Top 10 Reasons Why Proposals Fail

Your business is great. You’ve invented something better than sliced bread. You offer such an amazing service at such a great price that people should be knocking your door down.

And they might be. But they’re all asking for a proposal.

Proposals are a fact of life. We all do them, and we’re all trying to blow our prospects away.

But most proposals are bad. Here are 10 reasons why proposals fail:

  1. They’re too long. Proposals aren’t meant for “shock and awe” – don’t try and overwhelm the prospect into submission. Edit and cut. Cut and edit. There’s no perfect length for a proposal, but how many of your prospects really read the whole thing? They scan and skim till they get to the price and timeline. Keep it short.
  2. They don’t reference the prospect’s pain. Why did the prospect ask you for a proposal? You better have a crystal clear answer to that question. Too many proposals don’t reiterate the pain properly. Skipping that makes the prospect feel like you don’t get it.
  3. They’re too technical. I know you’re the expert in your field, that’s why I asked for a proposal. You don’t need to inundate your proposal with buzzwords and industry-hooey. A prospect only knows a smidge of what you know about your business, and they don’t really want to know more. Your proposal fails when it sells industry mastery using language I won’t understand.
  4. They’re not selling benefits. Proposals that miss out on #2 and focus too much on #3 invariably aren’t selling benefits. If you’re not selling benefits you’re sunk. And for the love of everything that is holy, spell these out as clearly as possible.
  5. They’re not well structured. Proposals are stories. And every story has a beginning, middle and end. Think of your proposal as a story and write it accordingly.
  6. They’ve got spelling and grammatical problems. A proposal with spelling errors is unacceptable, it’s as simple as that. Grammatical problems may be harder to catch. Three tips: Read it out loud. Write short sentences. Have someone else read it.
  7. They’re poorly formatted and packaged. Style counts! On top of that, your proposal isn’t the only game in town. You want to stand out right? Take some time to format things nicely. Add some pictures. Use bigger headers, smaller paragraphs, and color where appropriate. Think jazzy. If you’ve got substance, sell it with nice packaging.
  8. They’re missing testimonials and client references. I’ve rarely seen a proposal with testimonials or client references. It makes no sense. Pepper in a few testimonials to spice it up and add a feeling of success. Add in some client references with contact information to give your prospect a clear message, “you know what you’re doing and you can prove it.”
  9. They’re missing a thank you. Proposals are personal. You’re not writing installation instructions for IKEA furniture are you? Unless you’re sending a proposal unsolicited (which makes little sense) someone’s given you that opportunity. Thank them for it.
  10. There’s no call to action. You submit the proposal. Now what? Um…um…um…oops. Put in a crystal clear call to action. It could be a follow-up meeting, contract signature, or something else — it almost doesn’t matter. What’s important is that there is a next step and you’ve explicitly told the prospect what it is.

Your business rocks. You work hard. You deserve more business.

Don’t let proposals get in the way. Do them right and you’ll win a lot more business.

February 7, 2007 Posted in Business by

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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