Quotations Tell... Proposals Sell!

The traditional "Quotation" was originally devised during the Industrial Revolution of the 1850's and has changed little to the present day. It is a totally Dickensian format and absolutely out of date in a situation where supply so completely outstrips demand. We are now 155 years on, and selling through proposals has gone way past this old fashioned legal junk. Continue to include it if the legal eagles insist ( and they will, but then they still wear stupid looking wigs, and bow to "Hizzoner") - but don't expect it to do anything but harm in terms of helping you achieve the sale.

Selling proposals are ideally designed with seven sections. These sections must be used in the proper order. They are:

Introduction & the Customer's Objectives.

Start by thanking your prospect for meeting you and requesting the proposal.

Then state your understanding of the objectives your customer wishes to achieve. Show them that you understand their issues, concerns, problems, worries, doubts and fears. This achieves two things. It switches your customer's concentration to the subject of the proposal, and shows that you are also focussed on meeting his needs- not your own.

Your Recommendations

Having defined your customer's objectives you should now present a condensed picture of the product (s) you are recommending that will achieve these objectives, with a brief outline of how each objective will be achieved (preferably using the priority order established with your customer at the Fact-Find meeting).

Specification sheets for complicated equipment/furniture should be added to the proposal (at the back of it) and referred to in this section.

Summary of Additional Benefits

Additional Benefits, Value, Merits, Extras, and Differences that your customer will derive over and above the specification should be summarised in this section.

* Ensure these extra Benefits are relevant to your customer.

* When you list them, make sure they are benefits, not features.

Financial Justification

This is the most important section. Very few of us will buy anything unless we can see clearly that the goods we are buying will give us a return- in money saved or made, in time saving, in durability or less frequent replacement cost, in lower maintenance, reduced waste, more flexibility, etc.

Professional buyers also have an extreme interest in that animal known as the "payback period" or amortisation of the financial investment.

The majority of sellers expect the customers to work this out for themselves. Some customers do. Many of them don't. One thing of which I am sure. If you work it out for the customer (when your competitors fail to) you have another significant edge when it comes to closing the sale.

You can cost justify in several different ways. And if you can show more than one cost justification, do it- putting your best one first.

Your Guarantees, After-Sales Service and Testimonials.

Don't leave your Guarantees and After- Sales Service to the small print in the document. They are much more important than that, so spell them out. Maybe it is the most important thing in your customer's mind - if anything goes wrong down the line. He/ she will have to carry the can if they made the purchase decision!

So put their minds at rest. Tell them how good your Guarantees and After Sales service is and how fast your service technicians will respond.

Back these up with third party references. Customers whom you know will be happy to take their call and make the right noises on your behalf - because you have asked them to, well in advance (don't tell them what to say, please).

Another method of increase your credibility is to include a page headed "Our Capabilities" outlining the success of various applications of your equipment in different situations. Every sales professional always has a dozen appropriate third party references ready to go.

Offer names and phone numbers in this section or include copies of testimonial letters at the back of your proposal.

Budget Summary

All factors that may be used for negotiation purposes should, if possible, be mentioned on this page....in other words layout the complete package, that will enable you to change the package if the budget needs to be changed to suit a customer requirement. Include such things as; Quantity, Specification, Delivery, Installation, Training, Technical Service, Guarantees, Service Charges,....anything that is in the package that you can use for negotiation. Of course, this will also help reinforce the overall value you are offering your customer.

Re-name it "Budget Summary", a term perfectly understood and acceptable in today's business world. Stop perpetuating this out of date crud.


Proposals that follow this template can be constructed in the form of a letter or as a series of separate pages (my preferred option), enclosed in a professional-looking binder.

Where the proposal is important enough it must always be delivered personally to your buyer, giving you the opportunity to take him through it under your control, highlighting or marking the most relevant / important aspects of it, and ensuring that these items will draw his attention in subsequent readings.

Quotations Tell, Proposals Sell.

Keep Selling with Integrity


Maitiu MacCabe is the CEO of Great Expectations Coaching, a Dublin, Ireland, based coaching practice. Visit: Great Expectations Coaching Home page for a wide range of articles related to selling matters.

Read Maitiu's Sales Blog here

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