Clients and prospects tell on a regular basis about how they spend 5 – 20 hours a week preparing proposals for business they are “hoping to get;” however, most of the time their efforts are unsuccessful. Why are we compelled to provide proposals when our ‘gut’ tells us we are wasting our time?
Let’s explore some of the reasons we feel inclined to provide proposals:
- The prospect asked for it.
- ‘If I don’t provide the proposal I definitely won’t have a chance at getting the business.’
- ‘I can show the prospect all the other things that I or my company can do for them.’
- My proposal will give all the details of how I would solve their problems.
- ‘I’m not great at asking questions – the proposal will cover the things that I’ve missed.’
In the traditional world of selling the prospect feels they have the ‘upper hand.’ They believe that it is their right to be demanding and, if you want to do business with them, it is your obligation to provide all they ask. From a Sandler perspective, we like to ‘level the playing field’ and have equal stature with the prospect. Remember, not every prospect is meant to be a customer. As a salesperson you have as much right to determine the fit and whether it makes sense to do business with the prospect as they do with you.
Just because the prospect asks you for a proposal does not mean they should get it. You need to find out why they are asking for it and what will happen once they get it. Chances are they want to compare it to other proposals or perhaps they are not the decision maker and they need to share it with others before any sort of decision can be made. Your job as a salesperson is to ask questions leading up to the reason a proposal would be presented. You do so by using the ‘let’s pretend’ concept – that is, ‘let’s pretend the proposal meets all your requirements, what happens next?’ In the event a proposal is presented, it would focus only on those aspects which address the prospect’s concerns.
The statistics suggest that most salespeople provide proposals, because they believe it is the only way of ensuring their ‘chance’ of being considered as the supplier of choice rather than because it is a successful method of winning business. I ask my clients to track the number of proposals written, the amount of time spent preparing them, the number of people involved against the number won. Unfortunately, the number of proposals prepared versus the number won is very different. How many opportunities have you let go by because you felt the need to provide proposals? You may have to exert more effort into prospecting, but in the long run you’ll get more business.
Many of us fall into the trap of wanting to provide a proposal in order to show the prospect all the products or services you or your company can provide. We hope that there will be some additional things the prospect will add to the purchase, because they saw it in the proposal. This may be true in some cases, however the opposite can also be true. A proposal with additional products or services that are not required to solve the prospect’s initial reason for requesting it will only confuse or frustrate the prospect. Isn’t it better to first get the business and then explore what else the prospect – now a client- might need?
Many of us are guilty of providing a prospect with a proposal that explains exactly how to solve their problem. We’re all very proud of what we can do or offer and we feel the need to share that with the prospect. Prospects know this, because we as salespeople have trained them. They ask and we provide. Stop giving away ‘your expertise for free’. In the Sandler world we refer to this as ‘unpaid consulting,’ a common situation.
So, you’re not great at asking questions and think the proposal should cover all those details? Think again.
Asking questions is the best way to determine if there is a fit and whether or not a proposal should be presented.
A few recommendations to assist you in determining whether to send a proposal or not:
- Set an Up-Front Contract as to what will happen once a proposal is provided.
- Only address the issues discussed.
- Ensure the proposal is being presented to the decision makers.
- Track the number of proposals prepared versus the number won to determine if it makes sense to allocate time and how much.
- Ask why the prospect wants a proposal and what their criteria will be for determining the choice of supplier.