How many proposals do you or your team write in an average month?

And how many of those proposals generate even $1 of revenue?

As an international sales consultant, I’m learning that typical proposal success rates for services providers are often in the range of 10% … which means that 90% of proposals FAIL!

What can you do about this terrible drag on your success?

A proposal isn’t just a document – it’s a process. How you handle interactions with your prospects at each stage of that process – and how you introduce the proposal document – is crucial. Here are the biggest proposal mistakes I’ve seen lately:

1. Emailing proposals to people you barely know. Sales research is clear – proposals that are presented are more successful than those that are sent. You say your prospect asked you to send it? Of course he did; that way he won’t have to look you in the eye and say no!

Did you ask for the opportunity to review your thoughts on how you might address the problem, to be sure you’re on the mark – in your prospect’s view – with everything you’re proposing? Perhaps he’ll agree to allow you to do this type of pre-test of your proposal, and then, if your assumptions are correct, you can introduce his investment (your price) in that same meeting.

2. Proposing too soon. So someone asks for a proposal – that doesn’t mean you have to write one! Sometimes their asking can simply be seen as a sincere expression of interest, and an opportunity for you to begin working hard to understand their situation, their options, and how you might be of help.

3. Rotten follow-up. If you’re investing the time and effort to write a proposal, the least you can do is follow-up on it in an optimal way. Don’t assume that it’s being discussed – it’s up to you to get your prospect to pay attention. And the way to do that is to talk about the aspects of her situation that hurt her the most – and that will be helped the most by your efforts, should she choose to work with you. What’s an optimal interval? Typically no more than 4 business days, and usually sooner.

4. Relying on email to learn more. Email isn’t a bad thing, but it also doesn’t go far toward helping your prospect trust you. Sure, people depend on email a lot these days, but it’s better used in communicating with a client. When you’re reaching out to a prospect, pick up the phone – or make a visit if at all possible. (And yes, a Skype is a type of visit.)

5. Thinking that your proposal will be read. We know that, often, only the Executive Summary and the price may actually be read! So that makes your Executive Summary crucial. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes, and think about what they most want to know. Put that first.

Author's Bio: 

Lenann McGookey Gardner is a sales consultant who helps professionals who sell services, or product-and-service combinations, to achieve never-before-seen sales success. A Harvard MBA and 2010 “Top Performing CEO” award winner, Lenann has worked with professionals on 5 continents to help them get more clients and drive new revenue. Winner of the American Marketing Association’s Professional Services “Marketer of the Year” award, Lenann is the author of Got Sales? The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services, which was nominated for the Axiom Business Book Award as the best sales book of the year. Her newest workshop is “Proposal Process Excellence.” Bring her into your organization to update your team’s selling skills and earn your highest ROI on any training effort ever! Learn more at