Fresh Proposals

August 09, 2019

10 Usual But Deadly Mistakes Proposal Writers Make

Mistakes Proposal Writers Make

Deadly Mistakes Proposal Writers Make

And How to Avoid Those

The business world can be very exciting if you are able to tap the right things/opportunities such as launching new products, acquiring new customers, retaining and keeping existing customers happy, growing into new territories, establishing new partnerships and so on.

But at the same time, there are others, who struggle to grow. For some of them, it is not easy even to survive. There can be many entrepreneurs, business owners and even professional managers who face growth challenges, face question marks about continuity of businesses.

First, it takes a hell of courage to take the plunge – to become an entrepreneur. And that’s just a start of the roller coaster ride, one has to take during its entrepreneurial journey.

You have to build a product or offer service that others must perceive valuable and credible enough to do business with you. Then there are other challenges such as getting the right resources to build your product or rendering service – the people challenge that you have to keep solving almost all the time.

Once your product is ready, you need to find the buyers and market your product. Or if we are speaking about services – capitalising your own expertise and deciding the right market to serve is not-an-simple exercise to carry out.

But do you know, what is really challenging?

Selling the product / service.

What is the real big challenge for startups, small businesses? Selling the product / service. Click To Tweet

No matter how great your product appears to you, no matter how perfect your tool looks to your friends or family; if you are unable to sell your product/ service, rest assured, it is just about time, and your thing will be dumped into the garbage.  You have to sell it. Of course, you need to have the right environment, resources, skills, tools as well as the right attitude in order to sell successfully.

Now, if you are goofing up in selling your product or service then it is unacceptable. If these mistakes are typical/common and repeating, you would already find it difficult to grow or sustain.

If you are a business owner or sales manager, I am sure you would be regularly sending sales proposals or quotations (hopefully you are not facing any challenges while managing sales proposals and following the sales proposal checklist) to your prospective client or existing customers.

When prospective clients are inquiring about your product, services - they do not know everything about you. That's why prospect is asking for a proposal. Click To Tweet

Your sales proposal is the formal presentation of your company, your product/services, the clients you serve.

But beyond all these communications, you must know that client is evaluating whether you are the right firm/vendor to work with? Click To Tweet

I mean sure, sales proposal writing is a challenging process but you can’t keep on making the common proposal writing mistakes that can cost your business tremendously.

Let’s talk about the goof-ups while writing proposals typically make and understand how to avoid those.

10 Common Proposal Writing Mistakes


Writing Proposals Without Thoroughly Qualifying Leads


Mistakes Proposal Writers Make - No Lead Qualification


If you start writing proposals as soon as you receive leads, certainly you are not working smart.

I know what you might be thinking.

What if I don't send the proposal when it has the possibility to covert? What if I keep qualifying and prospect decided to go with other vendor? Click To Tweet

Before I answer your question, let me say this “You must qualify every prospect. PERIOD.”

Now to answer your questions.

What if I don’t send the proposal when it has the possibility to covert?

The process of figuring out the possibility of lead conversion as well as knowing whether it will meet our sales goals –  is exactly what we call as lead qualification.

There are many variations of qualifying leads – intent of the prospect, size of the deal, timeline to buy product/service, decision-makers involved, product/service-requirement fit, cost-benefit involved, etc.

You may feel overwhelmed trying to get answer all these questions at once. But hey, you have to start somewhere someday, right?

As you will keep working on lead qualification, you can come up with a checklist, quick calculations, and similar best practices, so that your qualification process is optimized for future leads.

What if I keep qualifying and prospect decided to go with other vendors?

In my experience if a prospect is not giving you just enough time to respond, it means, already it is decided that the opportunity is not meant for you and to be won by somebody else. If you have done serious business, you know this well, don’t you? If a prospect is seriously requesting vendors to send proposals/ quotations, not only s/he has to provide enough time for vendors to respond but also s/he needs time to go through all proposals to qualify for the next stage.

If you are working on unqualified leads, you are wasting lot of your bandwidth and unnecessarily inviting rejections. Click To Tweet

No Executive Summary

Proposal Writing Mistake - Sales Proposal Without Executive Summary

Many sales & marketing professionals have the habit of including (or should I say dumping?) marketing collateral in the sales proposal document. Put yourself into the shoes of the prospect, and let’s say s/he got 15+ proposals.

Do you think buyer/decision markers will have all the time in the world to go through each page in the proposal document written by all vendors? Click To Tweet

No, they won’t.

You can’t be making those fatal mistakes proposal writers make. You have to think like a PRO, you have to make it easier for prospect/buyer to quickly shortlist you because you know the business problem and solutions better.

You have to write a proposal with an executive summary that succinctly summarises your understanding of the problem which the client is trying to address and you have the right solution (And you may have delivered recently to similar customers).

Not only it is the purchasing person/buyer but all the decision-makers, influencers and other stakeholders will be looking for quicker ways to evaluate your entire proposal. If your proposal has the right executive summary, they will be happy to delve further.

I was on the other side of the table (as a buyer); I still get a headache when I remember the painful exercise we had to carry out scanning entire proposal document when vendors did not provide executive summary (fortunately/ unfortunately, we had this mandate of scanning & responding to every proposal)

Actually, it is very simple. Preparing executive summary for the prospective client is one of the signals that you are serious about it, you know what it takes to be their supplier/vendor/solution provider. Click To Tweet

Singing ‘I, Me, We’ Tune

It would be a big mistake – though out the proposal if you are talking mainly about your company, your achievements, your success, your process.

No care, no love for client?

Make your proposal mainly about the prospective client’s perspective

You have to sing the tune that your prospect would like to hear. It isn’t about mending all your ways just for the prospective client, it is about better understanding their business objectives, thought process, psychology, and language.

If you have done lead qualification correctly and decided to go for it; you know how to present a problem the client is facing and how your company is best suited to help him sail through the turbulence. At this stage, you may have a broad idea about how far you would like to stretch, to meet the expectations of the client.

You should craft the proposal such that prospective clients will feel that you understand HIS BUSINESS, his problem/pain areas, the changes he would like to implement, the results he would like to see.

Prospects are not interested in your product or service. Really. All he cares about, is whether your product or services/ your company can solve his problem. Click To Tweet

When someone talks about its own product/ services without talking about how it will solve the customer’s problem; you are forcing your prospective client to guess, imagine the evaluation process. Why do you want to delay the evaluation.

Keep that evaluation ready for your prospect. Let him know that you understand his business, processes, the problems very well and how well you can help him overcome those problems, grow its business, etc.

On the contrary, just having “You, Your” in your proposal sound ridiculous. You are simply pushing the prospect away with the impression that you do not have the right product/service/solution to help him.

There has to be the RIGHT mix of YOU and ME to keep the prospect interested and engaged.

Not Unique? Fine. Just Answer Why You are The Best

You would be very very special to your customers if they ask no other vendor but you, to submit the proposal. In that case, you don’t even need this article, do you?

The real business out there doesn’t work like that.

Most clients/buyers would invite multiple vendors to submit proposals/ quotation and they would receive many offers.

Trust me, many of those proposals looks almost similar

  • Typically same size of companies (in terms of revenue, employees, etc)
  • Similar approach to solution
  • Similar skill set resources engaged
  • Similar testimony from other customers

Even if prospective client is asking you ‘ How makes you unique?’ – what s/he is trying to understand is – how you are different from others (so that those extra things can help us get along well). Every business/ individual is unique in its own way. Trust me, the right way to answer such a question is by putting across facts, specialty, hard-strengths, soft-strengths so that you are considered the best among the pack.

Even considering above seemingly-similar-answers, you can make your business (products/ services) clearly stand out from the rest of the crowd and be presented as the one most suited to do the assignment.

How to achieve such distinction?

Be well versed with your competition, their skills, their strongholds, their weakness, their locations, resources, current projects, missed assignments, etc. Click To Tweet

For internal purposes, you can tabulate all these points and stack your company/ product/ services against each competitor.

You certainly do not have to say any bad or derogatory words about your competitors but you can provide fact-based points to compare for your prospects.

While making decisions, humans have the tendency to trust numbers more than descriptive words. Yeah, that’s true.

This, not only makes your company/ product/ service stand out but, impresses your client that you know your space/ competition/ industry/ sector really really well. You are a lot better than most other players, right?

Few pointers you should keep in mind.

  • Use – no misinformation, no lie
  • Use – no bad word or defamation
  • Talk about benefits more than plain features
  • Talk about possibilities, use-cases using existing features
  • Talk about appreciations, testimonials, certifications, awards received
  • To appear more genuine, you should also appraise your competitors on few selected points (they are nice/great in thermal installation – though we have our thermal installation practice started about a year ago and catching up well. )


Show, Don’t Tell

Capabilities, Benefits & Return on Investment

Common proposal writing mistakes - Being too descriptive

The way sales used to happen 5 years ago, doesn't happen now. The rules of the game have changed. Click To Tweet

The buyer has changed. Have you changed?

The CSO Insight survey (Growing Buyer-Seller Gap – PDF) found out that

  • Large number of buyers (77%) don’t see sellers as a resource to solve their problems
  • Sellers/ vendors are not as successful as they were three years ago
  • Performance and productivity are not driving the revenue growth
- Large number of buyers (77%) don’t see sellers as a resource to solve their problems - Sellers/ vendors are not as successful as they were three years ago - Performance and productivity are not driving the revenue growth Click To Tweet

What does it means for closing sales deals especially preparing proposals?

It is so common for a proposal writer to keep describing who are we, what we do, how we do it, etc.

Do you see anything wrong about it? No?

Do you think, with all these descriptive pages will help you close the deal.

That’s why I used the words – Show Don’t Tell.

List down/ tabulate your specific capabilities and skills that will help the client to solve its challenges.

The benefits your other clients have reaped. The RoI you have delivered for other clients.

Include real case study, testimony of your other client talking the same language; including videos will be far more credible, relatable.

Buyers today are more educated, more aware, well informed. They are looking for specific information rather than descriptive items.

You can write about your company, your people, your process but don’t go overboard with it. Your proposal also gives you that opportunity to SHOW.

Today everyone is busy. If buyers do not find your proposal deep enough or credible enough, they are simply going to overlook it, skip it and turn to another one.

Don’t expect prospects to come back requesting more information.

You have got the opportunity. Grab it and state the benefit prospect can expect, the provide RoI numbers and brief calculation right in your proposal.

You are almost at the finishing line so don’t stop. Would a marathon runner stop before 200 meters from the finish line? You have to up the ante.

Keeping It All Static, Not Engaging.

No Video, No Interaction?

This point is an extension of the above one. Let me expand it a bit. There are two aspects to create an engaging sales proposal.

  • Visual
  • Interactive

Let’s look at the first one : Visual Aspect

Imagine a Newspaper without pictures and only news to read in plain text. 
Will you be able to read it?

The answer will be surely NO.

As a business owner, you probably would have understood why your business needs infographics?
There are many reasons for that:

The reader needs videos, images, pie charts, graphs and most importantly “Colours”. Your proposal should stay in their minds because of the infographics you have used. 

Visuals are the first impression readers get of your brand. Visuals keeps the reader engaged and urge them to continue reading.

Tip: If you want your client to take less efforts to proceed with your proposal then make sure you add infographics to it.

The second aspect of engaging proposals: Interactiveness

Gone are the days wherein the proposals are sent using printed papers. Even the days of sending proposals in PDF, MS Word, PPT format are numbered. The technology has been such great enabled, it allows you to showcase your best work using videos, tables.

Have a short product video to showcase – Why not include it in your proposal? Old PDF, MS Word will not allow you to display and run your video.

You want to showcase the RoI Calculations and let user enter information, why not include it in your proposal?

I know, you have to submit a separate excel or use some gimmick to work in word file (making it look like some insecure file, infected with virus).

Do you want to let your prospect explore your product/ services pricing by himself? Let him select check- uncheck optional items, change quantities, etc?

Fortunately there is a way you can easily avoid these new gen mistakes proposal writers make. There are new proposal software which allow you to, not only customise your proposal but make it more interactive, move visual. You can impress your client far better than your competitors. Why wouldn’t you do that?


Not Keeping It Brief and To The Point

proposal writing mistakes - Not keeping it brief
Do you have that much patience and time to read one very long forwarded message?

You will just read few lines or you will simply ignore it.

The same theory applies to the proposal writing.

Even if we invest so much time to write a proposal and makes it unnecessarily long, do you guarantee the client will read it by wasting his precious time?

Is the answer again NO?

Then why do you even waste “YOUR” precious time.

Yet  another proposal writing mistake sales team make. Earlier, I mentioned about “dumping” marketing collateral into proposal.

Yes, it is true and I have seen it many times.

Simple resolve to this mistake is, THINK FROM THE BUYER’s PERSPECTIVE.

So make sure making the proposal brief and to the point so that the client won’t reject it in the first glance. Never allow your client to check out the other proposals that are in line by making this silly mistake.

Not Proofreading, Leaving Typos


Do you know, if you are sending a proposal with typos, misalignment, grammar mistakes, you are preparing yourself to lose the deal.


Are you serious?

Typos and proofing errors in your proposal highlight your lack of seriousness.

Clients might think that if you are not taking time to verify & address these simple mistakes then what are other shortcuts are might taking during the course of engagement / project/ assignment?

The proposal is a reflection of whether you are seriously interested or not.

Plan it out. Create an outline. Write the copy. Put it through proposal automation software, use Grammarly kind of proofing tools.

Proofread and

Then proofread it again.

Check for spelling errors, improper words, misalignments, formatting woos. Correct anything and everything which will not reflect well on your business.

If you want to be certain that your proposal is mistake free, consider hiring a freelance proofreader/editor (with experience of dealing with business proposals) to check through it for you and provide some feedback.

Make The Communication Personal, Boy

Before sending the proposal to the customer, you must research the customer.

This will be part of your lead qualification process which I mentioned earlier.

As a part of the qualification process, you should have better information – how many stages are involved, who is going to screen/ evaluate process, who are influencers, who are decision makers, who are the end-user, etc.

You really need to get to know those GATE-KEEPERS very well.

When I say gate-keeper, I mean individual person (or group) who will make a way for your proposal from one stage to another towards final decision.

Once you are done with your research, brainstorm the client’s situation – the awards/recognitions they have received, events, press releases, social media interactions, the challenges they are facing, why these challenges are important for them to address, etc.

And also research your own approach  – how you are going to connect them, present your proposal, how your company will helping them, why you.

Try to read between the lines.

Uncover pain points and present in a such a way that even client should get impressed with your research, personalisation. Click To Tweet

Thus, Use all of these information consciously and ensure your phone/ email communication with prospects/ clients is more personal.

It will just make it easier, worm when you will connect with your client. Not only for the first time but every time, whenever you are going to engage with them.

Remember not only you will have to tailor your proposal for each and every one of your clients but also the communication beside proposals should make the prospect feel connected personally.

Making It Difficult to Close

After all the efforts you’ve put into crafting a beautiful proposal but if you miss out few small points in it then all the efforts will go in vain.

Your beautifully crafted proposal should be easy to close.

Remember at this stage, you are very close to the finishing line. You can't afford to give up now. Little more push and you will outdo your competition in every proposal you will get. Click To Tweet

Let’s take a look at those small point

  • Gone are the days of manual print, sign with pen-paper, scan, mail. In your proposal make it easy for the clients to sign digitally through e-signing process. Don’t forget to add the guidelines in order to complete the process
  • Please be clear on giving information about pricing and implementation plan. You don’t want to hear the answer like “Oh! I was thinking about proceeding ahead but I still need lot clarity about how much would it cost my company.” That’s why include pricing tables, client can interact with so that they can see all the options available to them
  • Let the prospect know of the next steps according to you. Or you can express that you are open to navigate the way forward
  • Make sure you are responsive to customers’ comments, in doing so you can provide a level of customer service (right before formal contract/ engagement). You shouldn’t delay in responding to queries, questions asked by prospect. If your respond promptly, it is proven to have the highest opening rate as well as greater chances of closing the business deal.  As you can imagine when you respond quicker, it delights the prospects (which usually they don’t expect lightning-fast response. It also builds trust with current as well as potential customers.
  • If you deal with businesses where transaction can be triggered as soon as proposal is signed then you should definitely enable and facilitate online transactions using platforms like Stripe, Paypal right in the proposals steps. This not only lets you process the payment but also make your client feel confident about your products/ services.


Here is another one

Not Using Proposal Templates?

Do you keep creating new proposal every time you propose to new prospect? Start optimising your work, keep your best piece ready to use for next time, all the time. Keep improving but keep it ready. Proposal templates will greatly help you get the head start.


To summarise the right approach to address these mistakes

  1. Thoroughly qualify the lead before you can pursue it, write proposal, etc
  2. Write succinct and impressive executive summary
  3. Write the proposal for your prospect, get him hooked, keep engaged
  4. Emphasise why you are the most suited one
  5. Show don’t tell
  6. Make it more interactive
  7. Keep it brief, to the point
  8. Proofread and filter out all typos, grammatical errors
  9. Keep the communication bit personal
  10. Make it easier to close the deal



[1]. Image: Growth Hacker

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  1. Sebastian Hovv

    Needed to read this! Thanks team

    • Team FreshProposals

      Hi Sebastian,
      Thanks for your comments. Hope you found it useful.


  2. Ben O'Loghlin

    Supper post.

    Prospect qualification was a later realization for us. Making online proposals, keeping them interactive seems like a great deal going forward. Better to grab it early on. You see, we don’t want to have late realization for that :p

    • Team FreshProposals

      Hi Ben,
      Thank you for stopping by, reading the article and comment.

      I know what you mean by ‘Later Realisation’ — Too late to do anything about it. And agree, online sales pitch is the only way forward for us. No more Word, No more PDF files (apart from record keeping purpose).

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