“I suck at art.”

Every Salesperson Ever

We at PandaDoc, are (frankly) tired of hearing this lame excuse as to why salespeople are sending out ugly sales documents.

So, we decided to give you a crash course in design to make you look and feel your best during the sales process.

Take a look at the two event proposals below.

Do you know why the one on the right is more appealing?

Sample Template & PandaDoc

If you were thinking it’s because that one has a nicer background photo and less text, then you are correct.


Just kidding. You’re only sort of right, and here’s why:

The proposal on the right looks nicer because it employs effective visual hierarchy, design unity, and contrast dominance.

Don’t be too intimated by these fancy terms. We’re going to teach you about these design principles and how your sales team can apply them to close more deals.

Grab your sketch pads and paintbrushes, because we’re getting artsy-fartsy up in here!

Visual hierarchy FTW!

According to InVision, visual hierarchy is the way we rank design items. Typically, in web design we want to stack the most important things highest, drawing attention to what we deem is important for the audience. This seems pretty self-explanatory, right?

Well, let’s show you examples of good visual hierarchy vs. bad visual hierarchy.

Lisa Furze

In the above image, the content on the left has a strong contrast between headings, subheadings, and body text. The author uses font size, weight, and spacing to make the copy as clear and straightforward as possible.

Whereas on the right, everything chunks together into one section.

Visual hierarchy brings focus to the larger, more relevant content. By assigning these characteristics to different sections, you are influencing what the customer will look at first and last.

Hierarchical patterns AKA how humans process stuff

You’re pretty smart — so we know you’re starting to get the concept. But, just in case you want to check out visual hierarchy for yourself, grab your copy of our most downloaded template from the PandaDoc website.

Inside this template, you’ll see how we use different patterns to make our content pleasing. Take a look below at how your sales team can push deliverables across the finish line with these patterns.

The Z Pattern – used on pages with less-dense content (cover pages, product pages, etc.). This pattern prioritizes information based on how most of us scan pages from the top left to the top right, then glance diagonally down. This design pattern is super effective when simplicity is a priority, and the main takeaway is a call to action.

The F Pattern — used on pages with heavy body copy that need attention drawn to a call to action. Many languages have trained readers to start at the top-left corner, scan horizontally, then drop down and repeat until we find something of interest. It’s a familiar, comfortable layout that designers can use to set the reader’s expectations quickly.

United We Salespeople Design

Salespeople know that in order to tell a good story they have to be consistent.

Well, the same goes for designers.

Sales documents that ask their audiences for money, must instill consistency through visual unity.

Visual Unity is the satisfying effect of combining similar or related items. This design principle is important for salespeople because grouping together complex content builds trust and delights the customer with cognitive harmony (AKA makes everything looks nice and neat).

Let’s take a look at another side-by-side comparison.

DIYCentral & PandaDoc

In this example, we are examining two executive summaries that outline and highlight the project parameters.

The template on the left uses bullets and bold font to draw attention but struggles to stimulate the viewer with enough tonal harmony or repetitive proximity. This sales document is asking the customer’s brain to do too much work.

The PandaDoc template on the right effectively uses repetition, proximity, and alignment to help customers identify the start and stop of each section they care about without overwhelming the customers’ brain to take it all in at once. The sections are neatly labeled and make it easy to scan and grab highlights.

Show me the money, with a little contrast!

In a sales proposal, the most important section is the billing estimate page. Customers want to know how much they are going to have to cough up. So, the objective here is to keep it readable, legible, and accessible.

Billing pages don’t need to be flashy, but leveraging contrast is an important design element to clearly identify differences between elements.

Here is the last side-by-side example we’ll use to drive home the point.

Freelancermap & PandaDoc

On the left, the billing statement uses two lines and a numbering sequence to try and organize costs. But, the amounts are squished together so it is more difficult for the customer to separate out individual costs, quantities, and subtotals.

On the right, the PandaDoc template uses a dialed-down grey contrast to break up the different line items. Additionally, the titles and descriptions are reduced to just 2-3 words, which creates contrast dominance. Now the page has plenty of white space to call attention to an embedded electronic payment option at the bottom.

If all else fails, just think about the layout

As a salesperson, your job isn’t to meticulously design every single document your organization uses. Your job is to close deals and meet revenue quotas.

But, just because you’re focused on the $$$, doesn’t mean you can’t talk shop with marketers and designers to wow your customers with polished sales documents.

With these design principles, you can now look at a document’s layout and discern effective or ineffective use of visual hierarchy, design unity, and contrast dominance.

At the end of the day, if you take away nothing at all from this article, just remember one thing:

Sales documents can be pretty too.

Here are three things to consider requesting in your designs for future sales documents:

  1. Optimize page structure into patterns that garner better responses based on the content you’re including. If it calls for it, use the F pattern or Z pattern.
  2. Don’t make our customers work harder than they need to. Space out sections nicely by shape and color so the human brain can be at ease while taking it all in.
  3. Billing pages should contain subtle contrast and white space. This will make them as simple and straightforward as possible while creating visual dominance on the CTAs you want to draw attention to.