Sales professionals thrive on staying busy, but some sales proposal activity is just “busy work.” Many sales executives think that getting to the proposal stage of a sale is a good thing, but if your sales team is constantly busy with writing sales proposals, you might be missing out on more lucrative opportunities. It’s time to re-assess the sales proposal writing process. Stop writing so many sales proposals, and focus on other ways to close the sale.
What’s wrong with writing sales proposals?
The problem with writing sales proposals is that every one of your competitors also sees it as a “victory” to get to the proposal process – and so every sales proposal has to compete with several (dozen, hundred?) other written proposals. All this proposal writing can be counterproductive if too many of your proposals get caught up in “no man’s land” between the prospect saying “no” and “yes.” Instead of mindlessly churning out sales proposals, cultivate a larger sense of strategy and discipline in your B2B lead generation.
Ocean Trawling vs. Spearfishing
Too often, the act of writing sales proposals becomes an act of “mass production.” Sales people crank out sales proposals without customizing the offer to the prospect’s specific needs. Don’t blindly pitch a pre-packaged system that might not be what the client wants or needs. And don’t confuse the manic “energy” of proposal writing with actual “results.”
Your sales team might spend days writing sales proposals, leading to only a tiny percentage of deals. Proposal writing needs to hold up to the same measurement and scrutiny as any other sales activities.
Think of this analogy from the fishing industry – an ocean trawler vs. a simple spearfisher. Instead of taking an indiscriminate “ocean trawler” approach – sending out sales proposals left and right and siphoning up as many leads as possible with no sense of strategic direction – you need to take a “spearfisher” approach by choosing a sales target, planning your effort and following up with patience and diligence. Smart sales lead management is an exercise in “Ready, Aim, Fire.” Churning out sales proposals, too often, is an exercise in “Fire, Fire, Fire.”
As a sales person, it’s natural to be impatient for action. We thrive on making the calls and getting in front of the customers, and doing what it takes to close the deal. But the problem is, too many sales people convey this sense of impatience in their sales proposal writing. If you’re not careful in listening to the prospect’s needs and aligning your offer with those needs, the sales proposal is going to need to be resubmitted again and again. (Even worse, the prospect might lose patience with you, and call off the conversation.) Spend less time writing and re-writing proposals, and spend more time asking the right questions to qualify the sales leads in the first place.
Of course, asking questions and investing time in appointment setting, qualifying leads and building relationships takes hard work. It’s far easier to just keep writing sales proposals and “look busy.”
Here’s what happens with lazy proposal writing:
- The client says “No” to the first draft of the proposal.
- Instead of digging deeper into the client’s needs by asking questions, reading between the lines and honing in on the underlying objections, the sales person gets impatient. (“But I just KNOW this client is ready to buy! We are so close to making a deal!”)
- Driven by impatience, the sales person starts rewriting the sales proposal, adding more bells and whistles, and offering more services, systems and products to the client in the hope that something will make a difference and close the deal.
- The sales person thinks that all these proposals are bringing them closer to the client, but the truth is, they’re just pushing the client away. Prospects can smell desperation a mile away. The prospect is thinking, “This sales person doesn’t understand our needs and doesn’t seem interested enough to ask. I’m going to talk to one of their competitors.”
Another Problem with Proposals: No commitment
Every sales process needs a series of clear commitments being requested from the prospect, starting with the earliest cold calls and appointment setting follow-up calls. “Will you agree to meet with me?” “Will you agree to receive a price quote?” “Will you agree to commit to a purchase?”
The problem with many sales proposals is that they don’t directly ask the buyer to take action. The proposals just arrive, and too often…sit there. When was the last time a client immediately called back and agreed to buy, based on a few words on paper? And no matter how persuasive your proposal, it can’t answer any unanticipated follow-up questions.
Without a sales person accompanying the sales proposal, nothing will happen. Instead of simply sending sales proposals, first do some appointment setting calls to arrange a time to discuss the details. Too often, decision makers overlook the most important details of the sales proposal. (Or worse – they only focus on the price and reject your offer without understanding the value proposition.) The sales person needs to be there to guide prospects through the offer, respond to questions, and ask other questions to delve deeper into the prospect’s specific needs.
Don’t rely on a piece of paper or numbers on a screen to close the deal for you. Instead, look for opportunities to create selling moments based on real human interactions between the sales person and the prospect. Simply sending a sales proposal is too passive. Accompanying a sales proposal with a sales appointment is a dynamic process that engages the ideas of two people.
Sending sales proposals invites rejection. It’s all too easy for a prospect to say “No” to a simple sales proposal in their inbox. Instead of limiting yourself to “Yes or No” by sending sales proposals, use smart appointment setting and in-person follow-up to create more wide-ranging conversations of “What-if and why-not?”
Spear Fishing Photo via Shutterstock
Good thoughts, Al. I like the “what if” question. If done right, it keeps the prospect thinking positively about options, needs and how you might be able to fulfill them. At the same time, you must be careful not to ask the question in a way that makes it about YOU. Dialogue with the prospect will always be more productive if they are the center of attention.
So true, no matter what it always comes back to listening to your clients’ specific needs. I’m afraid in the hustle of being proactive we blind ourselves to this critical component that makes all the difference! Quality over quantity – always.
A very insightful article indeed. However, if you come up with a sales proposal that’s unique, perhaps it can make a world of difference.
This is one article I really enjoyed. Too many times there is absolutely no follow up after the proposal. Write it up, put it in the mail or email, then move on to the next proposal while you wait then forget all about it after a few days. I have seen this too many times. One commitment every sales person should make is to AAFTO.