The Proposal Formula That Gets an 80% Close Rate


The opportunity to send a proposal can be exciting. Maybe it's a coveted client. Maybe the work will give your team a creative outlet. Maybe the budget will make a big difference for your growth goals. 

But proposals can also be a time-sucking, frustrating activity. Your hopes are too often met with disappointment.

Jason Swenk, an entrepreneur and former agency owner, recently discussed his formula for creating proposals that had an 80% close rate and led him to work with brands such as AT&T, Legal Zoom, and Hitachi at HubSpot's Partner Day. Here are his steps for creating a killer proposal.

Don't Create a Proposal Just Yet

Oftentimes, during an informal discussion with a prospective client, the agency owner will hear the words, "Just send me a proposal." The owner thinks this is a sign that the client wants to commit. In fact, many clients just see this as a first date or even a, "sure, just call me sometime."

So, the agency’s staff spends hours and hours creating a detailed document, and the owner emails it within 48 hours. 

I’m sure you can guess what comes next: silence

Before you even get to creating the proposal, you first need to determine if the client is wasting your time. Should you even make the investment in creating this document? You can quickly avoid situations where you are just sending out proposal after proposal by figuring out the client’s NBAT

  • What does the client Need?
  • What is the Budget?
  • Does the person have the Authority to make a decision?
  • What does the client’s Timing look like?

”When you start taking on clients just because of the money, you are going to have problems later on,” Swenk said. 

How to Structure the Proposal

"It needs to be in a certain order, like a phone number," Swenk said. "You have to have the right order to reach the right person."

He outlined six elements you need to create the perfect proposal:

1) Cover Letter

Don't just dive right into the strategy and the tactics. Set expectations up front and entice the client to read more.

2) Executive Summary 

The executive summary shouldn't just summarize what the proposal says. Instead, it should state what the prospect wants, where they want to go, and what they will need to get there. You will also want to cover the research you did, who you did interviews with, and the steps you took to pull together your recommendations. This document shows why the client should select your firm. 

One important piece of advice from Swenk on the summary: State two obvious facts up front. These should be things that the client knows are true. By doing this first, the reader will be more receptive to the remaining points. This isn't about tricking someone. It's about presenting the information in a way that prevents the client from becoming defensive when reading your recommendations.

3) Deliverables and Strategy

This is the heart of your proposal document. 

Categorize the proposal into different sections, such as creative, technology, etc. This will make it easy for the prospect to understand the different parts of the proposal and the different activities being recommended. In each section, you should list out the specific deliverables and also indicate what is not included. This last part helps to prevent scope creep from the beginning, and it also serves as an inspiration for clients who may want more. 

Finally, don't include pricing in this section. It will stop people from absorbing the information, and it will prevent the reader from getting excited by the work you can do together. Instead, they'll just be thinking about dollar signs and their dwindling budget. Also, putting a price immediately prompts a person to begin comparing your pricing to another firm's price, no matter what the solution you are recommending actually includes. 

4) Project Summary 

After the Deliverables and Strategy document, you can then add a itemize list of all the deliverables and a price for each. This isn't to give your client an option, where they cherry pick this and that and that and not this. 

The client wants a recommendation. You can't put the weight of the decision on her shoulder by asking her to choose between this package and that package. Give her a solid plan for what needs to be done and what it will cost her. Then, tailor the solution during a conversation. 

5) About Us

Save this part until the end. The client won't care about you until they know what you can do for her and her company. 

6) Agreement

Include an agreement or contract in the proposal so that the client can sign as soon as possible. Don't make them ask you: where do I sign?

2 Essential Tips for Winning More Proposals

Finally, there are two important things you can do to make your closing rates increase. 

Review the proposal with the prospective client. Don't just send it over and hope for a response. And state that this is a mandatory requirement. When a client requests a proposal, schedule a meeting to review the information. If she can't commit to this, you shouldn't be spending your time crafting this in-depth document. 

“Be able to walk away," Swenk said. "They are just shopping, and they are going to waste your time.”

Build a proposal template. Once you have the ideal structure in place, build a template you can use with every prospect. There's no need to start from the beginning each time. This will save you time and will lead to higher conversions as the prospect won't have enough time for buyer's remorse to sink in.

A proposal should be the result of numerous discussions with the prospective client. There should be no surprises -- either in price or the strategy that you are suggesting -- and it should be seen as a written review of your processes and the conversations with your client.