Any individual who owns or manages a small marketing agency will know that the process of crafting a proposal to a potential client is a task that can be perfected—and, even better, easily duplicated. Although mastering the entirety of agency sales takes practice and experience, understanding how to properly articulate the value you will bring to a potential client in a written proposal is something that can be templatized and adjusted to fit each new prospect’s specific needs.
Having an organized format for writing proposals will help you get right to the point and effectively convey the value you are offering so that you can create proposals to win new business without reinventing the wheel. In this post, I will walk you through my step-by-step process for writing client proposals in order to give you a template for organizing your thoughts.
One clear distinction I want to make is that I am not combining the drafting of both a proposal and a contract together. I consider the proposal to be a statement of work in addition to an outline of strategy and how you are planning to achieve the client’s objectives. The contract aspect of this process comes after the proposal is accepted and pertains to the legal details regarding compensation, non-competition, and other details agreed upon in the proposal. The proposal, on the other hand, should act as an extension of your sales process.
Step #1: Get the information you need to draft the proposal
Regardless of the prospect’s source (referral, inbound, etc.), you should have an introductory phone call to better acquaint yourself with them and understand what they are looking to achieve from paid advertising prior to drafting a proposal.
Here is a list of what kinds of information you should gather from an introductory phone call or meeting:
Overall goal: This may seem like common sense, but there are tons of folks out there who want to run paid marketing programs without a clearly defined goal. I try to ask this question in a number of ways in order to really get to what the prospect is looking for. Having a clear understanding between you and the prospect about what they want will help you manage expectations as well as define goals and benchmarks with them down the road. This can also help you disqualify potentially risky clients.
Potential budget: This is a massive factor for anyone in the agency space, as a client’s ability to spend money on ads also dictates their ability to pay you. You will want to understand how much they are willing to spend on ads and whether that figure is scalable over time. Some agencies have fixed pricing models, whereas many independent contractors will be flexible in their pricing. Either way, this is an opportunity to gauge the prospect’s long-term potential.
Industry: When I conduct introductory phone calls with prospects, I take into consideration what type of industry they are operating within. This plays a huge factor in which channels I will decide to build my strategy on as well as the level of difficulty the audience will be to market to. Some prospects may want to spend thousands of dollars per month, but if the niche they’re attempting to advertise to has limited or ambiguous search queries or characteristics that aren’t easily identifiable within paid social, then the project is going to be much more difficult and have a lower probability of success. This should also pertain to the prospect’s offer—what they plan to promote via paid channels. If the offer has a complicated conversion path or high level of friction, this may cause issues down the road for you.
Marketing operations support: Personally, I like to gather insight into the sophistication of their marketing operations. This includes everything from web development, automation, lead scoring, and inevitably how many members they have on the team. Having an efficient system that nurtures and funnels leads appropriately is important to me when determining the scalability and general “health” of a prospect. What I mean by “health” is whether systems are put in place that allow me to succeed with them. Many of these can be put together over time, but I typically want some type of structure to be in place before I get started. Additional details in this regard are design and landing page support, as well as access to analytics.
Sales support: For many B2B prospects, the product or service that they offer inevitably has to be sold by an account representative or someone internally via a phone call or meeting. Understanding the prospect’s sales cycle, sales funnel, and whether they have business development or sales associates is very important in regards to prospect quality. A strong sales team is your best friend.
Step #2: Keep your account audit separate
After you feel as though you have gathered enough information, you can let the prospect know that you will put together a proposal and strategy together for them. In some instances, you may get access to pre-existing accounts to audit them. I would suggest keeping your account audit and proposal separate from each other. Having them together may result in information overload for the prospect. Have your audit separate with concise notes, takeaways, and solutions. Use the primary courses of action from the audit and integrate it within your proposal.
Drafting the proposal
Once you’ve gathered all the information you need for a prospect, including performing an account audit if that’s the case, you’re ready to start drafting your proposal.
Step #3: Set the main objectives
To start my proposals, I begin with a section that outlines the primary objectives that the prospect and myself are looking to achieve. I will typically include three overarching objectives for this section with short and long-term cadences. For example:
This section acts as somewhat of a summary of my strategy that will be included in more detail in the subsequent parts of the proposal. These objectives are the end result of my determination on what the general strategy will be and how the clients goals will be achieved. I will include short and long-term objectives in this section as success over time will provide more opportunities.
Step #4: Outline the project scope and key tasks
In this section, I break down the details of my strategy into their respective parts. There are several steps to getting a prospect started with paid advertising that need to be addressed early on. These include: account/channel access, account build-out and structure, tracking for conversions, as well as tracking for the purpose of creating remarketing audiences. Outside of these tasks, I will include more information on what we plan to do after the initial setup. This will include targeting strategies, promotional strategies, and the baseline costs. I will go into detail about how I plan to pace the proposed budget number and what that will entail.
In some cases, additional keyword research or other documents may be linked within here to give more transparency on the details of the strategy. I also make it clear how performance will be reported and the cadence of check-in meetings. Overall, the structure of this section appears similar to this:
Step #5: List the requirements
The third section that I separate from the project scope and tasks is what I call the “requirements” section. This page includes all of the access and additional reports or support (design, etc.) that I will need from the client. This makes it clear what the client has to do in order for us to begin working together. This section is important because being straightforward about what you will need access to and why will prevent many future headaches you may face.
I generally include three major requirements in this section:
This ensures that I have the tools I need in order to set up conversion tracking and place any pixels necessary. With Google Analytics access, this allows me to create goals related directly to the channel-specific conversions and, therefore, have an additional layer data and truth in my reporting.
Step #6: Define the timeline
In some instances, I will include a section that outlines the timeline of events in order to launch proposed campaigns. This, again, allows the client to understand what needs to be done on both of our ends in order to get everything kicked off. Many prospects that you will connect with are very eager and (sometimes impatient) to get started. This section makes it clear what needs to be done, when it will be done, and when everything will be launched.
Step #7: Discuss the pricing
This section is dedicated solely to how the client will be charged, including an explanation of your rate and when you send invoices. It’s important to place this section towards the end of your proposal because you want to show the prospect all of the value you have to offer them prior to the quote, thus justifying the cost of your services. You provide more detail by adding multiple layers of services and what they cost respectively. In my experience, the more transparent the better. I typically organize this section as a table:
Step #8: Follow up
After you complete your proposal and send it over to the prospective client, it’s critical to have a plan to follow up with the individual or team. I suggest setting up a call or meeting to go over the proposal with them and answer any questions they may have about it. Sending them the proposal in written form and then going over it with them in person is much better than doing one or the other in my opinion. My reasoning for this is that it allows the prospect to read your proposal and digest the information on their own. With time in between the proposal being sent and your follow-up call, they have time to think about what they have read. Once you have the call with them and review it together, you can alleviate any apprehensions they may have or explain things a little better for them.
This may seem contrary to some sales beliefs about limiting time. Many would advise you to present the proposal in person all at once. I’m against this strategy for the primary reason that these proposals typically have a great deal of information in them. I want the prospect to know exactly what they’re getting into and what the engagement will entail. Putting pressure on a prospect to make a decision on a phone call or in a meeting doesn’t benefit either party in the long run. I want the proposal to sell itself and then offer to provide any clarity afterwards.