You can hardly believe your good fortune when, early in the sales process, you hear these magic words: “I’d like to see a proposal. When can you get one to me?” You’re flattered (clearly, you’ve presented your product or service in such a compelling way that the prospect can’t wait to move quickly toward a working relationship), and you’re eager to please (certain the requested proposal is a mere formality and the fast-tracked deal a sure thing). With a sale seemingly imminent, you should immediately start working on that proposal, right? Frankly, no. Here are some reasons why prematurely providing a proposal – even if requested by the prospect – is likely a terrible idea:
Sales is About Relationships
You wouldn’t propose marriage before getting to know your intended would you? Would you? Likewise, you know in your gut (and your sales training confirms it, too) that selling is about building relationships. You are not selling a product or service; you are building trust and earning the opportunity to provide a solution. So what are the chances for success if the foundations of trust are not laid? How can you be confident that what you offer is what the client needs if you don’t have meaningful discussions to discover those needs? Simply put, you can’t.
Winning Proposals Require Key Upfront Information
To give the prospect a focused proposal that specifically addresses their needs, you must gather and process a lot of information. What are your prospect’s specific pain points? Why are they considering your solutions at this time? Are they changing from a previous provider? If so, why are they shopping for a new one? What are the budget constraints? Who are the decision makers? What is the timeline?
And on and on.
Obviously, you can’t gather the full spectrum of “intelligence” in an initial get-acquainted meeting. But without that intelligence, any proposal you provide will likely miss the mark on critical components, thus being a waste of time for you and the prospect. And even if you succeed in winning the account, your chances of satisfying the client are slim when based on incomplete data or false assumptions. Remember this: true solutions can’t be rushed.
Your Sales Process Removes Emotion and Enhances Success
You have a sales process for a reason (lots of reasons, actually). The biggest reason you have a sales process is to optimize the chances of closing a deal. The sales process helps make sure you cover the bases, in order, so you can arrive at a predictable outcome (the sale) that is mutually beneficial to all parties involved. When a prospect circumvents the step-by-step nature of your process, it can seem like a shortcut to success, but it is more likely a shortcut to failure. On the other hand, if you and the prospect follow the sales process to its logical conclusion, you’ve built a more solid relationship and removed most of the emotion from the equation. Why does that matter? Because the most successful long-term solution provider/client relationships are built on earned trust along with answers to key questions and needs, not on emotion or knee-jerk reactions. When the prospect requests a proposal too early in the process, resist the urge to satisfy that premature request, and save yourself the emotional investment of hope . . .given that hope may not be deserved, since there are key pieces of information you do not yet know.
Once the Proposal is Provided, Leverage Shifts
One of the most important reasons to delay providing a proposal is that once you respond with the requested information, you give up leverage in the relationship to the prospect – they already have what they want. Armed with too little information to make a qualified and truly responsive proposal, you run the risk of leaving money on the table (overlooking costly requirements), or you give the prospect an “easy out” because it’s clear your proposal doesn’t address many of their needs. In fact, many prospects who request a proposal too early in the sales process are merely price shopping. If your proposed cost is too high (perhaps to compensate for the unknowns still to be discovered), you’re out of contention early. If your proposed cost is too low, you could lose money on the deal, turning a win into a loss.
There’s a Better Way
Despite your resolve to follow the sales process and discover the information you need to build a solid relationship, the prospect might still request a proposal too early. If you are truly uncomfortable providing one, don’t. Proposals take time and money to produce; plus, they carry “opportunity costs” that impact your bottom line because you are spending time and money on producing a proposal that is unlikely to be profitable instead of pursuing more lucrative possibilities.
As an alternative, you can explain to the prospect that you want to make sure your solution addresses all their needs. You can then provide a detailed summary of your current understanding of those needs, along with essential questions still to be answered (including questions regarding budget, decision-making, timelines, etc.). Your summary could also include possible approaches or solutions, but only from a “broad brush” perspective. This approach can help guide further discussion and discovery.\
The paradox is this: a proposal requested too early by a prospect is not a sign of guaranteed success, but, rather, a predictor of likely failure to make the sale. A winning proposal, on the other hand, is part of an orderly sales process, and should merely serve to document understandings and agreements that have already been reached over time. If you have a solid sales process in place – and you follow it – you will be in a better position to propose a real solution based on accurate information. You will know the prospect’s pain and be able to recommend a cure. You will be able to address their needs and wants. You will be able to provide a solution free of bad surprises.
At Sales Xceleration, we know how essential a detailed, well-documented and actionable sales process is to successful selling. Proposals are one part of that process, but when provided too early, they can doom your chances to close the deal. Our Sales Xceleration Licensed Advisors know how to assess, design and implement sales processes that can increase your closing rate and reduce time wasted on premature proposals. To learn more, reach out to one of our Advisors, or contact us today at 844.874.7253.
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