Closing the Deal: Time Your Sales Proposal for Success

“Can you send me a proposal?” says the prospect to the sales rep.

“Sorry, I cannot send you one yet…”


“I’m not ready to send you a proposal.”

Okay, so when was the last time you answered NO to that particular question from your prospect? Have you ever said NO to that question? Maybe you’re wondering, why would I respond to the prospect this way?

I’ll tell you why…

Quick Exercise: Count the number of proposals you created last year – and then how many of these you won. Now set aside the successful ones, and look at how many you are left with. If you’re like most sales reps, you’ll have a larger number of proposals that never closed. So why do you think that is?

First, here are some of the top reasons sales reps will tell you they hear from prospects regarding why they didn’t choose their proposal:

  • It’s not in the budget this year.
  • We decided to stick with our current provider.
  • Your price was too high.
  • We went with another company (and they didn’t provide a reason why).
  • We still need to make a decision. But give me a call next month…
  • Or they simply went into hiding and you never heard back.

When you close or lose a sale, always go back and debrief the result… What happened? Why did that result take place? Was there anything else you could have done? And what red flags came up during the sales process that you should have addressed (but did not)? It’s true you can’t win them all, and of course some of their reasoning is going to be accurate, but it’s important to evaluate whether or not they were even ready for a proposal. Why did you present it to them in the first place? Simply because they asked for it?

Let’s dig into when it is the right time to present a proposal. The answer is actually easy… what does your sales process say? At what stage of your process does it tell you, Present Proposal. Are you following your own process or the process of your prospect? 

For example, our company sales process includes 3 major steps:

  • We hold a Discovery Meeting to learn more about the prospect and find out if they’re the right fit for us (and vice versa). Sometimes an additional meeting is required if other decision makers are not in attendance at the first meeting.
  • Next, we conduct a Marketing Assessment Review after diving into the prospect’s marketing analytics. Again, a follow-up meeting may be needed if other decision makers are not present or if we need additional information based on the assessment’s results.
  • Finally, we present our recommendations and a Sales Proposal to the prospect.

True Story… Some time ago, I had a preliminary call with a prospect that went well. I uncovered their pain and they were a good prospect for the business. The next step of my process was to conduct a marketing analysis and take a deeper dive into his website analytics to identify areas where we could help. Instead, the prospect asked me to send a proposal.

I politely apologized and let him know that it’s not in line with our process and that I needed more information to proceed before I could create a proper proposal. Well, without getting into more details, you can safely assume what happened… I didn’t hear back from him. Why? Because he simply wanted my information and numbers so he could shop it around and compare it to the other vendors from which he was gathering pricing details.

Yes, I’m sure there could be other reasons why he vanished, but the bottom line is this: it was not the right time and not part of my process to create a proposal. If someone is in a big rush to get a proposal, it’s always a red flag for a company that has never used an outsourced marketing firm before.

Some business owners still push the mantra “the customer is always right”, but before a prospect even has the opportunity to become a customer, you need to do your own business and sales process justice. It will ultimately benefit the relationship if you do successfully close the deal – and sets the tone for better communication with the client as the engagement begins.

Moreover, the proposal meeting should serve more as a formality than as a hard close. The key indicators of when to present your proposal are the following:

  • Do you have all the information you need from the prospect?
  • Do you know what their budget is?
  • Is the prospect experiencing enough pain to make a buying decision?
  • Are you presenting the proposal to the key stakeholders?
  • Do you know the competition, if there is any?

When you have all of these questions answered – and you are following your sales process – then it is okay to move forward with presenting the proposal.

The last step in the proposal process is deciding how to present and what happens next. I hear from sales people all too often that they are waiting for an answer after they SENT the proposal. I typically turn to them and say… what do you mean you “sent it”? Yes, it was emailed. Not presented in person, not presented via WebEx… just sent. Mistake #1, never send the proposal, even though the prospect might ask you to just send it over, you need to stop and remind yourself that you do not email proposals. If they will not give you the time to meet and present the proposal, then reciprocally, the prospect may not be worth your time.

A proposal meeting should include all of the key decision makers, enough time to present and ask or answer additional questions, and most importantly, a clear next step as to when a decision is to be made. During the sales process, you should know when the decision will be made if not at the presentation meeting. When you have the date for the decision, set an appointment to call the prospect to get a yes or no. It’s important you receive a firm answer – “Give me a call in a few weeks…” is not acceptable.

If you follow your process, you will have more closes. You will also create fewer proposals that would have never closed in the first place, which gives you more time to prospect, find more qualified opportunities and work with prospects who really do want to work with you.

If you would like to learn more about how to optimize your company's sales process, feel free to contact us for help!

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Jim Kaufman
About the Author
Jim Kaufman

Co-author of the book "The Inbound Sales Effect", Jim Kaufman has been helping his customers with their sales development and training needs for 20+ years. A HubSpot certified sales professional with a proven success in prospecting and closing deals, Jim has delivered sales strategies, processes and SaaS training to over 500 business executives and companies, including Fortune 1000 companies.