By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Sellers get excited when they submit proposals. The source of much of their enthusiasm is the perception that it is a step in moving the process forward and getting closer to an order. In my experience working with sales organizations, the vast majority of proposals are sent prematurely. In my mind this drives up the percentage of opportunities that linger for months is the pipeline and often end in “no decision.”
There are a few variables in play when asking for an order that you may want to consider:
Can you ask a person for the order or do you have to submit a proposal?
If you ask a person, it is someone that is authorized to make the purchase decision?
My concern about issuing proposals is that oftentimes copies are presented to executives that have little knowledge of the offering in question and its potential value. For these reasons it is a poor vehicle to use to ask for orders. Few senior executives will take the time to read the full proposal. Those that do are likely to get confused. Most will go toward the back of the proposal, see a price without any sense for value and wonder why on earth they would spend that amount of money. The problem is exacerbated when multiple executives are given proposals and a committee decision has to be reached.
If and when sellers can get face to face with buyers and ask for the business, how often are they in front of decision makers? Asking someone without the authority to move ahead with a proposal wouldn’t seem to be anything that will move the process forward.
How can you get in front of decision makers and minimize the need to write proposals? If a seller can gain access to Key Players early to uncover business issues and value, much of the work in scoping and proposing will be done with lower levels. After “setting the table” with the buying committee and determining they would like to see a proposal, a seller can offer a quid pro quo in that they will meet with lower levels and keep the committee apprised of progress, but that before issuing a written proposal he or she would like to get in front of the committee and review a draft of the content of the proposal.
If/when the committee has reviewed the contents (pricing; implementation; cost vs. benefit; etc.) and indicate it is what they are looking for, the seller can ask a logical question:
“I can take the time to submit a formal proposal, but since you’ve reviewed the content and nothing is going to change, would you like to move forward today?”
Executives often want to get started (if copies of proposal are issued decisions will likely take weeks or months to be made) and can make the decision once they know what will be in the proposal. If successful, make sure you provide whatever documentation is needed to describe who’s responsible for what. Best case you can close without issuing a proposal. At times you will have to submit proposals, but it can be after the decision has already been made.