Sales Tips: Proposals - Activity or Progress?
By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company
As sellers become competent they start to recognize the difference between sales activity and progress. When first going on quota virtually every seller is busy. Many are overwhelmed as they try to perform activities they’ve never done before. Over time most sellers start to understand what activities move opportunities forward. This understanding allows them to be productively busy. Competent sellers recognize buyers that will just waste their time, situations with low probabilities of success, situations where they can’t gain access to decision makers, etc.
In my experience writing proposals can be an activity that hinders or eliminates progress. After attending workshops, one of the first things we ask sellers to do with the help of their managers is withdraw proposals or quotes that are over 60 days old. It’s astounding how many sellers have proposals more than 2 months old that remain in their forecasts despite the fact that the chances of winning such transactions decrease with every passing day.
The root cause of the problem is that writing proposals prematurely is an activity unlikely to result in progress. My belief is this happens frequently because sellers are under pressure to develop pipeline. Proposals are viewed as a necessary step in moving toward buying decisions. By submitting proposals they reach a milestone, but many sellers fail to step back and ask if the transaction is closeable. Unless it is, the proposal is likely to languish long enough to turn into either a loss or no decision. We teach that sellers closing prematurely exert pressure on buyers. A proposal should be a decision vehicle that has the information needed for making a buying decision. It is a written attempt to close.
In order to have a proposal serve as a decision vehicle (progress), in my mind sellers should know and document the following information:
1. The buyers’ goals (business outcomes) that can be achieved through the use of the offering being proposed.
2. For committee decisions a Champion should have provided access to other Key Players so their goals can be identified.
3. Each buyer should know the reasons they can’t achieve their goals as well as the specific capabilities needed (their vision).
4. Buyers must know the cost of the offering and the overall benefit so they can determine if purchasing is a good business decision. Value is the potential benefit minus the cost.
5. The timeframe the buying committee wants to make a decision.
Issuing a proposal before these things are known is unlikely to move the ball forward. If you haven’t had access to Key Players, will they take the time to read your proposal? If they try, how far will they get before going to the last page and seeing price with no value?
Proposals don’t sell. Their purpose is to document and confirm what a seller learned during conversations with members of the buying committee to provide them the information needed to make a decision. Issuing premature proposals is a “quote and hope” approach. A high percentage will be included in the forecast month after month, sellers will have a distorted view that their pipelines are adequate and ultimately these proposals will result in losses or no decisions.
The major difference between A and B Players is patience. A Players diagnose before discussing offerings. They issue proposals that provide the information buyers needs so that transactions are closeable.