Do PDF Proposals Still Work? Here Are Two Alternatives.

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Aaron Beashel
Aaron Beashel



As a growing company, you probably send a lot of proposals to potential new customers.

But if you’re still sending them as PDF or Word documents, it might be hurting your ability to close deals. And that’s never a good thing.

Imagine if there was a way to send proposals to potential customers that were so impressive and engaging that the prospect read every word?

In this post, we’ll show you why sending proposals as PDFs or Word documents sometimes doesn’t cut it in this day and age, and what you should be doing instead to close more deals.

Why PDF Proposals Don’t Work Anymore

The PDF was invented in the early 90’s, the same decade as the Palm Pilot came into popularity.

Quick question: Do you still use a Palm Pilot to manage your work life? Chances are you don’t, because they're outdated and there are better ways of managing your work life.

Turns out, the same is true for the PDF. Here are five reasons it often doesn’t cut it in modern business.

PDFs aren't responsive.

According to Litmus, more and more emails are being opened on mobile devices. In fact, desktop email clients accounted for only 17% of email opens in 2017.

Despite the majority of email being opened on mobile devices, viewing PDFs on a mobile device remains a terrible experience.

This is because, unlike the web, PDF documents aren’t responsive and don’t scale up and down to suit the device they're being viewed on, meaning the text is small and the user has to constantly zoom and swipe across to read the content.

Because PDFs aren’t responsive, proposals are virtually impossible to read on mobile devices.

Because of this, it’s more difficult for prospects to read your proposals, which makes it harder for you to communicate the value of your product or service and ultimately results in fewer deals closed.

PDFs aren't secure.

Once you send a PDF document to a potential customer, the document is in their hands forever. It can be forwarded, shared, made public, etc.

Sure, you can password-protect a PDF, but the password can be easily passed to third parties along with the document, or removed completely.

This can be problematic for sales and marketing folk in a number of ways, including:

  • Negotiations — If someone can take your proposal (including the pricing you’ve offered them) and just send it on to a competitor for them to counter offer, you end up in a discounting war, which reduces the value of the deal to your business (not to mention the reduction in commission for the sales rep).
  • Pricing — If you’re the kind of company that provides customized pricing based on prospects' unique needs, having the details of pricing you’ve offered Prospect A made public can present challenges when trying to close Prospect B at a different price.
  • Competitive positioning — If you’re like most companies, your proposals contain information on your company, why it’s superior to competitors, etc. If that information got into the hands of competitors, then they could develop sales scripts, collateral, etc. that counters your competitive positioning and hurts your brand.

Particularly when sending confidential documents like proposals, you need more security than PDFs can offer. You need to not only be able to add passwords but time limits, limits on the number of views, or even the ability to force people to log in using their work email address before viewing it, otherwise it could fall in the wrong hands and hinder your ability to close deals.

PDFs aren't interactive.

PDFs (particularly proposals) are generally flat, static documents with pictures and text. Unlike the web, you can’t embed interactive content like videos, pricing calculators, spreadsheets, maps, etc.

This hurts your ability to communicate the value your product or services bring. Imagine if you could include that latest video the marketing team created that shows how the product works? Or that awesome case study video they did with the big-name customer you have?

Similarly, the lack of interactivity makes it difficult to personalize a proposal. Imagine if you could include an interactive quote in your proposal that allows the prospect to see what the pricing would look like if they added that extra upsell?

The lack of interactivity of PDFs makes all of these amazing ideas impossible, and again hurts your ability to close deals.

They’re not trackable.

Tools like Sales Hub provide a method for tracking when someone opens an email you send them, which is awesome.

But imagine if on top of that, you could also get notified when someone views the proposal you sent through, and you could see exactly which parts of the proposal they’re interacting with, how long they read it for, etc.

Unfortunately, PDFs have no ability to track reading time or interactions, so this kind of advanced insight about when your prospects are viewing your proposal and what content they’re engaging with isn’t available to you if you’re using PDFs.

They’re not accessible.

Research shows that over 50 million Americans have some form of disability that could impact their ability to read and interact with content on a computer.

Fortunately, there are accessibility tools to help these people, but they’re inability to properly read PDFs is well documented.

In fact, in order to make a PDF readable by accessibility tools like screen readers, you need to add an extra layer of content via XML markup just so the accessibility tool knows what’s in your PDF.

With a significant portion of Americans living with a disability, and the fact you can come under fire from the Office of Civil Rights for not providing accessible content, continuing to send your proposals and quotes as PDFs isn’t a good idea.


What You Can Do Instead

Now that you understand why the PDF is a bad format to use for proposals, quotes, and other sales documents, you’re probably wondering what to do instead.

The answer is to create your proposals and documents as web pages.

By doing this, you get all the benefits of the web, including:

  • Responsive — Web pages are responsive, meaning they look great on all desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. With the majority of email being opened on mobile devices these days, you’re ensuring your leads have a great experience with your proposal.
  • Secure — Web pages can not only be password protected but you can also add time limits that ensure your proposals can’t be viewed after a certain date - as well as view limits so they can only be viewed a certain number of times. You can even require prospects to log in using their work email address before viewing the page to ensure that only the right people see it.
  • Interactive — Web pages can have interactive content like video, audio, maps, forms, spreadsheets, and more embedded in them. You can even add things like pricing calculators that allow prospects to see what the pricing would look like when they add that extra upsell.
  • Trackable — Every interaction your leads have with a web page can be tracked, so you can see when they view your proposal, for how long, what content they view, where they’re viewing from, and more.
  • Accessible — Because web pages use clear HTML markup, accessibility tools like screen readers are able to figure out what content is on the page, meaning the 50 million Americans who have a disability will have no trouble accessing your proposals and documents (and you won’t fall afoul of the Office for Civil Rights).
  • Editable — Unlike a PDF, web pages can be edited at any time, even after you’ve sent it to the prospect. So if you discover you’ve made a typo, you can quickly go in and change it before anyone notices.


How to Create Proposals and Documents as Web Pages

Now that you understand the benefits of using web pages for your proposals, quotes, and sales documents, you might be wondering how?

There are essentially two ways to go about it: Build something yourself, or use an existing tool. 

1. Build it yourself.

Tools like HubSpot make it easy for those of us who don't know code to create web pages, so if you want to build proposals as responsive web pages in HubSpot, here’s what you’d need to do:

  1. Build a template — To start, you’d want to create a proposals page template in the HubSpot CMS. To do this, follow the instructions here.
  2. Create a proposal — With your proposals page template created, you can then use the HubSpot CMS to create a website page using the template. You can add your content (such as services being offered, pricing, etc.) using the WYSIWYG tools in the CMS.
  3. Publish — Once you’re happy with the proposal, you can publish the page and share the link with your prospects.
  4. Set up notifications — If you’re a Marketing Hub Pro or Enterprise customer, you can also use the workflows tool to send an email whenever a prospect views your page. To do this, follow the instructions here.

If you wanted to add the ability for people to sign the proposal online, you could integrate it with something like Docusign to collect digital signatures. Similarly, if you wanted to add the ability for people to make payments from within your proposal, then you could integrate something like Stripe or PayPal with your page.

2. Use an existing tool.

Alternatively, for those who want the full suite of features but don’t want to integrate a bunch of different tools, you can use dedicated proposals tools like Qwilr.

These tools give you an easy-to-use editor (not too dissimilar to what you see in Microsoft Word or Google Docs) that you can use to write your proposal, as well as tools to add interactive content like videos, images, interactive pricing tables, maps, and more.

However, unlike Word or Google Docs ,which will typically output a PDF or .doc file, they’ll automatically create it as a responsive web page that looks great on any device.

Example of a proposal created in a tool like Qwilr and shared as a responsive web page.

Many of these tools will also give you notifications and analytics out of the box, as well as the ability for your prospects to accept and sign your proposal online.

Some of them even integrate with HubSpot so that you can create personalized proposals and quotes from within HubSpot using data you have on the prospect stored in HubSpot. 

In conclusion

The PDF was designed to make it easy for people to print documents. It's no longer a great way to share proposals and quotes in modern business, and it has some downsides.

So whether you build something yourself or use an out-of-the-box tool, switching to creating and sending your proposals, quotes, and other sales documents as responsive web pages is the way to go.

Sign up for your free HubSpot Academy account.

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