Win more proposals: 5 best online business proposal systems

Posted by Rob Kendal on 11-Feb-2016 19:49:28

At some point towards the end of the sales process it comes time to put down on paper what you and your prospective client have been discussing about which services they require, how the project's going to pan out, and the costs involved. This is where a business proposal comes into play.

There are some great ways to improve your proposal process to help you win more proposals, but even with the best written proposals in the world, you can still plough hours of work into each one as each client requires something different.  Simply keeping up with generating new proposals, keeping track of amendments and chasing sign-off can feel like a part time job in itself.

Fortunately there is a better way: online proposal systems. In this article we're going to take a look at our five best business proposal systems and how you can use them to win more proposals and streamline your processes.


Cover image for article on how to win more proposals with online business proposal systems

How our proposal process evolved

We used to write proposals like everybody else, like every business tends to do in the beginning: we had a nice Word document template with some brand colours and logos in. Each time we wanted to write a new proposal or contract, we'd fire up MS Word (or Google Docs), make a copy, write up the client / project specific bits and send it over to the client. 

We quickly found several problems in doing it this way, namely:

  • The entire proposal process was very labour intensive, with us having to craft them virtually from scratch each time;
  • Where we could reuse bits of content, these had to be harvested from other documents after a lengthy search through the most recent / relevant proposals;
  • Keeping track of any amendments or discussions from both sides of the table meant more tedious admin to update, resend, repeat;
  • The sign off part was quite manual and disjointed, usually involving clients physically printing and signing the paper, then scanning and emailing a photo over to us.

Of course, we had a few other issues with our proposals that meant we had a relatively low acceptance rate. Fortunately we learned some tough lessons early on about how to improve our proposals and saw our acceptance rate almost double from around 50% to over 80%, just by introducing some simple changes.

Although a better win rate was definitely welcome, we were still churning out proposals in the same, labour intensive fashion and needed to make the whole thing more efficient.

Time to go digital with online business proposal systems

Most other things we did were in digital form, from our Google Drive content library to our actual marketing services, so it made sense to turn to the Internet to find a solution. And these days there are a ton of solutions to just about any business problem you might have, including quotes, estimates, contracts, and proposals.

By switching your older, manual proposal processes to an online system you will save time, money, and just make the entire way of creating and dealing with proposals more efficient, and - dare I say it - fun! 

Your clients will appreciate the slick new way of doing things as it makes things nice and easy for them (less friction means happier customers!), and you'll save bags of time that you can use to do more important core business activities.

Our five best business proposal systems

We took out some trials and tried a bunch of quoting and proposal systems and found one that worked best for us, but along the way we did like some of the others on the market. That's what you'll find in the following list of our five best business proposal systems.

We don't have any affiliation with any of these products, rather the list is based on a variety of factors from available features, to pricing, to integrations with other business systems you might use (an accounting platform, or particular CRM, for example).

1. Quote Roller

Screen shot of Quote Roller proposal system

Quote Roller is now part of the PandaDoc system. Their offering is a comprehensive online system that allows you to quickly build a client document, add in personalisation tokens for elements such as client name, or company details, send the document to specific stakeholders, and take care of any discussions, amendments, and sign offs in one place, right there on your dashboard.

We eventually settled on Quote Roller as our system of choice as we preferred the combination of user interface, features and what the platform plugged into that we were already using (like our CRM). Although the price isn't the cheapest by far, the fact that we're a smaller team means that we are fine with a single user licence so it actually works out very competitive. 

That, plus the integration points with our accounting and CRM systems meant that our productivity has been boosted even further.

Features

The Quote Roller / PandaDoc system really shines in its extensive content library system. We use it to build up a collection of frequently used bits of content (hosting information is a good example) that can be used for multiple clients. Then, once we start a new proposal, we can quickly drag and drop these common parts into place to make a pretty comprehensive document in no time flat.

By being able to fully customise both an online version and download PDF for clients, and build up a set of reusable proposal templates, we've been able to speed up our proposal process from over 3 hours down to just 30 minutes for an average proposal.

The added bonus is the analytics that are on offer. You can see how many times a client has viewed a document, which parts they viewed the most and for how long, and any discussion points they may raise along the way. By being able to see such insights, you are given great ability to improve on future proposals, highlight any weak spots, and see what's working well.

Another feature that sets Quote Roller apart is the ability to put your documents into workflows, automating some tasks and easing collaboration between your teams and departments.

How much does it cost

Like most modern web-based tools, Quote Roller features a tiered approach to their pricing. So, you can start from as little as $19 (£13) per month for smaller businesses, all the way up to $49 (£34) for larger, enterprise businesses

Finding out more

You can find out more about Quote Roller from the following links:


2. Bidsketch

Screen shot of Bidsketch proposal system

Bidsketch is a great bit of web software. It offers some common digital proposal features, such as e-signatures, a content library for building up reusable content blocks, and some lighter analytics and tracking features to help your sales team. 

Features

Many of the features you might expect of online proposal systems, as mentioned above, are present in Bidsketch. However, it does provide some great extras as part of its offering too.

If you're struggling to find a good starting point for a particular proposal or contract type, then Bidsketch houses an extensive library of document templates for lots of common business sectors from marketing to insurance.

It also offers an impressive collection of integrations. For example, if you use Basecamp for your project management, then you can pair up your Basecamp account with Bidsketch, syncing client lists and adding proposals into Basecamp projects.

Finally, as part of their standard package, you can use your own domain for hosting your landing pages and proposals. This really helps maintain trust between you and your clients by taking them to their own proposal on your domain (e.g. documents.mydomain.co.uk).

How much does it cost

Another tiered offering, Bidsketch has a range of plans from the less advertised 'starter plan' which, like Quote Roller, is $19 (£13) per month, to the 'Freelancer' plan at $29 (£20), right up to $149 (£100) for large enterprises.

A good thing to mention about Bidsketch is that if you're a charity or want to write a solid review of the product, you can use it for free!

Finding out more

You can find out more about Bidsketch from the following links:

3. Osmosis

Screen shot of Osmosis proposal system

Osmosis might look a bit grey on the surface, but the gloomy exterior belies a really powerful system that offers some great features.

It does have a more restrictive feature set at its entry level pricing option, but it has a tiny cost, starter plan at just £6!

Features

Osmosis, like it's peers, offers a solid base of features that will help deliver great results to your proposal process:

  • Customisable branding and designs
  • Online signature capture
  • Analytical dashboards to see how your clients are interacting with your documents
  • and integrations with popular business apps such as Basecamp, Freshbooks, and Trello

Where Osmosis differs, however, is in two crucial areas, namely its API and questionnaire creating system.

An API (application program interface) is basically an exposed set of functions in a third party piece of software that can be called from your own programs and software to perform particular tasks. As far as Osmosis is concerned,  this means that if you require some really advanced customisation and integration points, your development team can access various elements of the Osmosis platform and seamlessly weave it into your own.

With the questionnaire side of things, Osmosis allows you to craft online forms and surveys that you can send to your clients, host on your website, or use to gather some information you need as part of the proposal process.

For example, we often use a project scoping form to learn a bit more about our prospective client projects before we arrange an initial discovery meeting. This could be created in Osmosis and emailed out directly from there as well as the answers tracked right in the system.

These two powerful options really set Osmosis apart from the competition.

How much does it cost

Whilst Osmosis does offer a 'Hobbyist' plan at $9 (£6), it's almost not worth it for the limited feature set. The regular pricing, however, starts out at a familiar $19 (£13) for their 'Studio' plan, right up to $99 (£68) for their 'Agency' plan. 

What's nice about the Osmosis system is that their different software tiers are much more generous with the number of users that can access the system. For example, their 'Team' plan allows 5 users compared to Quote Roller's 1 user at their comparable tier.

Finding out more

You can find out more about Quote Roller from the following links:

4. Proposify

Screen shot of Proposify proposal system

Proposify is a very slick, modern approach to proposals and contract writing. It offers some great looking document templates, professional design starters, and really allows you to create a spectacular online masterpiece to wow your clients as well as get down to business.

Proposify can work for any business, but it is focussed more at the creative and digital marketing agency side of the tracks.

Features

Again, you won't find anything missing from the list of essentials when you're looking at Proposify. It's all there from online editing, e-signatures, in-depth analytics, and integrations with popular applications.

Inside the system you'll find a wealth of pre-written proposals from a range of business common agency areas, such as WordPress development, SEO audits, UX design, or marketing retainers. 

Where Proposify really adds something new and exciting though is in the design and editing side of things. They provide a plethora of beautifully designed themes to kick off your documents. This, bundled with truly WYSIWYG editing capabilities, which are different from the more controlled interfaces from similar software, and mobile-friendly end results means that you'll be offering your clients a really engaging proposal that hits the right spots business-wise, but sets you apart from your competitors. 

How much does it cost

I quite like the little nod to Starbucks that Proposify make with their pricing options. They start with their 'Tall' plan for $25 (£17) per month for 1 user, all the way up to $100 (£69) per month for their uber, 'Venti' plan. 

Proposify is a class act all the way. It sets out a strong feature set and easy to use interface, but they have the most restrictive features per pricing level of our round up here. Not a deal-breaker, but something to bear in mind when weighing things up.

Finding out more

You can find out more about Quote Roller from the following links:

5. NiftyQuoter

Screen shot of NiftyQuoter proposal system

NiftyQuoter feels like a quoting system for grown ups. It has a very polished, likeable interface, and provides some great features. 

It offers a lot more detail in several aspects, such as its analytical dashboards, than some of its rivals, and although it offers a more traditional document approach to the proposal creation side of things, you still have heaps of control over the design and content. 

Additionally, it is less restrictive in some aspects, such as the number of active proposals and users per account, than the others in this article.

Features

There are a number of extra bells and whistles that make NiftyQuoter a great choice and more than worthy to make our top 5. 

Firstly, the system offers translation options for client-side text (the interface and buttons, for example) that can be customised to your preference, or translated into other languages. 

Most of the other systems offer customisable tokens, whereby you can enter something like '[CLIENT NAME]' and have it replaced with something meaningful, like 'Claire Jones'. NiftyQuoter takes this idea one step further by allowing you to add your own tokens to replace with your own company / project / client specific data later on.

The most nifty feature (see what we did there?!), however, is the rejection reasons. Yes, in an ideal world none of your proposals will be rejected, but the reality is that some will be. What would  be nice though is knowing the motivations behind the rejections.

By allowing clients to offer reasons why your services were not for them on this occasion, you'll be able to make improvements for next time and keep your winning streak on the up and up.

How much does it cost

NiftyQuoter follows a familiar 3-tier approach to costs, aiming at freelancers, smaller teams, and businesses, pricing their system at $19 (£13), $39 (£27), and $89 (£61) per month respectively. 

Finding out more

You can find out more about Quote Roller from the following links:

Other notable mentions

Other systems of note include 

TinderBox - http://gettinderbox.com/

Screen shot of Tinderbox proposal system

TinderBox is a bit more of a sales department Swiss Army knife and offers the ability to create sales proposals, contracts and presentations all in one go.

It integrates with the popular Salesforce CRM and some e-signature solutions to tie the loose ends of the process together.

 

SNAP Quotes - http://www.snap-quotes.com/

Screen shot of SNAP Quotes proposal system

SNAP Quotes is a simple and straightforward system. It offers a more basic level experience, but features all the important bits you need. 

It's a solid, low-cost option for start-ups and smaller businesses, is regularly updated, and operates on a 30 day rolling contract; no long term tie ins is often a good choice for people wanting to trial something for an extended period without the bigger commitment.

 


Try some demos, find out what works for you

As you can see, these best-of-breed systems all start their offerings at the $19 (£13) mark per month, which is almost a no-brainer choice when you consider how much time and energy you'll save by taking your proposal process online, centralising the creation and administration side of things.

A hand stamping a proposal to be replaced by an online business proposal systemThe big factor is choosing the best system for your business. Like a lot of decisions, this one will be largely subjective and personal to you, your business, and your situation.

It's important to remember why you're looking into these systems though, and that's primarily to streamline things, improve the efficiency of the whole process, save you time / money, and ultimately to help you win more proposals.

If you choose the cheapest option, but hate the interface, or struggle to make the best of it, then you won't have actually achieved too much. 

Try to find the system that skirts the balance between cost and features and which one you just plain like the look and feel of.

Do you have any experience of online business proposal systems? Let us know in the comments if you have a preferred system and what you like about it.



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Topics: Guides & Infographics

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
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