Learn how to create business proposal presentations that stand out and win deals. Apply battle-tested best practices and actionable tips from sales pros.
9 minute read
Making a business proposal presentation is your money time at the end of a long, exhausting sales process with a prospective client. Losing your sale at this stage would be most painful.
It can be overwhelming when you realize how much is riding on this one proposal. Sending out an ill-made business proposal puts you at risk of losing your client’s buy-in at the very last moment.
This situation is stressful for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. To make this process as stress-free as can be, I put together a guide on how to make a proposal presentation that will give you a leg up over your competitors.
The main thing you should ask yourself is whether your proposal presentation will be followed by a proposal document. Or, are you going to send over this presentation as your official proposal?
Both options are very common, but they may impact the way you would structure the slides and how many details you need to include in your presentation.
Whether you’re selling products or services to prospective clients or pitching new ventures, business presentations are an everyday part of modern business.
Still, most business professionals don’t know how to do it right.
The reason why so many business proposal presentations fail is that not all elements of a successful business proposal presentation are in place.
You can ensure your presentation impresses prospects every time by following the following best practices.
Before you set out to craft your business proposal presentation, you must conduct a thorough research about the company you’re going to be pitching to.
Often, the difference between a knockout business presentation and a poor one is the level of confidence during the delivery. Carrying out a great deal of detailed research beforehand will give you the confidence needed to ace the presentation.
Here's an example of how you can present your findings in a concise way:
The key pieces of information you need to get are:
Finding the answers to these questions will ensure that your lead is qualified and allow you to bring up relevant insights during your presentation. It will also make your prospect feel understood, which will capture their attention and boost your closing rate.
How to get information about your prospect:
If you do your homework right and know who your potential client is, you will be able to deliver a tailor-made business proposal presentation.
Even if you’re recycling business presentations, if you include your prospect’s name and logo, they will feel like it was made specifically for them.
Our research shows that by personalizing your proposal, you’re increasing the number of people who will read your deck in full by 68% as compared to generic presentations.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Every single email that starts with “Dear Owner” or “Dear User” immediately goes to live in my Bin folder.
By including a personal note tailored to your recipient, you’re skyrocketing the chances of it living rent-free in their head instead.
For example, knowing about company-specific pain points will allow you to modify the outline and add relevant sections if necessary.
Or, if you learn about the client’s previous attempts to solve the problem, it will be easier for you to position your company as their ideal solution provider by demonstrating your expertise.
With Storydoc, personalizing your business proposal is as easy as filling in 4 simple fields:
How to personalize your business proposal presentation:
I) Add company-specific insights
This can be anything you learned while doing your research on the prospect or something they mentioned during a discovery call.
II) Include your client’s name and logo in every business proposal presentation
If you’re using a PowerPoint this means going in and manually adding the identifying info into the deck.
If you’re using Storydoc then this can easily be streamlined for scale using dynamic variables that change specific info for specific recipients. This feature swaps out your client’s details while the rest of your deck stays intact, and with a 10-second setup, you’re good to go.
III) Include your prospect’s branding
If you’re using PowerPoint then you’ll have to go in and change the design and visuals in your deck to fit your prospect’s branding. You will likely need to involve a designer to make this look sharp.
With Storydoc, you can automatically apply branding pulled from any given website just by providing the website address—including the brand’s colors and fonts.
This will make an impact on your prospect while requiring minimal effort on your part, let alone involving a designer.
IV) Keep your proposal relevant at all times
When choosing client stories to share in your business proposal, stick to companies from a similar field.
Show a deep understanding of your prospect’s industry, key pain points, and competitors. This will make it easier for them to visualize what your solution can do for them.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the last stage of your sales pipeline or still moving prospects down the funnel.
There are some common elements each business proposal presentation needs to have in order to perform exceptionally.
In our usage data we see presentations with similar business proposal structures outperform the rest time and time again.
This structure follows 8 essential slides you'll do well to include in your business proposal presentation.
1. Title Page: includes basic information about you and your client along with the client’s logo and submission date.
2. Assessment or Project Overview: the section where you identify the problem and propose a solution.
3. Executive Summary: a shortened version of your proposal that summarizes your value proposition. For tips on how to write one, read our 101 guide.
4. Methodology: the how to your what and why. In this part, you should explain the methods you’ll use to deliver on your promises and include a list of deliverables with a projected timetable.
5. Pricing: a breakdown of your pricing options for different types of products and services.
6. Proof of Qualifications: a list of your achievements along with social proof: case studies, testimonials, certifications, industry awards, etc.
7. Team: an overview of the key people working on a given project.
8. Next Step: a call-to-action detailing the next step a prospect is supposed to take after viewing your business proposal presentation.
Feel free to use one of these templates with this structure already set up:
You may feel that the more information you include in your business proposal presentation, the higher your chances of sealing the deal are. But it’s the exact opposite.
The busier people get the narrower their attention spans. And the more data you serve your prospects, the less they retain.
Lengthy presentations are difficult to follow, so it’s easy for important insights to get lost along the way.
I’ve seen 200-page proposal decks that looked more like a book than a business presentation. It’s scary to look upon.
Remember this—your business proposal presentation is not your vanity project. It’s not supposed to be all about you and your business. Keep it about what only you can do for your prospects.
I can assure you that when faced with a bulky document, your prospects will either skim through it or not bother reading at all.
It’s more constructive to keep your presentation short and concise by including only the information most relevant to your prospect and with the biggest needed to finalize their decision to buy.
Complexity adds to cognitive load and any additional bit of information makes it harder to decide.
The best strategy for your business proposal would be to bring up only the most important aspects of your product or service that came up during the sales process. Don’t be tempted to add bonuses, they will drown your perceived value in noise.
You don’t have the time or attention to tell them everything. So tell them what really makes a difference.
Don’t get too technical
No matter how great the technology behind your solution is, I can assure you that most of your clients don’t care about the details. They care about the outcome your solution brings them, and what it’s going to cost them in time and money.
Sounds harsh? Sorry, but that’s the reality.
We don’t buy the latest iPhone because it has a pro 12MP camera system or a lens with a ƒ/1.8 aperture and 120° field of view. We buy it because we can take holiday photos for Instagram that will make Debra from HR green with envy.
Your customers are no different. They don’t need to have the same level of knowledge about your solution that you do. You will only confuse them by bombarding them with technical details.
Write in simple words and sentences
Busy people have short attention spans. The extent of the attention your proposal will likely get is similar to that of an 8th grader. If you know your solution inside and out, you should be able to explain it simply.
Practice answering these questions as if asked by an 8th grader:
What does your company do and what makes you best qualified for the job?
What are your customers’ main pain points?
What is your proposed solution and how are you going to tackle the prospect’s problems?
What is the project timeline?
How much will it cost the prospect?
What are the gains for a prospect by choosing to work with you?
Who are the main team members that are going to work on this project?
What relevant experience do you have?
Refine your unique value proposition
You are likely competing against other providers. Always remember that your ability to stand out is limited to your ability to deliver a simple and crisp value proposition. Simple is easy to understand and most importantly makes it easier to choose. Get simple, get chosen.
But there’s more! No matter what your business does, your biggest competitor is the status quo, where buyers choose to do nothing at all.
Seth Godin said in his seminal book This is Marketing that sales or marketing professionals are agents of change. But change takes time and effort. It’s easy for buyers to stick to what they have, even if it no longer serves them.
So when describing your product or service, don’t just focus on the benefits your clients are going to get. Instead, make a clear depiction of the loss they will incur by not getting on board and quantify for them the opportunity cost of doing nothing.
At this point in the buyer’s journey, your lead should already trust you. If they didn’t, they would not proceed beyond the demo. In most cases, they wouldn’t even book a demo.
So why add social proof again at this late stage?
Well, big expenses make most people’s knees shake. Even if the money is not their own, they will be judged by their procurement (your solution), its adoption, and the business impact it generates.
Even if you have the greatest business solution, you need to remind your buyer at this critical stage that you're credible, and that you have a robust history of bringing results for companies like theirs.
You need to have past clients vouch for you, to prove that it’s not your first rodeo and that your buyers can count on you to deliver.
Here are some examples of different types of social proof our clients used in their decks. First up, a classic client testimonial:
Then, we have a compilation of client logos along with the company's Capterra rating:
Yet another client used a mention in a reputable industry publication to legitimize their solution:
What social proof to use in your business proposal presentation?
If you’ve been in business for years, finding social-proof content shouldn’t be a problem. You can include quotes, video testimonials, and quantified results from past clients.
When adding any of these, use visual aids to give your social proof extra credibility, like the person’s image, company logo, and screenshots from real analytics dashboards.
If you won any industry awards or were listed in the Forbes’ Global 2000 ranking (don’t worry if you’re not quite there yet), now’s the time to flaunt it too.
If you’re a startup that is still making its way up, there are other things you can use as your social proof. For instance, you can list your employees’ professional certifications that make them qualified to drive clients to success.
You can also talk about the early adopters of your solution or any project you’ve worked on to date, along with the key metrics to measure your success.
Case studies are the dark horse of the business race. They’re the least used asset in B2B because of how work-intensive their production is. But, at the same time, case studies are the most effective type of marketing asset.
By not including a case study in your business proposal, you’re running the risk of potential clients finding out about your solution from other sources. Worst case scenario, those other sources are your competitors.
If you feature a case study, you’re in control of the narrative. You can basically have your clients sell for you by covering the main value propositions in their own words.
Here's an example of one our clients who included a client testimonial along with a link to the full case study:
It’s mostly true that people hate being sold to, but they love to buy.
Most buyers prefer to avoid meeting with salespeople and follow the self-serve route because they fear that salespeople will pressure or manipulate them into buying the wrong thing.
Sales are already losing big to self-service. A McKinsey survey from 2020 suggests that 70% of B2B buyers now look kindly on making self-serve buying decisions, even when considering solutions costing $500K and more.
But there is a way sales can always stay one step ahead of self-serve, and 10 steps ahead of the competition—shifting from being salesy to being consultative.
This means knowing the concerns and needs of your buyer and delivering the information they need to make an informed decision, even if it means (hope you're sitting down) not buying your product or solution because it’s not a good fit.
Positioning yourself in your business proposal presentation as a consultant means counterintuitively also helping your prospects understand that they should not buy from you.
Ironically making a successful business proposal deck means that to be successful, you must paint a full picture of your solution, with its real-world capabilities and limitations.
I know this may sound counterintuitive. But, we often think of product limitations as weaknesses but for the right prospect, they can actually be a strong suit that helps differentiate your solution in the market.
This approach was pioneered by Anthony Iannarino, and you can read more about How to be truly consultative on his website The Sales Blog.
Most guides teach you how to make a business proposal using PowerPoint presentations. But, having you make your proposal in PowerPoint is setting you up for failure.
Most guides lead you to PowerPoint because that’s the format most people use.
It’s precisely PowerPoint’s sheer obviousness and sameness that makes business proposal PPTs a bad idea for anyone that wants to stand out (which is everyone).
By sending your business proposal presentation in PPT format, you’re giving leads something they’ve seen 1000 times over.
PowerPoint is a 20-year-old technology and it feels that way. It’s static, boring, and generic, and everyone hates it. Hence the phrase “death by PowerPoint”.
With sales closing rates declining for the past 5 years in a row, it’s a major risk to cling to the old ways. A static, stale presentation with too much dead text can’t cut it anymore.
When we analyzed over 100,000 sales and marketing presentations, we discovered that giving prospects presentations that can only be read majorly kills engagement. The time for change is long gone, now it’s to adapt or die.
If you want to succeed and grow your win rate you’ll have to move up to dynamic interactive proposal decks. By giving readers interactive elements to “play around” with, you’re increasing the chances of your deck being read in full by 41% and the average reading time by 146%.
This is what static vs interactive looks like:
Web-based decks like Storydoc’s also let you track engagement, internal shares, and conversions. They let you automate prospecting and personalize at scale. And they make you look perfect on every device, which is crucial when a third of all decks are opened on mobile.
How to use Storydoc to create your best business proposal presentation to date:
Adjust the design to reflect your or your prospect’s branding in just a few clicks.
Add videos and dynamic storytelling content.
Personalize your business proposals for the specific buyer.
Integrate your sales tools into the deck, like Calendly or DocuSign.
Send the deck and see the data stream in.
Analyze your usage data to get deep insights into your sales process.
Optimize your decks based on what works and what doesn’t work for your prospects.
In this day and age, purely static content just won’t cut it anymore. If your slide contains walls of text, most people will skip it and move straight to the next part, or the next proposal.
If you break it down with visuals, you have a better chance of capturing your audience’s attention. Their eyes will naturally flick to the visuals first and, if they’re compelling enough, people will then read what you have to say.
Out of all visual aid types, videos are the most compelling. People get distracted very easily, so having a video that conveys the same message really helps keep them engaged.
Presentation statistics based on our extensive user data support the claim that video brings a positive impact —if you include a video in your cover slide, 32% more people will interact with your presentation.
The findings are even greater for other presentation sections.
By embedding *any* video in your presentation, you can increase the average reading time by 37% and increase the CTA click-through rate by 17%.
The best part is, that you’re going to reap these benefits even if your audience doesn’t actually open your video! Just having it embedded legitimizes your presentation in the eyes of your prospective clients!
Our Storydoc editor allows you to embed full-width videos or add them side-by-side with text for more context:
Including a clear call to action at the end of your business proposal presentation is crucial. As obvious as this must sound to some, many businesses fail to do this effectively.
By “effectively”, I mean having an immediately available action your buyer can take to seal the deal.
First of all, you need to kill the “thank you” slide. Yes, we all do that, but in fact, it’s the biggest waste of opportunity because it closes off communication between you and your prospects. There are more effective ways of getting buyers to convert.
Here's an example of a business proposal that's integrated with a calendar, making it easier than ever for your prospects to book the next meeting right away:
What's not an effective call to action?
A text that tells your buyer to give you a call
An email link for requesting the documents needed for signing
Or a phone number they need to dial.
An effective call to action can be:
Embedding a calendar to let prospects book the next meeting
The option to download key documents (e.g. an NDA or a contract)
Sending prospects to explore more details about your solution (e.g. try out your tool or look at examples from your portfolio)
Embedding a digital signature for buyers to sign directly in your deck
An embedded payment module for buyers to pay directly from your deck
If a prospective client reads the entire business proposal, they’re clearly interested in your value proposition. They may be ready to seal the deal.
The worst thing that can happen at this stage is if they don’t know how to proceed. It’s like building a supermarket without a checkout counter.
Out of all the deck usage data that we analyzed at Storydoc, we found that those that included a clear next step resulted in a 27% higher conversion rate, as opposed to those that closed with a simple “thank you” slide.
If you’re going to close your business proposal presentation with a contractual agreement, it makes sense to include a set of instructions for your prospect.
Are they supposed to provide extra documents? How can they contact you if they have any reservations about the legal agreement clauses? Lay out the needed information to mitigate the risk of taking the next step.
Visual design is the third most important component of your business proposal, after your content and delivery.
But what’s important about design is fairly simple.
How to nail your proposal deck design:
Use your prospect’s company brand colors (it communicates relevancy)
Use original visuals as much as possible (they communicate care, attention, and abundance of resources)
Keep your visuals high quality (pixelized images make you look cheap and unprofessional)
Use lots of white space around the text (increases readability and reduces mental load)
Do these and you’re in the safe zone.
You don’t have to work hard on your design. Simply use Storydoc. The editor takes care of most of it for you. You can add your website address and Storydoc will create a deck template with your logo and brand colors automatically.
Always study your prospect before drafting your business proposal presentation.
Business professionals can smell generic presentations from a mile away. Always personalize your business proposal presentations.
Don’t bombard your audience with too much information or technical jargon.
Always back up hard data with client testimonials and case studies.
Break up text with videos to keep your audience engaged.
Always make the next step clear to your audience.
Choose interactive decks to give prospective clients something they’ve never seen before.
Good luck with your business proposal presentation—go get those deals!
Try Storydoc for free for 14 days (keep your decks for ever!)