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Every project manager wants to get started on the right foot, that’s a given. You want to understand exactly what you’re expected to deliver and then create a project plan for the team to accomplish it.

In order to do this, you need to know how to dissect sales documents. It’s a critical step in the project initiation phase of the project lifecycle that will help you gain the alignment you need with clients and your project team.

If you inherit a project and weren’t involved in scoping it, or if you scoped a new project but the client sent over the final contract for it, there is a high risk for things to get lost in translation. Reading through sales documents will eliminate ambiguity or give you cause to initiate follow up calls and gain clarity as you embark on your project journey.

The Importance Of Sales Documents

Why should you care about reading these types of documents?

  • You need to make sure the client’s version of the contract matches the details provided in your agency’s scope of project work or pitch document.
  • You weren’t involved in the scoping of the project so you need to make sure what you heard from your sales or account team matches what the contract outlines.
  • You don’t know much about the project so you’re using sales documents to piece together details and project deliverables.
  • You need to make sure there aren’t any “gotcha” requirements that weren’t accounted for in your firm’s pricing.
  • You should be able to demonstrate to your client that you understand the project parameters and will establish a plan to manage them.
  • It’s your job to mitigate project risks.

Every PM should have a healthy dose of skepticism. You should desire to root out any red flags and get ahead of them before it’s too late. So, as you are in the process of project planning and initiating your project, one of the very first things you should do is read through the sales documentation.  The documents typically include:

  • The client’s Request for Proposal (“RFP”)
  • Your agency’s proposal (sometimes called a pitch deck or sales proposal)
  • The final signed financial contract

If you can get access to all three of these documents, that’s ideal. If there is only one you must read, it’s the final contract — the one with the signatures on it. This document is legally binding and you should familiarize yourself with all the details contained in it.

Regardless of which document you are reading, you should scour them for the same details. These details: timing, financial, deliverable, or process guidance, will inform how you create a schedule, shape the product, manage your budget, or engage your key stakeholders.

RFPs and contracts can be very long and are often filled with technical or legal details that might not make much sense to you; this is okay. Focus and read the fine print and be on the lookout for keywords and phrases that matter to you: schedule, budget, timing, and logistics-related terms.

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What Questions Should I Be Asking?

As you read through the RFP, the pitch slides, and the contract details, here is a checklist of items you should account for. (More important questions to ask here!)

Budget Details

  • What is the approved budget amount?
  • What is the rate?
  • Is the budget segmented or allocated in any specific way by phase or deliverables (ex. redesign versus ongoing post-launch support)?
  • How many job codes do you need to set up (ex. Redesign, support etc.)?
  • Are there pass-through costs?
  • Is there a deposit or initial down payment?
  • Is there a PO or contract number to be aware of?
  • What are the billing details?
    • Is this fixed fee or time and materials (or some other billing arrangement)?
    • Who needs to receive the invoice?
      • What are their contact details?
    • How does the invoice need to be delivered (email, hard copy, etc.)?
    • What are the payment terms?
    • Are there specific notes the client requires on the invoice?

Schedule Details

  • Is there a start date or delivery date outlined anywhere in the document?
  • Does the document make assumptions about the phases or milestones of the project and when they should be completed?
  • Are there timeline drivers listed (ex. project must launch ahead of the start of the academic school year)?
  • Are there any penalties or considerations for not meeting scheduled milestones?


  • Is there a list of mandatory features?
  • What does the scope say about what is part of the project and what needs to be included in the final website?
  • Is it assumed you will leverage code or assets from another project or build something a certain way?
  • Are there any set expectations or project objectives listed for how the project will function or look?
  • Does the project need to integrate with any other service or platform?
  • Are there accessibility or security compliance expectations listed?
  • Are there features or requirements in there that you’re not confident your team members can deliver against?


  • Are there assumptions on team dynamics or decision makers?
  • Does the scope say anything about using in-house resources for production?
  • Is it assumed you will use certain project management software or other project management tools to collaborate?
  • Are there special reviews or approvals that need to be included in your roadmap (ex. City Council review, legal or regulatory review process, Board of Directors approval, executive sponsor review, etc.)?
    • How long might these reviews take?
    • Are there any submission guidelines provided or do you need to follow up to obtain those?
  • Are there any dependencies on your end or the client’s end that need to be accounted for?
  • Are there any other outside vendors listed that you may need to interact with?

One important note is that there may have been a number of negotiations during the sales cycle that may make the RFP or pitch deck outdated by the time the final budget and contract is agreed to.

Please coordinate with your sales or account team to identify what document is the most current. When in doubt, always default to the paper with signatures and dates on it.

What’s Next?

If you haven’t already established a relationship with your sales or account team, use this document review process as a way to get in the door and more involved in the sales process. For more motivation, read Galen Low’s blog on why proposals are important and how you can get involved in developing them!

Project managers having a good handle on financial documents will serve not only you but the entire team in the project planning phase. Roll up your sleeves, read the fine print and get all the details you need to proceed with confidence!

Sally Shaughnessy
By Sally Shaughnessy

Sally Shaughnessy has been a Project Manager since the early 2000s with both global ad agencies and smaller startups. She is a Director of Production for New York-based marketing agency Code and Theory. Code and Theory lives at the intersection of creative and technology to build immersive experiences for the world’s biggest brands. Sally thrives on helping makers do what they do best and mentoring other PMs to excel in the world of client service.