Why You Should Never Email a Proposal to a Client (and What to Do Instead)

A client emails you and says “Send me a proposal on X, please.” Before you do the happy dance, there are some things you need to think about to create a winning proposal.

Creating proposals can be hard work. You sit down to create the proposal and you begin to wonder…

  • What to put in the proposal?
  • What to take out of the proposal?
  • How should I price my offer?
  • How many options should I include?

You find yourself exhausted and second-guessing the value you can bring to the table for your client. But, you persevere and hit “send” anyway.

Then, you check your inbox.

Nope, no response.

The follow-up progress begins… You send one email. And then another.

And another.

You begin to wonder how many emails you can send before you are officially labeled as a stalker.

Sometimes you get a response, and sometimes you don’t. Why? What went wrong? They asked for the proposal, so why are they not responding?

We all experience this.

Years ago, our founder was speaking on stage at the largest international e-learning conference. Her presentation was going really, really well. You know when you can feel that what you’re saying is clicking? The audience was laughing and asking questions.

After the session, we had a line of people waiting to talk to us. Each person handed us their business card and said something like, “Hey, this is just what we need. We want to bring your company in to work with our team.”

Every time someone handed us a card, we felt like we were on the Oprah show winning a free car.

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One of those leads in particular asked us, “Hey, I need to put 15 of my people through this. Can you send me a proposal ASAP?”

When we got back to the office, our team prioritized getting that proposal out. A drive-thru order for an on-site workshop for 15 is pretty much guaranteed, right?

We sent off a ton of proposals that day. We emailed all the prospects repeatedly to follow up. We sent carrier pigeons.

Nothing happened.

Not ONE of those leads at the conference that were so excited to work with us said “yes” to our proposals. Most of them didn’t even reply to our repeated follow up.

And you know why?

Because we NEVER should have emailed out a single proposal in the first place.

Anytime a company just wants to place an order for a proposal without investing a few minutes on the phone with you, it’s a big ol’ red flag. It is likely they are just trying to get your pricing information, which means they are ‘shopping’ options.

Getting on the phone or meeting in person helps you figure out what you need to know so you can put together a winning solution.

You need to figure out:

  • What is the problem they have?
  • How can you help them solve it?
  • Is it a good fit?
  • What is the value of solving that problem?

So what happens when you do get on the phone with them? This is what we call a “Discovery Conversation.”

Let’s walk through it…

4 Critical Elements of a Discovery Call

There are really four things that you need to have in your conversation before you can write a proposal.

1. Why?

The first thing you’re doing in your conversation with the potential client is exploring why they need your help.

  • Why are they talking to you?
  • What is it that they’re working on?
  • What is the gap they are trying to bridge?

You’re trying to get a sense of what the driver for the client is. You will reference all of this in your proposal.

2. What is the Gap?

Your prospect is “here” and they want to get “there.”

You have to define the gap so you can define the value of solving the problem they are dealing with.

The gap will also be clearly called out and addressed in your proposal.

3. How Can You Help?

What are the different ways that your prospect can work with you?

Do you have varying levels of support?

When you’re leading this discovery process, you can ask questions to determine the level of support your clients prefer. Your proposed offers are all solutions for how you will bridge the gap in your work together.

4. What are the Next Steps?

The fourth focus you’re covering in the discovery process is next steps.

How are you going to instill urgency for your client to take action?

What is the next step you want them to take?


Here is one BIG thing I want to emphasize: Your proposal is not a pitch. Your proposal is not how you sell. Instead, it is an affirmation of everything you have talked about in the discovery call.

When you lead the discovery meeting the right way, you define what needs to be included in your proposal.

The next time you have a prospect who wants to place their drive-thru order for your services via email, take a deep breath and pause. Get them on the phone or schedule the meeting. If they are not willing to spend 30 minutes with you, then it is not likely they are not willing to invest the time to do the deep dive work with you, either.

What will you add to your discovery approach? I would love to hear about your experiences with leading Discovery Calls. Share them in the comments below!

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