Sales; Sales proposal; Proposal
No, no! Not this type of proposal!

Photo credit: pix Dust

 “Switch off your game station Freddie, you need to do your home work”. Freddie, 8years old, had to do his home work and unsurprisingly his dad was facing some serious resistance. Freddie knew he had to and it was a pain. But he wasn’t to get on with it (Minecraft was oh so more attractive). So his dad took a slightly different tack. “Ok Freddie, what do you think is the best approach to get your home work done so that you can keep playing?”. Freddie thought this through and suggested a way forward. To start with, it wasn’t ideal to his dad. So, after a couple of iteration between the two of them, Freddie and his dad managed to find the ideal way to get the home work done without crisis. Why did this work? Because Freddie’s dad made sure his boy was part of defining the solution, rather than forcing a way that HE thought was relevant. “What’s this got to do with sales,” can I hear you say. One word: psychology. And getting people buy in. Let me explain.

At the end of a sales process, once the problems are understood, the implications clear and all questions asked, a request for sales proposal is often a natural step. It might sound counterintuitive but I’ve learned (the hard way!), that sending a sales proposal isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. And I learned not to like writing proposals. What I like to do though is to write the proposal with the prospect. The prospect has an expertise, I have an expertise. Sharing these two and going via an iteration process usually get the ideal solution, i.e. the one where the prospect has had heavy input. It’s the prospect solution guided by my input, not my solution.

Not convinced? Fair enough. So here are three reasons why, as much as possible, single sided sales proposal can be counter productive and how to address possible risk :

1- We are unique. Solutions to a specific problem are many. What works for one organisation might not work for another. Don’t organisations always define themselves as “unique” and very different from their competition? So even if two organisations “look similar” from my standpoint, I realised that what is important to buyers are very different from one company to another one.

2- Time is money, or no time, no money. If a prospect is asking for a sales proposal but doesn’t have time to put one together with me, some serious alarm bells are going on. If she or he has no time to define the best way to sort the problem, it is very likely that he or she hasn’t got financial resources to invest in sorting the problem either.

3- Free consultancy anyone? This is the most important one. Clearly, a prospect might have many possible options to address his or her problem. And more often than not he/she is weighing up all of them. That’s just fair enough, I do the same when buying. So to weigh those options, he/she needs to understand a range of variables. “How much does each one cost? How would alternative a, b and c work? If we were to go ahead with a home grown solution, what do we need to take into account? etc…” And the best way to get an answer to all these questions is, yes, you got it, ask for a few sales proposals investing as little time as possible. Indeed, the objective is about gathering information and possible ideas, not necessarily sharing it. Again, these things happen, c’est la vie as we say and that’s just part of a buying process.

So, I find that writing a “two handed” proposal to be far more efficient. This avoid ending “free consultancy”, writing up a proposal for a prospect that hasn’t got the time, budget or authority to approve it or, writing proposal that isn’t fitted to the exact situation of the prospect organisation.

One last point. I’ve learned that there is a lot of value in sharing up-front part or all of the reasons above why I “single handed” proposals aren’t efficient. Being transparent pays off. Asking a prospect to spend time on a proposal is not the natural request he/she is facing. But, if the process included building strong rapport with a prospect and understand all the impacts of the problem at hands, it would not be coming across as outrageous and will certainly helps getting Freddie’s homework done, sorry, the prospect buy-in to close the sale.

And what about you? Any take on the above? How do you handle the “Could you send me a sales proposal?” question?