Like most business owners, you probably have a love/hate relationship with proposals.
You love proposals because, if successful, they lead to new customers and more money coming into your business.
But, creating proposals can be a pain in the butt. They’re time-consuming, you may not be sure exactly what to include, and, if you don’t win, it can feel like a big waste of time.
The fact is, love ‘em or hate ‘em, you need proposals to bring new business in the door. So let’s look at ways to improve how you create proposals, so you spend less time creating them and more time winning them.
Here are seven best practices for creating winning proposals:
1. Make sure your prospect is serious about doing business
Tire kickers are the bane of every business owner’s existence. You know the type: they act like they want to do business with you, but they’re not serious.
They call you up, they say they need cleaning services, they may even get you to do a walk-through, and they want a proposal.
You end up spending a lot of time on them only to find out they’re just trying to get a price to compare with another company they want to hire. Or they don’t have a realistic budget to hire any cleaning company in the first place.
So, you just wasted a whole bunch of time on nothing when you could have spent it on a potential customer who is serious about hiring your company. UGH.
It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone who approaches you will be the right fit for your services. So before you do a walk-through or create a proposal, you need to figure out if they’re legit or not.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before spending time on a business proposal:
- Is this my ideal customer in terms of size, building type, etc.?
- Do they have a budget we can work with?
- Am I talking to the decision-maker?
- Are they talking to other cleaning companies?
- Are they basing their decision only on price?
- Do they have a good reputation for paying on time?
Figure out what your deal breakers are (they’re different for every business) and use them to decide whether or not this prospect is worth your time before you start a proposal.
2. Focus on the customer
Lots of companies say they’re all about the customer, but often their proposals are all about themselves. “We’re awesome. Our company is the best. We have great cleaners.” Blah blah blah.
You know how people who describe themselves as cool usually never are? Real cool people don’t need to tell you they’re cool - you know by the way they act.
While your prospect wants to know that you’re good at what you do, it’s more important to demonstrate how your company can help them. You need to show that you understand what they’re looking for, what their cleaning challenges are, and how you can take care of it all.
You need to demonstrate that you listened to them. Customers want to know they’ll be taken care of, so by focusing the proposal on them, it will prove just that.
3. Include customer testimonials
Most of us act on referrals and reviews to help us make decisions on just about anything. The best place to get tacos, the best place to get your hair cut, the best place to get a used car (is there such a place?).
Whether it’s a recommendation from a friend or reviews on Facebook, TripAdvisor, or Amazon, people like to hear about other people’s experiences before they buy.
Speak to some of your best customers and ask them for a testimonial about working with you. It doesn’t need to be long, just enough to explain why and how they like doing business with you, and how you’ve helped them. Most people are happy to provide testimonials in exchange for your good service.
You don’t need a ton, but including 2-3 testimonials may give your potential new customer more confidence in choosing your cleaning company over the competition.
Just be sure to use real first and last names and the names of the businesses. No one believes that those testimonials signed, “Jason R., Orlando” are real.
4. Don’t try to be the cheapest
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to try to be the cheapest cleaning company on the market. While the lowest price might help you win some customers, they won’t be the kind of quality customers that turn into profitable long-term relationships.
Customers who make their decision based on price alone will move on to another company the first chance they hear of a better deal. There’s no loyalty, there’s no valuing service, it’s all based on a number.
The price war is exhausting and unwinnable. The only businesses that can win a price war are very high volume businesses like Walmart or McDonalds.
If you try to compete on the lowest price alone, you’ll probably end up stressed out since you’ll have to constantly scramble to get more customers to make up for the revenue loss, you’ll need your team to get work done at the speed of light to be profitable, and you’ll live under the constant threat of being squeezed out by a competitor who offers an even lower price.
Also, people are sometimes suspicious of the lowest price. They assume the quality will be low or that you’re trying to trick them and later you’ll add all kinds of extra fees.
Don’t get me wrong - you can still offer competitive pricing. One way to do that is to provide a few pricing options, that way the customer can select from a range of services that best suits their needs, and they’ll feel like they’re getting a deal.
Be careful not to give them too many options though, because that can backfire where they can’t make a decision (think of what happens when you go to a restaurant that has a five-page menu). Provide 2-3 pricing options in your proposal and let the customer feel empowered to choose from there.
5. Make it look good
Your price might be competitive, and your service may be superior compared to your competition, but if your proposal is a mess, you won’t be able to convince any customer that you’re better than the other guy.
Making your proposal easy to read and professional looking will go a long way in persuading a customer that you are the best choice, regardless of the words you use.
And you don’t even need a professional graphic designer to help you look sharp. Many online proposal software companies offer pre-written and pre-designed proposal templates that do most of the heavy lifting for you.
For example, Proposify offers a cleaning services proposal template. It’s also 100% customizable, so you can easily change the words, the colours, or the images to fit your business.
Whether you use a proposal template or design the proposal yourself, here are some general design rules to keep in mind:
- Don’t cram every page with text
- Use whitespace and beautiful images
- Use of colour (but don’t overdo it!)
- Use fonts that are easy to read
And don’t forget to proofread your proposal before you send it! Things like spelling errors and missing words speak to your level of professionalism - a cleaning company doesn’t want to look sloppy.
You don’t have to be Shakespeare to win a contract, but you do need to show your attention to detail and that you value doing things right. Use spell-check, get someone with a sharp eye to read it over, or use a free online service like Grammarly before you send the proposal out.
6. Send it ASAP
Proposals that get to customers faster, close faster, so there's no time to mess around! You can’t wait two weeks to get back to your prospect, or they will likely have moved on to your competition.
At Proposify, we analyzed more than 20,000 proposals in our app and found that the majority of proposals were sent within seven days.
But what’s MORE interesting is we also discovered that proposals that were sent to customers within four days increased the chances of closing by 11%.
People have short attention spans, and there’s always another business hungrily waiting to swoop in and steal your lead. Get in front of them with your sharp-looking, well-priced proposal as soon as possible!
7. Make it easy to say yes
Not only do you want to get the proposal to your customer quickly, but you also want to close this deal quickly! So you need to make it easy for your customer to say ‘YES’ right away.
Adding online signature buttons to your proposal will help get 60% faster approval, according to Proposify’s analysis of more than 20,000 proposals. Good online proposal software products have an online signature tool that lets customers sign your proposal right in the browser and makes the contract legally binding.
No more emailing, printing, signing, and then scanning or faxing back signatures. All of these steps can delay closing the deal and delay you getting paid.
8. Follow up!
So you created a fantastic proposal, and you’ve sent it off to your customer. Now the waiting begins!
Proposals can take a long time to close, and it’s crappy to spend so much time on something only to feel stranded.
It helps to give your prospect a deadline to make a decision. Put a deadline in your proposal that says the offer is null and void after a given period, like 30 days. That way your customer knows if they sit on it too long then they can’t expect you to honour the original price. Even if you would honour the price, adding a sense of urgency can help get a firm decision, either yes or no, faster.
As the sales cliché goes, “The fortune is in the follow up”. So if you haven’t heard from your customer, sometimes a phone call can be the deciding factor in whether or not you win the work. Successful salespeople aren’t passive; they follow up until they get an answer.
If your customer seems hesitant, ask what’s holding them back from a decision. If they say they have to review competitor proposals, ask how long they need and then follow up again. Or it might be that the reason they haven't moved forward yet is something you can clear up right there on the phone.
If you do end up with a flat ‘NO’, ask why. There’s no harm in doing so, and it can help you improve for next time.
at the end of the day...
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, there’s nothing you can do to win a proposal. Budget cuts, job changes, whatever the case, make sure you end on a positive note with your prospect.
You never know what will happen in the future. The person you were dealing with may move on to another company, and if they had a positive experience with you, even at the proposal stage, they might ask you to bid on another project when you least expect it.
Sometimes no right now doesn’t mean no forever.
Running a business is tough, no matter what your industry. You need to take advantage of every opportunity to make yourself stand out from the competition. Sometimes what seems small, may end up making a big difference. While nothing guarantees a win, following these proposal best practices can help you improve your chances and your close rate.