One of the conversations I regularly have with my peers is about the Sales Process, and converting Prospects into Clients. During that conversation, the topic that always comes up is that of how we tackle writing Sales Proposals for clients.
Here’s my quick thoughts on the subject as someone who has learnt the hard way.
Writing a proposal is expensive. It’s time consuming. For most, it’s tedious. Sure, you can use products such as QuoteWerks that will help reduce the time spent on this, but at the end of the day you want to avoid it wherever possible.
When is a Proposal necessary?
There are some occasions where writing a proposal is necessary – where you genuinely can’t meet with the decision makers (a Trustee Board for a Charity perhaps) but typically, there should be no need for the proposal if you’ve sat down with the Decision maker – and by that I mean whomever signs off on the purchase – and gathered all the necessary information and answered all of their questions. That means understanding the prospects true pain (not just what they tell you), being aware of their true budget (if they say they don’t have a budget, ask them how much they’d like NOT to spend…) and understanding their decision making process (i.e. who else needs to be involved in this conversation).
Proposals as an avoidance tactic
More often than not though, a request for a proposal from a prospect is simply an avoidance tactic – they probably want to say no to you, but don’t feel comfortable doing so, or they’ve decided this project isn’t so much a priority for them after all. Whatever, if you agree to write that proposal, you’re giving up your time and energy with a virtually zero chance of winning the business.
Worse – many prospects ask for a proposal so they can use it as specification for the project that they can then use to shop around with your competitors. If you write this proposal, you’re in effect providing free Consultancy.
Fear of avoiding writing proposals
I see many people avoid calling the prospect on these facts, and agreeing to do the proposal anyway, even though they have a gut feeling that they’ll not win the work. I call this “The Fear”. It’s a fear that if you don’t agree to do the proposal, you’ll offend the client, or you’ll lose the work. Therefore it’s better to just agree, invest the time in writing the proposal, and hope for the best – however slim that chance is.
If you want to continue writing proposals for work that you never win, then continue to do this. If you value your time, then let the prospect know that by uncovering the real reasons they’ve just asked for a proposal.
One Litmus Test as to whether you should really agree to write a proposal is to give the prospect an honest ball-park figure for your work, and do be honest, don’t undersell yourself. If the figure is way off the budget the prospect has in his head, no amount of proposal writing will win this work. More often than note though, the prospect will be more honest with you (“That’s a little higher than I’d hoped”) and you can then go back to working on the budget requirements instead of writing and revising a proposal.
The bottom line is, your time is valuable, so don’t waste it writing un-necessary sales proposals. Instead, work on overcoming “The Fear” and only write proposals where you’ve got a genuine chance of winning work.