragraphs & sentences (see guidance in Writing Guide below)

* Provide navigation for long sections: a brief intro at sections’ start with a list of components that follow

* Use easy to read fonts & spacing in characters & paragraphs

* Use a limited color palette consistently – avoid many colors

2) Writing Guide

It’s as important “how” you write your content as the content itself.

* Answer RFP questions directly – avoid weasel words & unsupported claims ( for fun, see “Business Cliches Ride Again…and Again…and…“).

* Write concise & punchy: pay attention to writing stats; average words per sentence & passive sentences


Customers reading sales proposals find most, if not all of it, self-aggrandizing twaddle about bidders’ greatness.

Virtually nothing is included about the customer’s situation; the challenges they face, the strategic initiatives they’re working on, or the external conditions they’re struggling with.

Where’s the WIIFM (what’s in it for me)?

Almost all content in sales proposals states how totally, entirely, and uniquely different a bidder is from their competitors.

Really? Nah, in customers’ eyes qualified bidders are shades of grey different, not the black and white bidders’ egos tell themselves.

The Fix for Persuasiveness

Persuasiveness in proposals is not a sales gimmick: it’s a methodology that presents a compelling business case justification. It’s a necessity, not an option.

Try these:

* Get into your customers’ shoes: write proposals as if you are a buyer’s assistant

* Quick & easy proposal writing instructions: What are your customer’s pains? -then- How are you going to fix them?

* Your proposal should present your understanding of their situation before your solution

* Ahead of the curve: gather sales intel & commit to persuasive proposals

Starting Early

Don’t wait for the RFP to develop your proposal.


RFPs don’t tell you what you need to win. They give you scope and specs that drive price; but customers buy the total package – your solution to their challenges, which is more than price and meeting specs.

When RFPs are released, there’s a rush to price the bid, and bidders never have enough time to do that. Which leaves no time to do the creative proposal work that consistently wins.

So, why wait? Start analyzing the decision makers, competitors and customers’ business situation. From that analysis, begin to develop your solution to those customer-specific challenges. This research, testing and/or pricing out new components is then ready when the RFP does come out.

When to start?

Once, you’re relatively confident you’re on the bid list, begin your analysis and solution design 30-90 days BEFORE you believe the RFP is coming out.

Your entire sales team will be grateful, and you’ll have dramatically increased your probability of winning more large contracts.


Three simple keys can lead to a spectacular sales year, the President’s Club, and memorable commissions.

Fumble them, or skip them completely and there’s always a do over at Monster.com or LinkedIn jobs.

Image by Rafael Castillo

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