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The Proposal that Sells Itself

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Even the best sales people can’t get to every decision maker. But your proposal can. Do a check up on your proposal format. Does it convince a sign-off authority to sign the purchase requisition and place an order, especially if you can’t be there?

After reviewing literally hundreds of “standard” proposal formats sent out by a large variety of big and small companies, it’s not surprising why so many sales teams have a hockeystick quarter end. From my perspective, most proposals are little more than a price quote.

I’m talking about the “proposal” that has a nice cover letter thanking the prospect for the opportunity and an overview about how this vendor is the leader in their field. This is followed by a price quote and overly generous discount with a time expiration coincidentally connected to the end of the quarter. Then some sort of terms/conditions agreement, license agreement, services SOW, and so forth.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. You have a list of questions you need to have answered before you sign off on the proposal… maybe something like this:

  •         Why do we need this solution? (What business issues is the customer facing and what are the underlying problems that are not currently being addressed by the existing solution?)
  •         Is this vendor the best alternative? (Can we do it ourselves, or is there another vender with similar capabilities at a lower price? Or, what makes this vendor special?)
  •         Do we need to act now? (Versus other alternative uses of the funds or especially with other more pressing issues?)
  •         What’s the potential savings or reward for making this change? (ROI? Competitive advantage? Lower cost of ownership? Or, what disappointing metric will this help us to overcome? Etc…)
  •         Who will this solution benefit? (Are there other parts of the organization that could chip in? If we broaden the purchase could we save/earn even more?)
  •         Can we trust this vendor? (Will it work? Can they support us? What’s their track record look like? Did you try it out? Do others that we respect us it?)

The question is does your proposal help them answer these questions and make a decision? Worse, the first question they ponder that doesn’t get answered gives them the excuse to push back and ask the sponsor to do their homework.

I know what you might be thinking; these questions should have been answered during the discovery and evaluation process. I’d agree, but often times they are not, and even if they are, that doesn’t guarantee the final decision maker was involved in the transfer of this information. That means the seller would have to depend upon their inside champion to articulate the answers to these questions, but we all know hope is not a strategy! Your next thought might be, “the proposal should be delivered to the decision maker by the seller so all of these questions can be answered directly”. Again, I agree, but unfortunately, not the case most of the time.

If you’re sucking wind through your teeth thinking about your proposal format,  I recommend a set of simple changes.

The easiest and most effective way to address your current proposal format in this light is to structure the cover letter to address these questions. I recommend a format for the letter that includes:

  •         The business issues uncovered during discovery. (A quick review of their latest earnings statement or recent press releases can provide some insight if you missed this step during your discovery process.)
  •         The underlying people, process, or technology challenges that are currently impeding the business issue. Word these with problem oriented adjectives: difficulty with, challenged by, or lacking. i.e., “Difficulty with multiple manual processes that are error prone.”
  •         The impact of not taking action. Sizing the cost of, or lost opportunity for each challenge and the associated business issue. Or, identify the current state of the metric they care about, and the potential. i.e., “The goal is to reduce costs by 15%, but it currently stands at a 5% reduction.”
  •         Connecting your unique capabilities to actual challenges the prospect has acknowledged. The only way they can determine if you are the best alternative is to identify challenges they care about that can’t be solved by others as well as you can solve them.
  •         Identifying the stakeholders you have included in your analysis to allow them to confirm the organizational opportunity.
  •         Specific usage example, citing another similar but respected company with similar business issues, similar challenges, and actual accrued results. (This structure of success story is often shortened to simple name dropping, prompting the buyer to take a small pilot step first.)

As the sales leader, I also recommend that you inspect every proposal for this structure. Your inspection will underscore your commitment to making this a discipline, and if your sales people can supply the information for all of these components, they will have undoubtedly conducted a more thorough discovery process. You kill two birds with one stone.

You should see a decrease in stalled decisions or no decisions, a measurable increase in your win rate, and interestingly, a smoothing of your hockeystick. After all, if the prospect’s decision maker has all of their questions answered, and it’s a compelling proposition, there’s no need to sit on the proposal until the end of quarter.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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