Stop Being a Proposal Factory

Way too often a salesperson returns from the frontier with great news – “my prospect wants a proposal!”  The request for a proposal is cheered as a big step forward in the sales cycle.  The sales team then diligently works up pricing on various products and services with the hope that something said or shown will trigger genuine interest.  So, what is wrong with this scenario?  Answer: the enemy is rearing its ugly head – leading us down a path of wasted investment in time and effort, using sales proposals to chase business “opportunities.”   If this problem sounds too familiar, it’s time to change from being a “Proposal Factory” to a “Value Factory.”

When I ask a salesperson to define why there was a request for proposal (RFP), I get all kinds of answers. Seldom do I hear clear details concluding that generating a proposal is warranted and appropriate.  Some great questions to confirm your prospect’s intentions could be:

  • Prospect, what did you hear today that made you sufficiently interested to want a proposal?
  • I would be happy to create a proposal, but are you currently in a decision mode to change your processes or capabilities to accept my new product or solution?
  • Can you tell me who else here shares your vision?
  • Is there someone within your company who doesn’t share your vision, and may look to stop a decision?

If the answers to the above questions are not concrete, then the proposal request is most likely being used to end the meeting, not continue the discussion.  Hence, most sales proposals are a big waste of time and effort, and often delay sales rather than accelerate sales.

If you lead your sales process with a proposal, you are not alone, but you will reach the same dead end as many of your sales peers.  A proposal should be mutually desired, resulting from significant value identified along the way.  Too often the sales process revolves around how the seller’s products or solutions meet the identified needs of the buyer.  While this is an important part of the story, the real connectivity to the seller and the buyer comes from the true value created by the seller.  Value can be identified in the areas financial, operational, customer service, or the solution itself – and hopefully all four values can be identified, quantified and effectively communicated.

“Perceived value” is what causes people to want to align with you towards mutual goals.  Value makes someone decide to invest in your mutual relationship, to sign a contract and hand over money.  The client is going to get something they want – a result where they find compelling value.  Value can be both a factual and a perceived benefit. Clearly, value must be nurtured to grow in the mind of the beholder throughout the sales process.

A good sales effort should be rewarded when the intention and process of finding value has been fulfilled.  The submission of a proposal should not be a surprise, it should be earned because the sales person has fulfilled the goal of the client – they have been helped (whatever the decision).  Well written proposals clarify the value in the opportunity (both perceived and quantified) and they will create action, not prevent it.  If you feel something deep down telling you that the prospect has not fully understood or remains uncommitted, don’t use a proposal to overcome that uncertainty – continue the sales process and earn a mutually agreed proposal based on value.  Become a “Value Factory” and your sales and happiness will prosper.

Feel free to contact Michael Wills, President, Top Line Solutions, at [email protected] or 678-549-8834, for more sales leadership consulting and outsourced sales management services.