Take the pain out of B2B proposals

Good proposals are the key to winning work, here's how to standardise your process to save time, improve your win rate, and learn from your winning proposals.
Gillian Laging
5 min

Unless you’re fully booked and have retainers, the chances are proposals are critical to winning work. 

If the proposal is for an existing client you have a head start, but even if they only get competing quotes as a formality there’s always a chance the business could go to someone else. So it’s important to keep on top of your game.

When the proposal is for a new client it’s even more challenging, as your knowledge of the company and how they operate is limited. 

Whatever your situation, standardising your proposal process will save your time, improve your win rate, and make it easier to learn from your winning proposals.

Try these strategies if you’re frustrated by your current process or win rate.

Play to your strengths:

Are you a strategic partner, or an order taker? Do you have set services that you don’t deviate from, or can you make anything work?

Whatever you do, don’t sit on the fence. Making it clear how you operate will make it easier to get proposal requests from your ideal clients, and you’re more likely to win the work.

You will also be pitching from a position of strength – you’ve done this before, you can illustrate success, and therefore make a strong claim as to why your recommendation will give them the best chance of success. 

Key takeaway:
Make it easy for your clients to understand your offer and say yes to you. If they need to do mental gymnastics to understand your solution, they’re going to go with a competitor that doesn’t make it so difficult to simply enter an agreement.

A winning B2B proposal starts at the briefing:

In the briefing meeting when you’re discussing the project needs, also draw out what is personally important to the key decision-maker. You can then tailor the proposal to hit the selling points that will resonate with the right person. Read more on how to improve your project discovery meetings.

After your briefing meeting, give yourself 30 minutes to flesh out the introduction. Create some templated content about yourself, that you can edit to reflect the client needs and what they highlighted as important to them. 

A summary of the client and the project will then set the stage for the proposal. There will be less opportunity to template this section, but give yourself some key questions to answer so that you cover all bases, every time.

Questions to consider:
  1. What is the client’s main problem or opportunity?
  2. What are their desired outcomes/benefits?
  3. Do they have any pain points/frustrations?
  4. What are the key decision criteria to compare different proposals?
  5. What is the project timeline, and are there any key deadlines?
  6. Are there any scope constraints?
  7. What is their budget? (This is important to qualify the opportunity and shape your approach. Many people don’t want to share this information, but if you can get a ballpark it can save both parties a lot of time).

If someone else in your team will be putting the proposal together, following this format will ensure they address everything that is important to the client.

Delivering B2B proposals, fast:

With the average B2B sales cycle taking 1-3 months, it’s important to keep the momentum going. 

Some ways you can increase the speed you turnaround proposals:
  1. Standardise your process
  2. Use proposal templates
  3. Prepare draft responses (or sections, e.g. ‘About Us’)
  4. Document your standard services and prices

In addition to saving time, optimising your proposal process is a revenue generator.

Responding to clients quickly can reduce the time to get their sign-off, which limits opportunities for competitors or for stakeholders to get cold feet.

B2B proposal shortcuts:

Documenting the services you offer and your price point is the biggest time-saver. It’s much easier to pair the client's needs with the services you offer, rather than starting from scratch every time. Build the proposal using your standard services and standard rates, once it’s put together you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the project. You can then consider the complexity of the project, or the opportunities it will provide your business and amend your approach and/or the price accordingly. 

If your business has a narrow scope of services, then creating packages can reduce your proposal turnaround time even further. In this case, you’ll gain an advantage by promoting your expertise in your niche over anything else. 

B2B proposal structure:

Don’t reinvent the wheel here. A logical format will reduce friction, so make it as easy as possible for your client to navigate the proposal. The above suggestions cover how you can template sections and content, now think about how it will flow. 

Typical proposal:

  1. Executive summary:
    Include a brief overview of your solution, benefits, and value proposition. Think about how you’ll capture the client's attention to motivate them to read the rest of your proposal. Remember their decision criteria and what is important to the decision maker.
  2. Introduction:
    Introduce yourself and your company. Establish your credibility, qualifications, and why you’re the best candidate for the project.
    It’s a nice touch to include team members who will be working on the project, with a photo and short bio.
  3. Problem statement:
    Define the problem or opportunity that the client is facing, and demonstrate your understanding of their needs. Highlight the consequences of not completing the project to create a sense of urgency.
  4. Solution overview:
    Explain your proposed solution, and how it addresses the client's problem and goals. Be sure to highlight what makes your approach unique, and showcase your competitive advantages.
  5. Value proposition:
    Outline the tangible and intangible benefits to the client, such as cost savings, revenue growth, efficiency improvement, customer satisfaction, etc. If possible, quantify the benefits using metrics, data, or testimonials.
  6. Deliverables:
    Ensure the scope of work is clearly laid out, any difference in opinion should be ironed out before the agreement is signed.

    6.a Exclusions:
     Make sure you clarify what is out of scope. While you want to win the work, it is also important to set expectations. Documenting the exclusions can help you mitigate the risk of scope creep.
  7. Implementation:
    Give confidence in your ability to execute: Milestones, timeline, resources, roles and responsibilities, quality assurance, risk management, etc. Define your communication process and frequency.
  8. Pricing and terms: 
    Present your pricing model, fee structure, payment schedule, discounts or incentives, etc. Make this section as skimmable as possible, and do all the math for them – remember, your proposal is a reflection of how easy it is to do business with you.
    8. a Below the pricing, clearly state any terms and conditions, such as warranties, liabilities, confidentiality, etc. 
  9. Conclusion: 
    This is your last chance to repeat your key selling points. What impression do you want them to be left with? Reiterate your value proposition and call for action. 

Keep the lines of communication open by inviting feedback or questions, and suggest the next steps in the process.

Writing tips

How you present the proposal is as important as what’s in it, we’ve had success with the following approach.

Use simple and direct language that is easy to understand by anyone – don’t assume everyone that reads it will be familiar with jargon. 

Tone of voice:
Keep the tone positive to create a rapport with the client. Your goal is to make them feel confident and enthusiastic about working with you. 

Use bullet points, headings, subheadings, tables, charts, graphs, etc. to make your information easier to scan and digest.

Social proof:
Brief examples, awards, or anecdotes can be included if they strengthen your proposal. Although full case studies are better suited to an appendix.

Final review:
Allow yourself time to review and correct any errors. Ideally, get a colleague to review as well – if they interpret something in a way you didn’t intend, rephrase it for clarity.

B2B proposal templates

There are lots of templates you can use to get started, but no one knows you as well as you know yourself. 

If you download a proposal template, take the time to tailor it to your business. Nothing will tank your credibility faster than something that comes across as Chat GPT.

Are you determined to set yourself up for success?

Here's some more articles that could be the inspiration you need:
12 things you need to thrive as a service-based business.

Nailing project discovery meetings