The Best Proposal Format in 2020 for Remote Selling

Written by Olga Mykhoparkina

The coronavirus pandemic has made us all realize one thing – there are so many things that we can do remotely. Selling is one of those things and even businesses that never sold remotely have given it a go in the recent weeks. Of course, to get good sales results, you need great business proposals.

That leads us to the question – what’s the best proposal format for remote sales? There are three major options to choose from:

–   Word proposals

–   PDF proposals

–   Web-based proposals

We’ll go into the pros and cons of each one and explain why they’re (not) a good choice for remote selling. We’ll then go over some tips for formatting and proposal writing to help you get more sales, even when selling remotely.

Let’s dig in.

Proposals as Word files

Let’s be honest – you probably used Word files to send business proposals at some point in your career. There’s no shame about it, we all had to start somewhere and it seems like a pretty good idea to use Word and send proposals to your clients. Well, until you take a better look.

The pros of using Word to send business proposals

First, everyone and their mother knows how to use Microsoft Word. You create a new document, maybe save it as a template, add new text and images whenever you need a new proposal sent out and you’re done. Anyone with a laptop can use Word and 90% of clients can open Word files.

That’s the second convenience – you don’t have to guess too much if the client knows how to open your proposal or not. If they have computer literacy to send and receive emails, they will know how to manage a Word file.

The cons of using Word to send business proposals

Have you ever tried inserting an image into a Word document? Just one innocent click of a button and the entire document is ruined like the last season of Game of Thrones. The fact is, editing Word documents can be very difficult, especially if you want your proposals to look like more than just a Word text file.

Speaking of files, that’s the second problem. You have to send all Word-based proposals as attachments in your emails, which is anything but convenient for both you and the client. You have to store different versions of the proposal on your hard drive and hope you select the right one. Or in my case, hope that you don’t forget the attachment.

Then comes the third strike. The client has to download the file, read it and store it on their device, print it out and sign it, scan it and attach it to send it back. For someone who’s trying to get the client to sign and spend money, you sure are making it incredibly difficult for the client. Each extra step takes you further away from the conversion. In an era when you can make payments with a face scan on your phone, this feels like the stone age.

That leads me to the next point. If you’ve tried opening Word files on a phone or tablet, you’ll notice that they are difficult to view. You have to pinch in and out to see the full document. Reading a Word file on a phone can take quite a bit of time compared to reading it on a laptop or a computer.

Then there is the problem of integrations. Word files cannot be connected to any of your other crucial apps like CRMs, email marketing software, payment processors, and others.

Finally, once a Word file leaves your device, you have no idea what happens next. Has the client opened it? How much have they read? Did they get stuck somewhere and do they have any questions? The truth is – you’ll never know with a Word file.

Okay, so Word files aren’t ideal for sending business proposals. What about PDFs?

PDFs as proposal files

This is another incredibly popular format for proposals that I see lots of people using. After all, it’s a convenient way to send and receive documents and it makes sense to try and use it for business proposals too. However, you’ll find that they are quite similar to Word files in all of their aspects.

The pros of using PDFs to send business proposals

Everything that I said about Word files holds true for PDF as well. Perhaps even better, there is no dedicated app for PDFs so the clients can use a variety of them to open these files. No matter what device the client is using, they will have an app to open it with.

Moreover, since PDFs aren’t made to be edited, there are fewer chances of the client accidentally messing up the file while trying to view, save or sign it.

If you wanted to, you could set up signatures in PDF files, but this is neither easy, practical or cheap because you have to buy separate tools just to have this option. However, there is an option of getting signatures in PDFs.

That’s pretty much all of the good stuff.

The cons of using PDFs to send business proposals

Pretty much everything mentioned about Word proposals holds true for PDF proposals as well. You have to send them as attachments, the client has to download them and they provide no insights about the proposals once they are sent out from your device.

One other flaw that PDFs have is that they tend to get printed a lot. As you can see from our research that we recently published, printing is the silent proposal killer and it can significantly hurt your conversion rates.

Overall, PDF is slightly different from Word and in no way suited for writing, sending and managing business proposals.

Web-based proposals

We are used to using SaaS applications every day and doing work from our browser has become the new normal. Many of your clients will even expect to get links instead of files in an email attachment. In fact, they may consider you unprofessional if you use Word and PDF files as attachments. Let’s see why this proposal type is better than the rest.

The pros of web-based proposals

Being on the web has a lot of advantages for a document. The first one is that it won’t seem like a document at all – it will look and feel the same on any device. It doesn’t matter if you open the proposal on your phone, tablet or laptop, it’s optimized for the browser screen and it will look great.

Second, you can send links instead of attachments. The client can click and open, instead of downloading and opening in an app that they need to be installed on that device. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s much more convenient for the client.

Third and perhaps crucial for most freelancers and business owners, web-based proposals are just like any old website page. That means that you can track what your visitors do on that page, including the time when they opened it, closed it and signed the proposal. Web-based proposal software can show you when the client opens the proposal, reads it and signs it. You’ll never again have to guess what happens after you hit “send”.

Next, there is the ability to use proposal templates. Web-based proposal software like Better Proposals has the option of using templates instead of writing proposals from scratch. In fact, we have more than 60 templates in our template library, for a variety of industries and different uses. That way, you can jump in and create a proposal within as little as 15 minutes, compared to hours that it would have taken if writing from square one.

Another cool feature is the ability to connect your proposals with a variety of different apps. For example, you can hook up your CRM with your proposal software so that your proposal template fields get populated automatically. That way, you can create proposals even faster.

One integration that our customers love in particular is one with live chat software. You can see when the client is reading the proposal and you can answer their questions as they are reading. This incredibly powerful feature can push your clients one step further towards converting.

There is one major aspect of web-based proposals that I can’t forget to mention – payments. With traditional proposals, you would send out an invoice when the proposal is signed. Web-based proposals can be signed on the spot and the client can pay using a payment service provider like PayPal or credit cards. This is more convenient for the client and you get paid faster – everybody wins.

The cons of using web-based proposals

There really are not any. You do have to spend a little bit getting to know your proposal software and learning the best tips and tricks for maximum conversions. However, even if you’ve never used this type of software before, you can get up to speed in less than an hour. There are resources like our Proposal Writing University to help you out, which focuses on web-based proposals only.

Proposal Writing University

Tips for remote selling: how to format your proposals

At Better Proposals, we love dissecting the top-performing proposals and drawing conclusions. Every proposal that converts is a chance to learn something new. We’ve compiled a lot of our knowledge in this post, where you can read about how to write world-class proposals. However, here are some things you need to know for remote selling.

First, the proposal length needs to be just right. Proposals that are too long will put the client off from reading, while those that are too short will make them think that your offer really isn’t all that serious. Stick to 5-8 pages in length and you should be good to go.

When it comes to the content of those pages, we’ve identified 8 crucial sections that every good proposal needs to have:

–   Introduction

–   Detailed specification

–   Timescales

–   Pricing

–   Proof

–   Guarantee

–   Terms and conditions

–   The next steps

If you want to get more sales, there is one formatting tip to keep in mind. Most clients spend the majority of their time reading two sections: the introduction and the pricing. These are the places where you need to dedicate most of your time. Of course, both depend heavily on how well you know the client and their situation, so I would strongly recommend having a great discovery session first.

Speaking of format, it’s a good idea to use all the shortcuts you have at your disposal. As mentioned before, there are industry-specific proposal templates, e.g. SEO proposal template. These are based on actual proposals that were sent through our system and the elements they have are proven to work in this industry. There is always a chance that they may not work for you specifically, but you are more likely to get results with them than any other plain proposal template that is not modified for a specific industry.

Conclusion

When it comes to selling remotely, business proposals are your sales department’s best friend. You should use web-based proposals because their functionalities make them super-efficient in getting clients to sign and pay as quickly as possible. At the same time, remote selling requires proposals that are short and to the point and have very specific elements that push clients towards conversion.

If you’re still wondering what your ideal proposal tool is, we have everything that you need at Better Proposals! Sign up today and start selling and getting paid faster than ever before.

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