A good sales proposal demonstrates real value; a quote just offers a price. Many sales people are required to produce a proposal or quote after an initial meeting with a client or prospect. This is a critical part of the sales process. Many sales people however, loathe producing proposals and consider it a chore believing they don’t get maximum value or return from their efforts. Often reduced to quoting prices or at worst just a ‘find and replace’ to change the client company name, sales people can do a lot better for themselves as well as their clients when it comes to producing winning proposals. We all deserve better – sales people and clients included. So what is the best way to produce a winning sales proposal? There’s loads of advice floating around about how to produce and pitch a sales proposal or quote. Sadly most of the advice is wrong. For instance, in all the years I have been selling I have almost never presented my proposals in person and have had no trouble winning business. I normally meet my client or prospect to take the initial brief, I prepare a proposal based on their requirements and then send it directly to them to give them time to read and absorb and then I follow-up to receive their feedback. Where appropriate, I often position my initial proposal as a ‘draft’ which we can use as a base plate to rework the proposal if need be. The client feels engaged and involved. It works every time. There are salespeople however that disagree with my approach. They believe that you need to demonstrate the company’s credibility by stating your credentials upfront and then you must present a proposal in person every time before your client has read anything about what you propose. I am here to tell you this doesn’t work. This approach is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s interesting to look at sales results of those who insist presenting their proposals in person is the best approach – what story does their results tell? In any case, we can all benefit from improving our proposals; so how do we get off on the right foot? Well here are 5 tips to set you on the right path:
- Ask good questions and take detailed notes in the client meeting It’s all in the preparation. A proposal is only as good as the brief taken in the client meeting. Asking clear questions which get to the heart of the client or prospects issues, priorities or needs is critical. Taking detailed notes is essential. I write down the exact words used by my client – no paraphrasing here. This means I capture their thoughts, their ideas, their tone which when presented back to the client in a proposal shows them I have really listened to them which is validating and very powerful. Another benefit of taking detailed notes means you don’t have to try and remember what was said in the meeting afterwards. These notes allow you to really see what your client’s situation is currently which then allows you to look at what you can do to address their priorities with your offering. I find that after a client meeting or at the end of the day I type up my client meeting notes while they are fresh and clear on paper and in my mind. This means that I do not have to rely upon my memory alone. A key part of this process is really listening when you ask a question. And taking notes makes you a better listener.
- Manage expectations – Verify your understanding and establish clear intentions Verifying your understanding of what your client wants and needs before you leave the meeting as well as stating your intentions i.e. what you are going to do in terms of timelines, proposal preparation, getting back to them, etc. is very important. Your client or prospect needs to know what you are going to do and by when.
- Put the client first, always Put your clients’ needs and priorities first. Opening up your proposal with a section that outlines your understanding of your client’s needs or priorities is critical. It validates the client and answers the following questions: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter to you? Too many times sales people put their company first making it all about them not about the client, leaving the client feeling disengaged. When preparing your proposal categorise your client findings into 3 key sections: 1) the Client’s Current Situation or Circumstances, 2) Issue or Opportunities they want to address, and 3) Their priorities moving forward and results they want to see. This section needs to go first in your proposal.
- Demonstrate value, don’t quote a price A good proposal demonstrates value; a quote just offers a price. Off the back of stating your client’s priorities and needs upfront you then structure your proposal so that it shows the client how you will address their priorities and needs in a manner that will help them see the value and results they will receive and achieve by working with you. Everything must connect and link back to your client. You are not just quoting a price – it will mean absolutely nothing to the client if they cannot see themselves benefiting from your offer.
- Never talk someone through a proposal Communications expert Brett Rutledge says you should NEVER present your proposal to a client or prospect. The reason being is that you create a cognitive overload for the person(s) concerned. Looking at the proposal (visual processing) and at the same having to listen to you speaking (auditory processing) doesn’t work and only leads to people being distracted and confused. Therefore it should always be sent ahead for the person intended to read and absorb without you being present. This gives them time to absorb the content in context of their priorities, understand your offering, agree with it or not, care about it enough to take action to do something with it and you. Then you follow up to discuss further.
These are just a few key tips we have found make selling and buying easier and more effective. I hope this is of help to you. Remember everybody lives by selling something. Author: Sue Barrett, MD of www.barrett.com.au