10 Proposal Secrets for Success

10 Proposal Secrets for Success

I have a number of business quotes I’ve found to be true and that I live by and share in my ad sales training. One of my favorites is, “Always be looking for repeatable patterns of sales success.”

That advice most definitely applies to the art of building an ad sales proposal that works—time and time again.

So read on …. here are my top 10 ad sales proposal-building tips.


1-Use a template

Remember, what I’m looking for are repeatable patterns of success. So this is about taking a look at the things media company sales reps like us do, say, and present—that work. And how can we rinse and repeat those things?

So my first point is to use templates. And they don’t have to be all generic. You can customize them for people, but we have to make sure that we’re presenting in the best way, where we have the best chance to repeat success. For you and me, we need to be looking at what we can reuse … what can we say, what can we do, what can we rinse and repeat? That’s very important on proposals.

We should not be leaving the meeting to create a proposal and come back to chase people down. Not when we can use a template that’s rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go.

2-Focus on value and focus on outcomes

Most media sales people write proposals that are focused entirely on what they can provide to an advertiser. That misses the mark on where the value of the sale truly is. Prospects don’t just pay for deliverables—they’re paying for outcomes, for value. And we have to show them that value in pictures and in text. We have to showcase it.

What do I mean about “outcomes”? (I’m not asking you to promise outcomes.) But think about what picture of potential you can paint. For example, are there a certain number of leads that are typical? Are there a certain number of clicks that are typical? Are there a certain number of banner ad impressions that are typical? Are there a certain number of people that usually come to your events?

Those dynamics are important to include in the proposal. Because we don’t want people to see us as money-takers, like we’re just there to take money from them. A lot of people have impressions of us like that. And we want to fight that impression as hard as we can. That’s not who we are. We’re helpers, consultants on the front lines to help them solve their problems.

So we want “value” and “outcomes” in our proposals. (But be careful—we want to under promise and then OVER deliver.)

3-Give 3 options

Very often I see people not understanding basic science and basic math. If you give someone one choice, the answer is yes or no. It’s 50/50. If you give somebody two choices, though, you’re splitting the opportunity–you’ve got one or the other. But since choices typically drive decisions, three options are the way to go.

Consider this from Lucidchart.com: “By giving your prospective client multiple options within one proposal, they’re less likely to shop around to your competitor.”

So in my ad sales training, I suggest giving prospects three options in sales proposals: basic, competitive, and dominant. So they can choose which of the three best supports their goals within the marketplace. And I do this because of idea No. 4.

4-Structure the options

I call this popcorn pricing. Start at the smallest package.

Think about the little guy at the movies. You’re buying your popcorn and he says, “For only 25 cents more you can have the medium.“ And I’m thinking, popcorn sales guy, “You got me.”

So popcorn pricing allows you to go from small to medium, medium to large, and the incremental pricing options are not that much–you want to pop your prospect up to the top.

In your ad sales proposals then, make it so it’s not a tremendous financial leap to go from option 1 to option 2 to option 3.

5-Keep it to a maximum of 3 pages

Keep this in mind: The proposal isn’t the decision-making tool. It’s supposed to be pretty high level and get into detail (facts, stats, some pricing options), but it’s not supposed to give every single deliverable. Most sales proposals should be just three pages, and here’s why.

Salesdriver.com says: “Beyond the fourth page, comprehension drops significantly.”

So ask yourself this about your proposal, is it a regurgitation of the sales call or is it a proposal of services? You want to be really careful about that. My advice, based on science, math and experience, is try to keep most proposals at three pages max.

For me, I actually keep most of mine to about two pages—simply because comprehension begins to drop dramatically the more pages you have.

6-Always include an executive summary

The executive summary is the purpose of the proposal, like a CEO or CFO would read. They should be able to get the gist of the proposal from the executive summary. And it should be at the top.

I know this because I’ve sat in that CEO chair, and I didn’t have time to read every detail of your proposal. Give me the summary—an easy paragraph at the top–and I want to know how much it costs. For example, something like, “The purpose of this proposal is to put the Franklin Engineering Brand in front of 75,000 perfect customers over the next 30 days. The expected outcome is affordable and it’s effective, with digital advertising click-through rates well over the national averages….”

7-Eliminate fluff

You’re not writing a PhD doctoral paper. Experts say people skip every third word. So your proposal should be a lot more like bullet points. I can go through most proposals and pull out 50% of just junk. Focus on bullet points.

8-Make it a contract

Make that proposal your agreement. If you have legalese you need them to agree to, put it in small print at the bottom or on the back. And make a spot for them to sign it … so you don’t have to go back, put it in your CRM, and then you’ve got to get approval and all. In my media sales training I stress this: use your CRM to build the proposal.

Personally, I use Magazine Manager. I build my proposal, show them the line items, kick it out to somebody, and get a digital signature. Use the digital signature tool and make it into a contract.

Here’s the thinking: If they like the proposal, then make it an option for them to just go with it. Make it a contract. There’s no reason that proposal shouldn’t stand on its own.

9-Proofread everything

And you may be saying, “Ryan, is that 101 or what?” And yeah, it is 101. Do it.

Some of you need to buy stock in the company Grammarly. I know I do. I pay my subscription every month. And I ALWAYS have someone proofread my decks and proposals.

10-Don’t negotiate against yourself

The way you avoid negotiating against yourself is by NOT going to the discount line too heavily, too quickly. A lot of sales reps out there in the media business hit the discount line too quickly.

If you go to the discount knife, and you chop out a huge amount, then you have no room for negotiation at all. So offer discounts, but don’t go there too quickly.

On the same front, avoid this kind of language in the contract conclusion: “If this doesn’t fit your budget then let me know and we’ll recalculate.” Never say something like that. Do be flexible and leave yourself some room to negotiate, but if you hit the discount too hard, it leaves you no room to negotiate later. It’s worth saying one more time: Do not negotiate against yourself.

There you have it, my 10 proposal secrets for success. Use them to drum up some of your own repeatable patterns of ad sales success.