The 10 Most Common Fails Of A Sales Proposal

There aren’t many things that can match (or beat) the feeling of winning a new client. It’s almost worth trying to bottle it so you can remember that sensation when a business pitch doesn’t quite come off.

So what happens when one misfiring tender turns into several? Do you put it down to economic conditions or write them off as the way it goes sometimes? 

I’ve got a third suggestion: take a good look at your business pitch. The chances are you’ll quickly spot what’s not working and fix it but it never hurts to put your processes under the microscope.

Here’s my run down of the 10 reasons your pitch is off the mark:

1. Lack of clarity

Right from the start and at every stage thereafter, your client has to be 100% certain what it is you’re offering and how much they will have to pay. Trust is everything, and that means answering four key questions before you even think about writing a proposal:

  • What does this client do?
  • What do they need?
  • Why do they need it?
  • How can you provide it?

Only when you have that deeper understanding will you be able to write an authentic, informed pitch that stands a greater chance of capturing a potential client’s interest.

2. Poor Management Summary

Business owners are busy and don’t have the time to wade through waffle or climb a mountain of statistics. In all likelihood, the Management Summary is the only part of a pitch that is read properly, so it has a lot of heavy lifting to do.

Use it to remind the prospective client what it is they’re looking for by describing the problem they are seeking to solve in the first place and why that need is not being met. This is not the time or space to discuss your company or you.

3. Lack of preparation

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of researching a potential client, but if your pitch fails to impress, then not being adequately prepared could be one of the main reasons why.

Knowing exactly what they want enables you to bolster your pitch with resonating case studies or client stories that demonstrate how you met or exceeded their expectations – but aren’t all about you.

Also, try to find out ahead of any meeting if the prospect has a specific project in mind and give them food for thought by serving up some piping hot ideas.

4. Unclear planning and implementation

You could be sitting on the greatest business scheme there has ever been, but if your prospective client doesn’t understand how it will work for them, it won’t make it past the drawing board.

Be clear and precise about how you would put any project into action (as well as how much it would cost) and 100% transparent about the benefits it will bring, both to the prospect and any stakeholders, so they can see the bigger picture.

5. Risk? What Risk?

Approaching any business pitch with the attitude “nothing can possibly go wrong” is an invitation to disaster and will swiftly take a wrecking ball to any trust built between you and your prospective client faster than you can say Miley Cyrus.

Be up front and realistic about any potential risks, especially if your pitch is a bold one, while also demonstrating clearly how you would mitigate them if something did go awry.

6. Who’s on your team?

Be honest, if you were embarking on a new project, wouldn’t you want to know who you were working with, and whether they were qualified for the job? It’s the same with your potential customers.

If they have no idea who is on your team, how can they trust the final project will be up to snuff? Make sure you tell them who will be in their corner, especially so if you have any specialists in the prospect’s field.

7. Pitches, pitches everywhere…

I know it can be hard, especially when times are tight, to be selective about what pitches you make, but bidding for business outside your area of expertise is never a good idea, no matter how tempting it is to believe you can wing it.

Much of this blog has underscored the need to build trust by knowing your potential customers and showing how you can solve their problem or meet their needs. That means being selective in your pitches. Believe me, it will pay dividends in the long run.

8. Show the next steps

So you’ve heard what a potential client is looking for and demonstrated what you can offer. Now’s the time to lay out how any collaboration should proceed.

As well as giving you a chance to show how work with previous clients progressed, it will also help cement the trust you’ve worked so hard to build, by giving the prospect a pathway they can see, understand and follow.

9. Don’t forget the Ts and Cs

It’s an easy mistake to make and one that has scuppered many a sparkling pitch, but make sure your contract and terms and conditions are all part of the proposal.

Having them signed at the same time underscores the trust between you and your now-bound client. It also prevents quibbles or queries over any generic language in separate documents.

Be warned though, the bigger the fish you try to hook, the more likely their legal department will demand separate documentation they can pore over…

10. Document nitty gritty

You would be surprised at the number of businesses whose pitches don’t win clients simply because they didn’t pay closer attention to the documents they sent in the first place.

Don’t use a previous pitch for a new prospective client, and always make sure you run a spell-checker over everything before it’s sent. Nothing makes a business look worse than sloppy copy!

If you’re still stressed about crafting the perfect pitch, marketing your company and winning new business, drop me a line at

About the Author Lindsey Moore

Lindsey Moore has spent the last 15 years growing, advising and empowering small businesses. These conversations aim to provide inspiration, motivation and energy to those looking to start, scale or pivot their business, by hearing the stories of others who have been brave, followed their heart, kept their nerve and grown something quite remarkable.

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