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There's no such thing as a second impression when you're presenting a proposal to a client. Make a good first impression using these tips.


Aug 1, 2001 12:00 PM,
Alan Kruglak

IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, PACKAGING IS ONE of the key tools used to attract a mate. In many species, certain body parts change both size and color. Peacocks show their feathers, elks grow large antlers, and let’s not even talk about baboon butts. Humans dress up and take on attractive qualities when they are seeking others. Any self-respecting animal knows that there is no such thing as a second impression, especially when it comes to ensuring the continuation of the species.

The power of packaging also applies to proposals. In the proposal process, packaging is your first impression and is crucial in the initial purchase decision. The review process may include numerous decision-makers. A small firm with limited resources presenting an impressively packaged proposal projects a strong image to decision-makers — an image that says that their capabilities are equal to those of their larger competitors.

Second, a properly packaged proposal boosts the client’s confidence. Anyone who’s ever received a shoddy, unorganized proposal thinks: “If their proposal looks like this, I can just imagine what their work is like.” Proper packaging was one of the reasons we achieved a close rate of more than 80%.


There are two basic rules governing the packaging of proposals. First, personalize your proposal as much as possible by inserting the client’s name throughout the document and placing their logo and/or picture of their facility on the front cover. The more you personalize your proposal, the more the prospect will think that you have invested time in researching their needs.

The second rule often gets bypassed in the attempt to include excessive detail: Make the proposal easy for the prospect to read. The easier it is to find the right information, the more the prospect will understand and have faith in your solution.


No one handed us these rules on a silver platter. We acquired them through experimentation and research in other industries. Using these rules as guidelines, we made the following changes to our proposals.

Enclose Proposals in 3-Ring Binders

We changed from spiral-spine binding to standard 3-ring binders with a clear-view front cover for all proposals over $20,000. The 3-ring binder is easy for both the sales rep to prepare and for the client to navigate. The clear-view front cover also made it easy for us to personalize each proposal with the client’s logo. The greatest benefit was the fact that our 3-ring proposal binder became a dominant part of the prospect’s limited desk space.

Use Pre-Printed Index Tabs

Pre-printed index tabs used to separate proposal sections greatly improved the ease of use for our prospects. To maximize flexibility, we used heavyweight tabs with pre-printed numbers, enabling us to address a broad range of proposal requirements and simplify the creation process.

Limit the Use of Color

The experts agree — the use of color printing is seven times more likely to catch the attention of the reader than basic black and white. We used color in limited, but strategic, areas such as the cover sheet, system block diagrams, project organization charts and the summary of client list.

Examine Text Size and Shape

No matter how compelling your message, the wrong font or pitch can make your package less appealing and possibly turn the prospect off entirely. Always make it easy for your prospect to read and digest the information. Type selection can help toward achieving this competitive advantage.


The vast majority of fonts can be separated into two classes: serif (with lines or strokes projecting from the main lines of each letter) and sans serif (without the extra lines and strokes).

This is an example of sans-serif text

Notice the crisp, clean form of the letters. Arial and Helvetica are basic, multipurpose sans-serif fonts.

This is an example of serif text

Notice the embellishments at the ends of the lines in these serif letters. Basic serif fonts include Palatino and Times Roman.

In general, sans-serif fonts should be used for headers, sub-headers and titles to the sections of the proposal. Serif text should be used for text contained in the body of the proposal.

Fonts are largely a matter of personal taste. You need to appeal to a broad range of prospects, so ask a few opinions before you commit to a company standard. And shy away from the stranger, more garish ones unless you are absolutely sure that they are key to your packaging or branding.


Type size (or pitch) is also important when trying to enhance readability for your prospects. Here are some general rules on pitch selection.

Headers: Pitch 18, Bolded. When bold, this size makes your sections stand out without overpowering the rest of your text.

This is pitch 18

Body of the Proposal: Pitch 12. Some people use pitch 10 for the main parts of their proposals, but it’s difficult for some people to read. Pitch size 12 is easier on the eyes, making it more likely that the proposal will get read.

This is pitch 12

Contract Text: Pitch 7. You can use small pitch in contract text.

This is pitch 7

There is nothing illegal or unethical about this approach. It’s commonly used in standard agreements, and everyone knows about “the fine print.”

Although we are always focused on the content of our proposals, it is shortsighted to ignore the power of packaging. Even the limitations of a less-than-perfect technical solution can be overcome with a well packaged, easy-to-read proposal. Just like animal species, we need to attract the right prospect to survive and grow. Without the right packaging and the best first impression, the road usually leads in one direction — extinction.

This article is an excerpt from Alan Kruglak’s book, The Entrepreneur’s Handbook, Lessons from the Battlefield. This book outlines the author’s growth of one of the most profitable low-voltage systems integration companies in the country. For more information,

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